Dizzying array of options in rapidly changing world challenge for any teenager, say experts - so be sounding board rather than a boss

Decisions, decisions - when you're a parent, they start early and continue, especially when it comes to education and careers for our children. How many hours a week to send Junior to preschool or daycare? What sort of centre to choose? Where should he or she go to primary school? Is private better than state? What about tertiary education? What is your child going to do with his or her life?

Stop there, says The Career Clinic's Caroline Sandford, because it's not your job to decide on a career for your child.

That's their decision, and if you want to help, don't push them towards a specific job or career but be available to offer advice and work through the myriad options available to teens in a rapidly changing world.

It can be a perplexing world for children and their parents. Janine*, a mother of a 17-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son, says the world has become bigger and children are being urged to broaden their horizons and expectations.


"I feel kids are encouraged to start thinking seriously about these sorts of decisions from a younger age than my generation," says Janine, 44. "Right from the time they start high school, it's about choosing subjects which will lead them to where they want to go. It's really not easy for people who are so young to know what they want to do, to have made up their minds.

"My daughter thought about being a doctor but she was concerned about work-life balance because she doesn't want her career to be her whole life. I think that's something worth thinking about. Of course, you want to have a job which is interesting and you look forward to, but does it have to be your passion? Does it have to be the most important thing in your life?"

Caroline, a mother of two teenagers, agrees there is huge pressure on our young people. There are other ways, emerging all the time, to find fulfilling careers and merge passions with work, she says.

She believes the first part of making a good career decision is to take a step back and focus on yourself rather than jobs, work and pay rates.

"Many people make career decisions without ever thinking about who they are. Rather, they might base their decisions on: What subjects did I do at school? Where are my friends going to study? What are my friends studying? My parents are telling me what I should be doing or my cousin studied this and is doing well.

"But you need to think about what is right for you. This involves asking questions about what's important to you in life and what the key things are you need to have to be happy. What has to be around you in your environment and in your relationships to make you happy? What do you value and what are your attitudes to certain situations and scenarios? What excites you and where are you energised? How do you feel you work best, and what are your strengths and weaknesses?"

At this stage, research and networking are important.

"Sometimes your teen may tell you about a possibility that they are considering that seems outrageous or unrealistic but tread carefully and remember teenagers are trying out ideas. If you criticise, they are likely to stop sharing their ideas with you."


She prefers to ask open-ended questions:

• Tell me what you know about this occupation?
• What do you find interesting about this idea?
• How did you find out about this?
• What do you think a person in this occupation does?
• What training do they need?
• How do you think it matches with you as a person?

"If you can, arrange for your teens to get some work experience, particularly in an area they are exploring. It may be for half a day or one day, but tapping into your networks to arrange for them to get a taste of reality, what the job is really like, will give them some very valuable insights."

Accountant Donna Reynolds, who has two sons aged 22 and 19 and a 17-year-old daughter, has found it helpful to go with them to career fairs and information days, but says the amount of information and choices available can be overwhelming.

"We're lucky with my daughter - in a sense - and her career decisions. She got kicked in the face by a horse, which wasn't so lucky, and ended up in hospital where she was fascinated with the way things ran and the whole medical side of things. She now wants to be a paramedic. It's far more difficult with a child who really doesn't know what they want to do.

"There are so many choices out there and I think, as parents, we have to remember they are changing all the time. I think we have to remember this generation is far more used to and willing to change than we were."

Which is true, says Caroline. Anecdotal evidence suggests those entering the workforce now will change careers - not just jobs - between four and seven times. Donna's 19-year-old son started a building course, but decided it wasn't for him and is now studying quantity surveying.

Janine cautions we must be wary of the impact on teens' self-esteem and confidence if they continuously start new things and don't finish. That could well be the time to seek professional help and guidance.

* Not her real name.