Advice Column, Child, Education, Home Education, Parenting

Three reasons why it may be unfair to make your child choose a career in high school

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  • Category Advice Column, Child, Education, Home Education, Parenting

The world of work is changing more rapidly than ever before. Shifts in economies and the advent of the Fourth Industrial Revolution leave parents anxious about their child’s future. This anxiety can often lead to frustration and conflict in the parent-child relationship, which seems to exacerbate both party’s concerns. From a career counselling perspective, here are three reasons why I believe it may be unfair for your child to commit to a career in high school.  

1) Your child’s brain is still developing 

The adolescent brain only stops developing around the age of 25. For years we thought that the brain only goes through one growth spurt in the early years of life. Research has proven the contrary and, more importantly, it has noted that the brain goes through a second growth spurt during adolescence until your child’s mid-twenties. Specifically, in the region of the brain that deals with functions such as complex reasoning, problem-solving, prioritising, long-term planning, self-evaluation and regulation of emotion. 

In other words, the part of the brain that deals with future decision-making and long-term planning is still developing. Therefore, instead of putting pressure on your teenager, focus on modelling the skills that are important to develop problem-solving and thinking ahead.  

2) It can cause them to avoid mastery

Thinking about the future can be an overwhelming internal event. We can all relate to that feeling when we think about something difficult that we have to address the following week. Now imagine that same experience is about a life-changing decision about something you have to commit to for the rest of your life. It is often the case with my career counselling clients that they are terrified of making a choice and would rather avoid thinking about the future at all. This leads to behaviours that distract us from, or help us avoid, thinking about the future. Unfortunately, these behaviours don’t help us develop the skills that lead to the mastery of the self and our craft. 

I often find this is the case in the school subjects that some will deem as “more important” than others. Mathematics, for instance, comes with the narrative that it is important for your future instead of the narrative that it is a subject that teaches you how to master yourself and practice your ability to persevere. This is why many students will start disliking the subject. Not because of its content but rather the overwhelming, all or nothing, story attached to it. In this case, the career counselling process shifts to working with the discomfort and perceptions about the future to allow your child space to make their own informed decisions. Mastery of the self and the difficult is often more important than a quick decision.

3) It can limit their choices

The reality is that some of the careers that your child will need to consider probably do not exist yet. Often I find clients in my career counselling practice that have been forced into a degree by their parents and feel stuck and limited by the options they have. The degree that they pursued limited their career choices and their ability to pivot in a direction that might help them. So, don’t necessarily assume that the courses that look attractive and stable now will guarantee success in the future. 

Research in career counselling over the last decade have moved away from fitting a person into a career to enabling your client to take action and construct their own career. Much of the current research focuses on developing resilience and adaptability and increasing employability. The reality is that students that are forced into a direction, rarely take ownership, which decreases their flexibility and employability. They will often feel like victims of their circumstances and remain passive instead of adopting a proactive approach.  

According to the World Economic Forum, the skills needed to thrive in the Fourth Industrial Revolution include critical thinking, problem-solving and collaboration. So, when considering school subjects or course options for your child, the career path should be part of the decision but not the only one. Consider whether the skillset your adolescent will acquire during their studies is the skillset needed to navigate the dynamic world of work. 

To summarise, your teenager’s brain is still developing. Instead of forcing them into a career choice have a dialogue around what will keep your child relevant in the modern economy. The current economy is a dynamic constantly evolving environment where your child needs to find relevance and make themselves more employable. They are continuously going to have to upskill themselves to be relevant to companies or markets in whatever career field they find themselves. So, rather than expecting your child to commit to a career in high school, use this time to develop the skills to empower them to construct or design their own career path. Model the skills that will keep them relevant in the ever-changing world.


Hannes is an educational psychologist that provides therapy, assessments and career counselling in Johannesburg. He aims to enable his clients to make their highest contribution despite the obstacles and pain they might experience. Therefore, he works closely with his clients and applies life design counselling, cognitive behavioural therapy, and acceptance and commitment therapy principles to help his clients live productive and meaningful lives.

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