We all 'know' our children. But that doesn't mean we know what career path they will or should embark on. We are likely to have some ideas based on our understanding of the world, and our observations and intimate experiences with our children over the years. But even this knowledge is not sufficient to inform us or our children as to what career direction to take.
It would be more helpful and accurate to understand the situation as one of discovering how your child is evolving during the teenage years. So much change and maturity happens during this phase that at no point can anything absolutly definite be determined. The best we can hope for is building an understanding of our child based on their experiences so far, and their dreams for the future.
We also have to keep in mind that their experiences so far have been limited - they have only experienced a tiny proportion of all the possibilities that exist, and they have built their world around what they have experienced. What would they be if they had been raised in a third world country with little contact with our culture, or if they had been born right here 100 years ago?
There is little doubt that with different experiences, each child will consider different possibilities for themselves. And this is the situation they find themselves in every day - meaning they can change as their minds are opened to the endless possiblities that may lay ahead. A young person set on becoming a pilot for years may suddenly aspire to becoming a psychologist the instant they realise (or are shown) that too is within reach.
It is quite normal for parents to listen patiently as their children jump from one career area to the next during these years. You can just imagine what Guidance Counsellors hear on a daily basis! This is the discovery phase - its exciting - especially when the possible career opportunities seem endless. We are a long way from the days of considering just the civil service, banking, nursing or teaching etc., as the likely occupations for our children. Many of our children will be in jobs 10 years from now that don't exist now - and if they are in those occupations we all think we know well, how they will be doing those jobs will differ dramatically from the way they were done in the past!
So knowing our children is not about just describing them based on their past experiences, its also about being in touch with them at the boundries of their current experiences. This is where they live, not in the past, but in the creation of their future.
Looking Backwards for clues to the future
Not surprisingly, dwelling only on their past, or measuring their past or current performance is at odds with young peoples focus on the future. Few of them like or appreciate discussing such things for any length of time.
Yet their past is part of the bigger picture, and patterns established in the past resonate into the future and influence a childs decisions, beliefs and aspirations. This is why career professionals often look into the past to see if they can find clues to the future. Often the seeds of a future career path can be found indirectly in childhood aspirations and dreams, and these may need to be revisited again at times of uncertainty.
Career professionals providing guidance for young people need to get some solid information under their belt in order to be able to stand over their guidance. As parents we are likely to to come across some of this information, so it is a good idea to understand what this information is, and to know how it can be used in the career guidance process.
The most common tools used by guidance counsellors are aptitude and career tests, which are used along with their performance on state examinations (Junior Cert and end of term examinations) as a starting point for career guidance. Career professionals also note the importance of self-esteem and other psychological factors as contributing to young peoples aspirations, although they rarely have any objective measure of these things.