Here's How You Can Support Your Child's Offbeat Career Choice

Worried that your teen has made a risky and unconventional career choice? Here’s how you can support him.

By Aruna Raghuram

Here's How You Can Support Your Child's Offbeat Career Choice

It was a day filled with heartbreak and misgivings for Sangeeta and Rajesh Mohan. Their teenage son Rahul had just dropped a bombshell. The 16-year-old, class XI student had just told them that while he had taken the science stream on their insistence, he really wanted to pursue wildlife photography.

Sangeeta and Rajesh had known for a few years that Rahul was fascinated by photography. And they had thought it would be a good hobby for their soon-to-be doctor son. For, both parents being doctors themselves, they had set their heart on their son pursuing the same profession. But it was not meant to be so, as Rahul was determined.

For a few days they tried unsuccessfully to convince Rahul that if not medicine, he should take up some other secure profession. Finally, they accepted his decision and decided to support it actively. The first step was to look for all possible information on the subject to equip Rahul with to succeed in this less-trodden career path.

A variety of career choices

Today, youngsters have many career options to choose from other than the big six – engineering, medicine, finance, law, management and information technology. As a result, millennials have a different outlook. While they may be practical enough to know that money is important, they are guided more by how satisfying a career will be for them than simply chasing financial security. Therefore, they may go in for offbeat careers.

The definition of an unconventional or offbeat career choice has changed over the years. For instance, being a chef, relationship counsellor, playwright, model, television actor, musician, cartoonist or personal trainer is not viewed with as much scepticism today as it was ten years ago.

Technical writers, SEO analysts, video game designers, cyber security experts, social media influencers and disc jockeys are much in demand today. These professions were nowhere in the horizon when today’s parents thought about their own career choices. Even in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) fields there are new opportunities – artificial intelligence, robotics and biostatistics – which some parents may not be aware of.

Ask the right questions

How can a teen know whether his offbeat career choice is right for him? Basically, there are three questions you should ask your child before he decides on a career.

  • Am I interested in the subject and tasks involved in this profession?
  • Do I have the aptitude and basic skill set to do well in this profession?
  • Do I like the lifestyle that this profession will bring?

If the answer is yes in all three cases, it is likely that he has found a satisfying career option.

What parents should do 

It’s a given that most parents want their child to be in a profession with a defined career path and find job and financial security. But when the child chooses an offbeat career path, it’s important that parents keep their minds open and encourage her. Here’s how parents can effectively support their child’s decision.

1. Be open: If your child chooses an unconventional career path, do not panic. Don’t reject her ideas outright. Instead, be open, listen, gather information and guide her. Aid, do not dictate, the decision-making process.

2. Don’t be overprotective: It is difficult to allow your child to make a risky decision. But, you must let him ‘own’ this particular decision. It will make him feel empowered and responsible. After all, careers and life paths are a personal choice. Keep your fears to yourself and allow him to follow his passion. There will be hiccups along the way. But these are important for his personal growth.

3. Assess your child’s interest: Is your child attracted to this unconventional career because of the glamour associated with it? If she is avidly researching the field, she may be serious about it. Again, does she have the talent and skills to be successful in this field? Assess the situation and encourage her accordingly. If you are sure that she has a good chance, don’t hesitate to encourage her to pursue her interests and ambitions.

“There are three things I would tell parents on how best to support a teen who has made an offbeat career choice. First, give him every opportunity to get a sound fundamental education. Strengthen his language and numerical skills. Second, help him evaluate various choices and guide him about the pros and cons of every choice. Temper enthusiasm with reality. Third, trust him to set his own career path but teach him to make responsible and well-informed decisions.” - N Sathyanarayan, co-founder and academic director of coaching institute iQue ideas, Ahmedabad

4. Insist on a fall-back option: Make your child understand how important it is to have a strong educational degree as a back-up even if he wishes to pursue a talent-based career such as painting, music or dance. At the same time, let him take risks. Urge him to be resilient and not give up easily.

5. Motivate: Enrol your child in courses that will equip her with the skills to succeed in the chosen career. Also, expose her to the realities of the chosen industry. For example, if it is music or theatre, let her participate in a singing competition or a theatre show and see how she performs.

6. Be honest: Your child should get honest feedback and constructive criticism from you. Appreciate his efforts but do not give him a false impression about his abilities.

7. Instil core values: Your child will require three core values – self-belief, resilience and discipline – to succeed in any profession. Of course, a responsible attitude and mature outlook are also very important.

8. Find a mentor: A visit to a career counsellor to discuss the chosen option is a good idea. Apart from this, help your child find a mentor from the field who will be able to guide her better than you can. 

The road less travelled is always the tougher path. Your child will probably have to work harder and be more dedicated to succeed in an offbeat career. Moreover, as society views unconventional careers with scepticism, there will be many who will discourage him. At times, he may have doubts himself. Your support will keep him going. And, he can boldly echo Robert Frost's words one day –

                                                  'Two roads diverged in a road, and I – 

                                                   I took the one less travelled by,

                                                   And that has made all the difference.'

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