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Encouraging Heroes. You can be one too.

When your son or daughter comes to you looking for advice on what to be when they grow up, you might have a hard time holding back ideas. After all, we want the best for our children, and we believe they can be the best at whatever they do. If you take a moment to remember what it was like to be a teenager yourself, when you first started to imagine what you would do after high school, you’ll probably realize that your own children see the world as full of possibility, just like you did. They’re not at the age where they’re thinking about what’s going to pay the bills, and they’re not at an age to make a definite choice, either. Helping them choose a career path can be all about exploring options, and instead of telling them what they should do, you should listen to their ideas. After all, isn’t that what you wanted your parents to do?

1. Explore Careers

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has its own section on career information geared specifically towards young students, and the first thing it focuses on is what a student likes in school. Your teen might not know exactly what they want to be, but most students know if they like math and science, or English and reading, or if they have a strong love for history, music, or art. Their primary area of interest can lead to a long list of possible future careers, and they can always start reading up on them online. If you have a family friend or another adult who works in an industry your teenager might be interested in, they can talk to them about their job or even go to work with them to see what it’s like. Hands-on experience can be very valuable, especially at an early age.

2. Don’t Discourage

Young people only have a grasp of the careers they see around them, so it’s hard to expect a teenager to know every single specific career opportunity within a broad field. If your child is passionate about something that you think is unrealistic, don’t crush their dreams. Simply help them learn the reality of what it takes to succeed and let them make their own decisions. Your son who wants to be a rock star can grow up to be a great recording engineer, or even start his own business. Your daughter who wants to be an astronaut could end up as a NASA scientist. Never put limits on their future, even if you want to save them from being hurt. Most of the time, their college experience will focus their career goals later on.

3. Emphasize Education

This is a no-brainer for most parents. Most teenagers don’t fully grasp how important college can be to securing their future, but they need to understand how integral it is to making sure they reach their goals. Very few professional careers can be achieved with just a high school diploma. Workers with a bachelor’s degree earn nearly double the yearly salary of those with no higher education. You’d probably love to see your son or daughter go to medical school or get their masters in psychology, but no matter what their plan is, they need to know as early as possible the role that higher education will play. A degree is a gateway to opportunities, and the more time they spend in school, the more financially secure they are likely to be.

4. Share Your Experiences

Even if they don’t always seem to be listening, your teen knows that you’re the best source they have when it comes to knowing how to transition into adulthood. They’ll want to know what it was like for you, how you chose your profession, and what your struggles were when you were their age. Let them know that it’s alright not to be entirely sure of what you want to do with the rest of your life at a young age. Share with them your mistakes and the things you wish you’d known earlier. Even talk to them about your own career plans for the future, and goals you may have that you haven’t yet accomplished. With you as an example, your teen can get a real-life view of how to be successful.

Teenagers aren’t always the most self-aware, and knowing who you are is the most important step to choosing a career. That’s why it’s okay if your child changes their mind several times along the way. Finding your place in the world is a process, as you probably know from experience. But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be thinking about it. Whatever you do, you should let your children explore what they’re passionate about. It’s the first step to a life after high school where neither one of you is worried about the future.

Amie Gottschalk is an avid blogger who writes often for several educational sites. You can follow her on Twitter @amiegottschalk.

Earnest Parenting: help for parents of career-bound teens.

Image courtesy of snre via Creative Commons license, some rights reserved.