University of Illinois Extension

Exploring Careers with Your Grandchild

Cheryl Geitner, Youth and Family Educator

How can you help your teen make career choices? You might want to resist the temptation to ask that age-old question, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" It's an unrealistic question, and its wording implies there has to be one answer. Better questions are, "What kinds of jobs have you thought about for when you go to work?" or "When you think about jobs, what are some that come to mind?" These kinds of questions let young people keep their options open, are less threatening for those who are undecided, and encourage them to consider several career possibilities.

Remember, no two individuals are exactly alike. Your dreams for your grandchild should not be based on what is or was good for you, for an older sibling, or for the young person across the street. As young people go through new experiences, they discover what skills they do have and things they don't like to do.

How can you tell if your grandchild is on the right track with careers?

Positive signs are when young people take the initiative to ask questions about jobs or when they show signs that they really care about their own work, be it paid or volunteer. Some negative signs are when young people firmly refuse to talk about their future plans or when they make no attempts to get paid or volunteer jobs.

Bear in mind that times change. One of the last things young people want to hear is, "When I was your age..." Since today's teens have more career choices than ever, decisions can be extremely difficult.

We may wish we could take everything we know about jobs and careers and put it in the minds of young people so they can make wise choices. But, we need to allow teens to learn about jobs and careers the same way we did - over a period of time, through trial and error. After all, experience really is the best teacher.