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What if your child shows aptitude in one field but interest in a completely different area? Should you provide guidance and support while your child makes her own choices? Here is how you can help.
Shloka Narayanan, a tenth grader, was confused about which career to choose. Her school and career counseling test results indicated that she would be good at engineering, but she seemed more inclined towards arts or commerce. She knew that if she opted for science, she would have little time left for any other activity.
Shloka was in tears over her indecisiveness when her mother stepped in and sent her to a career counselor in Chennai. The counselor made Shloka understand that although she has an aptitude for science, her interest, personality, and motivation lay in the commerce stream.
Shloka was lucky that her mother directed her to a career counselor instead of playing the role of an arbiter.
Shloka is a typical example of teenagers who are confused about choosing a career. Apart from medicine, engineering, and the IT industry, children are being bombarded today with advertisements about careers like TV presenters, wildlife specialists, archaeologists, fitness trainers, artists, organic farm entrepreneurs, celebrity chefs, YouTubers, and so on. To compound the situation, children are also greatly influenced by their peer group.
Parents can lay out the pros and cons of their children's choices.
Take the case of a Chennai teenager who chose to major in psychology as her friends were opting for it. Her mother, who wanted her to pursue a professional course, refrained from thrusting her choices on her daughter. And, what happened? A few months later, the teenager who was unhappy with her choice blamed her mother for not pressurizing her to take up medicine!
If you are someone who doesn't foist his own views and ambitions on his children, then what is your role as a parent in this crucial phase of your teenager's life? "Parents have a tough time during this period," says Priya Ramesh, a student counselor at Lady Andal School in Chennai. "Parents need to ensure that the child should make and 'own' the final decision about his future and career but, they cannot remain third-party observers."
The parents' stand should be a supportive one. They should avoid imposing their aspirations on their child. "They must listen to their child's wants, provide relevant resources, and then lay out the pros and cons of their probable choices. The child is hardly equipped to make a career decision at 16," advises Priya, who does career guidance counseling.
The Internet, libraries, educationists, and professional career counselors are good guides for information on careers. Some parents also turn to relatives in the academic field for help. After class 10, teenager Narayanan Mohan was confused about opting for pure sciences or science with a math and computer science combination. He wanted to opt for medicine but worried that he might change his mind after he passed class 12. His mother Shobita Mohan tried to help by laying out the consequences of his choices in front of him.
Shobita says, "I told him what he could expect if he studied medicine or if he did arts since he was keen on writing a novel," she says. Finally, Shobita called a relative who works as a school principal and got his advice on the matter. "When parents find it difficult to make a decision for the child, how much harder will it be for the child,'' she points out. She says that parents should talk to educationists and get their views. Narayanan decided to stick to basic sciences and review his career choices, two years down the line.
Counselors advise parents not to wait till the eleventh hour to guide their children. Priya says, "At an early age, parents should evoke curiosity in a child about different professions. Talk about a friend's job or a neighbor's. Trigger their curiosity by asking them what they think the neighbor might have done in college." You could ask questions like "How do you think your neighbor became a manager?" or "How did a popular face like Barkha Dutt become a TV journalist?"
"If a child wants to become a doctor, ask him the reason behind his choice. He may reply that he likes biology and plants. A parent should then fill up the gaps in the child's knowledge about a doctor's field of study," says Priya. Sometimes a child may excel and have an aptitude for many things. He may, on the other hand, not have an aptitude for a particular subject but passion and motivation could drive him to pursue it. However, just measuring a child's aptitude is not enough. Personality, interest, and motivation have to be given equal consideration. "Motivation backed by interest is crucial, as interest by itself can vary with time and peer pressure,'' Priya observes.
What's more, making a career choice is not a complex affair if children are used to making decisions from an early age. Points out Mohana Narayanan, psychological counselor, "Children should be given age-appropriate responsibilities from childhood. At 16, you suddenly cannot expect a child to make a life-changing decision; he will feel lost."
A sense of self-worth in the child also helps him make the right choices. Mohana points out, "When is your child filled with self-doubt? It happens when a parent is constantly critical." According to her, every child is born with a healthy sense of self-esteem. However, a child's self-worth is affected if he is continuously exposed to negative instructions. Parents need to criticize in a healthy manner and let a child learn from his own mistakes.
Radhika, a student, was keen to do something in the field of wildlife and chose science after school. Her mother, a computer graphics designer, knew that her daughter was skilled in the art and was making a mistake. Predictably, midway through her college, Radhika admitted her mistake and begged her mother to enroll her in a visual communication course. Today Radhika is completing an art restoration course with a museum in New Delhi and is all set to intern with art restorers.
Mohana says, "It is ok if children make mistakes the first time; they will fall and learn. Parents have to be supportive and not be judgmental.''
Children will explore, examine different options and their interests may keep changing. Give them space and freedom to explore. It will work out all right in the end, say experts.
Arundhati Swamy, counselor and the Head of Parent Engagement Programmes at ParentCircle, has tips on how you can help your teen make career choices: