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Career choices: when children and parents disagree

5 min read   •   October 7, 2021
Jacqui Smit – Copywriter

It is a trope that has been played out in the media for decades – a parent wants their child to be a doctor or engineer, the child wants to be an artist or musician, and chaos ensues…

As your child gets older, there will be increasing pressure to decide what career path they want to pursue after completing their studies. The vocation a child chooses will inform many other choices they need to make, such as Grade 10 – 12 subject selections and university applications. Particularly during the higher grades, children will need to explore their talents and interests to make these decisions. Sometimes, what children want or decide is not necessarily what their parents would want or decide, and conflict can arise.

Read more: Career choices: How to help your child make their subject selections in Grade 9

Resolving conflict

As a parent, you want the best for your child and, as the old saying goes, you may believe that mother or father ‘knows best’. There certainly is value in the experience and knowledge parents have gained throughout their lives and while raising their children – however, it is essential to recognise that your child is an independent person, and your choices may not always align. So, what is a parent to do in this scenario? Here are some tips:

1)   Remember that parent-child conflict is normal

It is easy for both children and parents to become frustrated over disagreements, especially when they are about something as pivotal as a future career. It is also easy for both parents and children to think the other is being unreasonable and behaving out of line compared to other parents and children. That said, arguments or clashes about what parents think is the right choice for their child are exceptionally common. Parents and children would do well to bear in mind that such battles are not out of the ordinary and that there are ways to work through them. If you are experiencing difficulty with your child regarding their career choice, consider that this is not the first scuffle of its kind, nor will it be the last.

Read more: How to handle angry feelings

2)   Understand both sides

When we argue or disagree with someone, it is easy to become wrapped up in our own point of view without making an effort to understand or empathise with the other person. As much as you may feel hesitant or unwilling to try to comprehend the other person’s perspective (especially in a relationship like the parent-child dynamic), both parents and children must allow one another to explain their point of view without interruption or judgment. Allow each other to talk without making foregone conclusions. A good way to do this is to give each person time to clarify their thoughts and feelings and ‘echo’ them back in your own words to see if you understand one another correctly. A back-and-forth discussion like this will take some time, but it will be worth your while. Permit everyone involved to ask each other questions. If things get heated and emotions start running high, pause the discussion and return to it when everyone is calmer.

Read more: Setting boundaries with your teenagers

3)   Find a middle ground and make a game plan

Once everyone involved understands each other’s standpoint, they can begin finding a way to move forward. Begin with reiterating common points on which everyone agrees and with which everyone is happy – these could be something like the child wanting to go to a public university instead a private one. Use these common points as a jumping board for formulating a way forward.

There will most likely have to be quite an extensive amount of compromise from everyone involved. For example, if a parent wants their child to study law but the child wants to study History, you could agree on a BA LLB wherein a student studies one year of a general BA and then studies one BA major and law concurrently for the rest of the degree. With enough patience and research, you might find that there are various options available to students that can accommodate both the parent and child’s interests.

Read more: How to help a learner prepare for university

Destined for success

Ultimately, it is crucial to remember that your child is their own person with unique interests and abilities. Unfortunately, when children are coerced into a career path chosen by a parent, they are very often destined for failure. When a child chooses a career in line with their personality and skills and feels supported by their parents, they will almost always succeed. Studying and building a career takes a lot of time, energy, and money – do not let that go to waste!

Career Compass

If you and your child are struggling with their career choice and your interests seem irreconcilable, it would be worth the time to seek out career guidance and counselling. Career Compass is Optimi Classroom’s latest career guidance offering, designed to help learners find a career in line with their personalities and strengths. Within half an hour, this online questionnaire will match your child’s personality type to compatible work environments and link them to a database of career job descriptions and training institutions. Learn more here.