Parents Should Really Stop Asking ‘What Do You Want To Do When You Grow Up?’

Don't Ask Kids What They Want to Be When They Grow Up

My head is still spinning. Last week, my daughter’s school hosted an evening for parents of Grade 9 students about course selection for Grade 10. I don’t usually go to these things, but my daughter had come home, highly anxious and worried, thinking she had do do a math or science course THIS summer – yes, summer school! – to lighten the workload as she enters grade ten in September.

My daughter and many of her friends were in a tizzy, thinking that the only way they could continue taking math and sciences and get good grades was to attend summer school…or else their lives would be ruined and their dreams of working in the science or math fields forever destroyed.

I was pretty stunned and sort of irate after hearing that teachers and guidance counsellors were telling my daughter it makes much more sense, and is a good idea, to take at least one science or math class in summer school, so they’re not overwhelmed in Grade 11 or 12 when the marks really matter. I know the rest of the world is in a rush and impatient – I can’t even sit through a 3 second advertisement  anymore – but I would like my kid to be a kid for as long as possible.

I wanted to ask the teachers, “Are you telling me that my child, who is only 14, needs to decide NOW if she wants to continue in math and sciences?”

In my opinion, by putting the thought into their brains that summer school would lessen the load in following years and this was the best route to go, they were also forcing my daughter to really think about what she wants to do when she ‘grows up.’ At 14, I feel like she’s still a kid and should be deciding if she wants to go to the mall or hang out at a friend’s, not deciding between overnight camp and summer school and what she wants to DO when she grows up.

In this interesting article, according to experts, the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” is something we should NOT be asking our children. At least not in this day and age. The article shares how, at a recent educational conference, the Foundation for Young Australians chief executive, Jan Owen, explained why the seemingly benign question is “probably the worst question you could ever ask a young person today, and probably never, ever should ask again.’

That’s a pretty powerful statement.

The article goes on to say that new research shows that a 15-year-old today is likely to have up to 17 jobs across five different industries over the span of their life. Yes, our children may have 17 jobs over the span of their career. I mean, how amazingly interesting and scary!

Also mentioned in the article, another study points out that seven in 10 jobs will be “disrupted and transformed within the next five to 10 years, and 60 per cent of young people are studying or preparing for them.”  The worst part? “No one’s telling these students the jobs they’re aiming for are going to be transformed at the very least.” At worst, they’ll be extinct!

“Our research is really clear about this. The dream job, that one job for life, is actually kind of done, it’s over,” Ms Owen says.

I would also add that there will be many more jobs that don’t exist now, but will exist in the future.

Interestingly, but not surprisingly at that parent’s night, there were three girls in Grade 10, on hand, so us confused parents (and, yes, there were a lot of us!) could ask actual students questions. These girls were not your average grade ten girls. They sounded something like this; “Well, I’m taking two grade 12 sciences and one grade 11, even though I’m still in Grade 10, and I don’t find it all that hard. Oh, and I speak eight languages and I also swim competitively five days a week.”

These girls were more than impressive, to say the least. They made me feel really unaccomplished actually.

While other parents asked about workloads and how they got along with students older than them, I think I asked the most important question of all. I raised my hand and said to these high achiveing girls, “I’m curious. Do you know what you want to do when you graduate?” (This is why you don’t want a journalist as a parent in your school. I kid! #not)

Guess what? Two of them answered that they had no idea. I was thrilled.  It didn’t matter that these girls were rushing through their grades early, or that they had taken summer school, or that they were clearly high achievers at such young ages, they still didn’t know what they wanted to do when they ‘grew up.’  I’m pretty sure the school was expecting them to say, “I would like to work with N.A.S.A.” Or at least say, “I plan to go to Harvard.” Anything but, “I don’t know”!

Rowan once wanted to drive a garbage truck. Eckler didn’t know how problematic it is to ask, ‘What do you want to do when you’re grown up’.

Very few children really do know what they want to do, and asking them so young puts a lot of pressure on them. In my office, one of my colleagues wanted to be a doctor and graduated with a degree in neuroscience. She’s now in sales. Once upon a time, I wanted to be a nutritionist. What happened to that dream?

It’s cute, though, to ask your kids what they want to do when they’re young. When Rowan was just three years old, she wanted to be a garbage man. Every Monday, I would have to race her to the back door so she could say hi to the person picking up our trash. How did I respond to my daughter about her career choice?

“I don’t think they’re called garbage men anymore. Maybe garbage person? Or maybe sanitation worker?,” I responded. “Whatever. It’s a good job!” I said.

“Maybe the real question to ask a young person, and even ourselves when we wake up in the morning, is: What is the world that you want to create?,” Ms. Owens suggests. I’ll admit, I still don’t know what I  really want to do when I grow up…and I’m a grown up.

I know one thing. It’s more fun to be a kid…. or at least it used to be.



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