5 Ways to Raise Career Savvy Kids

I was pregnant with my unborn son and already had ideas for what sort of work he would do as an adult. I figured that, with my interest in people and wanting the best for others combined with my then husband’s analytical brain and approach to the world, that our son could be an important weather scientist who could predict terrible storms and save hundreds of lives.

Ok, so maybe this sounds a little nutty. But really, don’t we as parents think about our child’s future all the time. Who will they be? How will this little person’s life turn out? We spend hours researching schools and encouraging our children to do well in school. We are constantly doing things for our child’s future. But oddly enough parents often unknowingly overlook sharing some very important information that could greatly impact their child’s future – they don’t share the realities of the work world and what it takes to create a fulfilling career.

There are so many reasons why this happens; we lead busy lives and often it’s the kids’ lives’ that take center stage on a day-to-day basis. Homework, sports, music lessons, juggling chores, and parental work obligations means that a lot of families barely have time to sit down and talk over a meal. Parents themselves may have less than satisfying work that pays the bills but leaves them frustrated and stifled. So how does a parent teach their kids how to navigate into the world of work? Often they hope that the right college education will take care of it. Or a good family business will be the ticket, or a family history of a particular profession will make it clear what career path is expected. So the fact remains, we want the best of our children, but often don’t know how to help them get to that thing we hope for: that our kids will be ‘successful’ with a happy life.

As a career transition professional for nearly 20 years I have worked with hundreds of people who work in a huge cross section of the work force. I often work with young people who feel lost, and frustrated about their lives. College educated and rudderless, they are frustrated by having ‘so many interests’ but feel bored and under challenged in work and in life.

They feel like failures because they haven’t figured out what they want to be ‘when they grow up’ by age 25. And at 28 they are confused and disheartened after trying on a few career paths that haven’t felt or looked the way they thought they would.

There is one constant that I regularly encounter: nobody told them it would be like this. So where do young people learn about careers and the work place? They learn a lot from TV and movies, and certainly from the people they are closest to – parents, extended family members, friends’ parents and teachers. School offers ‘career week’ when speakers come in to school and give a brief talk about what they do. And in college they have the career center to use for guidance…if they take the time to search out these services.

Our kids learn so much from parents about how work works. They learn that work is a drag if mom and dad come home complaining, they learn that work is to be avoided if they see how miserable Dad is on Sunday night, or that work can be fun if it’s approached with enthusiasm and interest.

What they often don’t see is that it takes a lot of time for a career that works to take shape. And what I want to see is more parents taking the time to develop their kids interests as they grow and develop so that when they are old enough to take action to launch their careers, they will have an idea of the speed at which they can go and have reasonable expectations.

I’ve compiled several tips to help parents ‘support’ and encourage their kids’ understanding of the world that awaits them in regards to work.

1) Really listen and look at your child. What activities do they gravitate towards? Ask them what they like to do, watch what they choose to do. Most kids love media. They learn from media. What do they watch? What do you help them watch? With all of the educational programming on TV it would be easy to find something that can appeal without being cartoons or mindless entertainment.

2) Are they interested in video games? What kind? What are they learning from them? What skills might they be developing? Do they design things? Interact in the game? Are they playing games that help them to compete against others or themselves?

3) Do you talk about the games they play? Do you play games with them? What can they, and you learn from Monopoly? What do they learn from playing Life, or Trouble or Scrabble? All of these games have life lessons. Monopoly offers great ways to talk about the real estate market in your neighborhood. It offers great lessons in saving and spending money, or in the role of luck and happenstance in life. What role has luck played in your life? I recently told my son the quote “The harder I work, the luckier I get.” That gave him something to think about…

4) How do you teach about work ethic and standards in the work place? Have discussions about what you like and don’t like when you go into a store. Did a salesperson help you or provide lousy service? How do you feel when you’re ignored by a sales person vs. when someone is courteous and efficient? Going shopping helps your child see what standards you set for them.

5) Talk with your kids about the challenges you have in dealing with your boss, your co-workers, or those you manage. The more they can understand about what you do on a day-to-day basis, the better. It helps them imagine you beyond what they see. If you can take them to work that will help envision their future in a work place. By the time our kids are out of college new jobs, technology and business structures will be in place, but the fundamentals of work never change.