Imposing a Career Choice on Your Children: Guilty or Not?

We live in a highly competitive society. Most parents are keenly aware of this reality, especially when it comes to their children’s future. Parents want to see their offspring move on after high school to college — including post-graduate work – and then on to a stable, well-paying career that they enjoy. That is part of the parenthood dream.

While parents have a responsibility to assist and mentor children in making wise career choices, there is a huge difference between mentoring and imposing decisions in this area. Unfortunately, many parents place a lot of pressure on student career options to the point that they impose careers on their children. Parents go to this extreme with the best of intentions — they want their children to be successful in life. What these well-meaning mothers and fathers fail to understand is that their sons and daughters may have different interests and values. The parent that pushes his or her child into a particular college and a career as an accountant may not realize that their child’s true interests lie in journalism.

To support the belief that guiding and mentoring leads to different student outcomes, researchers at Michigan State University followed 6,000 students nationwide through high school to determine what influenced them in their education and profession decisions. The researchers focused on STEMM careers — careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine. The findings showed that four percent of the students who were not influenced by parents chose these career areas, while 41 percent of those who were influenced by their parents entered STEMM careers. Parents clearly have a powerful impact on their children’s career choices. As noted, there is a world of difference between guiding and imposing.

In many cultures the imposition of careers on children by their parents is much more pronounced and accepted. For instance, competition for college and careers is much keener in Asian countries and parents have a much stronger degree of control over their children’s choices. Parents place very high expectations on their children.

One of the unproven and yet logical long term effects of parental imposition of choices on their children’s education and career goals are their children’s decisions to change career goals later in life. Ten years after graduating from college the parents who imposed an engineering career on their son or daughter may discover that he or she is taking real estate courses to become a Realtor.

Most experts in the fields of education, parenting and career counseling strongly suggest that while parents can and should play a major role in mentoring and guiding their children’s college and career goals, making these choices for them in unwise. Ultimately, children become adults and will make their own career decisions. If they are unhappy, they will move on to a new and more gratifying career. It happens every day.

So, are you guilty of deciding for your child’s future career?