Discussion of high expectations has been rampant in education and parenting parameters for several years now, but where is the line between setting high expectations and crushing the dreams of children? As a high school teacher and basketball coach, I hear students regularly mention future aspirations that their parents are not supporting. Many students are entering college choosing a career in an area that they are not passionate about based on the recommendations from trusted adults and the outcomes are not positive. The following will explore the role of parents and educators in helping students choose a career, and where to draw the line between setting high expectations and crushing dreams. 

Job Shaming at Home and School

Job shaming has recently gained national attention, and while many people are publicly denouncing the act of criticizing someone based on his or her job or career, it is still happening in homes and schools across the country under the guise of “high expectations.” For example, a teenager approaches his or her parents about their interest in choosing a career as a plumber. The parents begin to explain to the adolescent that plumbing is not a four-year degree area of study and that he or she must have a four-year degree to be successful in life. The conversation continues and the parents discuss how inconsistent income and work levels can be for plumbers or those that are self-employed. There is not one positive attribute associated with this career from the parents’ point of view. Eventually, the child relinquishes and agrees to enroll in a four-year program that the parents have determined to be more suitable and respectable.

This scenario happens every day in some form. It might be a manual labor job, pursuing a future in the arts, or an interest in choosing a career that’s nontraditional, but parents are sending the message that the dream or passion is not valid. Is that the intention? Of course not. Parents want their children to be successful and happy, but those two things are defined differently for each individual.

So, how are schools contributing to job shaming? Shortly after entering high school, most students are encouraged to start planning for their future. Are they considering college, entering the world of work, finding an apprenticeship for a trade? These are things that teachers and counselors are tasked with helping students determine. Unfortunately, students are often categorized by their academic standing and performance. The A-plus student who is passionate about studying culinary arts might be led to take more college readiness courses rather than attending the local vocational school that offers culinary art classes. The same has happened for students interested in mechanics, who also perform well in traditional classes. Educators and parents have to realize that seeking to understand one’s interests is a stronger predictor of future success than academic scoring.

Helping Students Choose a Career: Changing the Tone of the Conversation

Does this mean that teenagers always know what is best for them? Absolutely not, but they do know what they are interested in and what they are not. What parent wants to pay for an education just for a child to not walk across the stage with a diploma? Changing the tone from negative to positive is critical for the success of young people. No one wants to feel as if his or her hopes, dreams, and interests are not valid. Let’s take for example the student wanting to pursue a career in the culinary arts. His parents are concerned that he will financially struggle throughout adulthood. Parents have every right to express their concerns, but financial security cannot be the only reason a person enters a career or job. In the long term, he will not be fulfilled. The parents could discuss with their son if he hopes to own a restaurant one day or if he would prefer to work for a restaurant owner. This allows the son to see the business side of being a chef. The son might realize that a minor in business would be useful to their future.

Open to Options

In conclusion, parents and school personnel need to be more aware of the passions and interests of children when helping students choose a career. Career options should be discussed from an early age in both the classroom and the home. Interests will change and evolve just as children do, but opportunities have to be given to explore those interests.

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A Parent’s & Educator’s Role in Helping Students Choose a Career

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