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?


About Pepper

I am a single working mom, trying to raise my kid the best way I know how. Join me as I navigate my way through the jungle that is Single Mom-hood, armed with rose-colored glasses and strength of spirit. As pepper adds spice to food, so does my daughter add spice to my life. She makes life no less than…PEPPERRIFIC!

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  1. Hi Pepper! It’s been a while!! Hope you and your daughter are doing great! You’re right that in Asian societies, there is a great prevalence by the parents to impose their career choices on the kids. In India especially, the parents drive kids towards a medical or an engineering career, closely followed by software. That’s really not fair for kids with a more artistic/creative aptitude!

  2. I wish many parents will learn from this article. I hear so many expat stories that they left the country simply because the course they took was not what they wanted but to rather please their parents. when they graduate, they cannot find a job that they love because their heart is not into it hence they opt to leave the country away from the prying eyes. Heaven knows what they become of here

  3. Hello Pepper! I wish my EXParent-in-law will read your post. Up to now they are doing the traditional way of disciplining their children. And even in deciding which course to get into college they are the one to decide for it. Too bad for my EX-HUB, he is still in the shadow of his parents.

  4. My parents gave me the liberty to choose what course to get back in college. I am very happy that they did not decide what is “best” for me ; p


  5. My parents didn’t impose on me, and I won’t impose on my child either. I would love for him to become a doctor since we don’t have one yet in the family, but if he chooses a different career path, my support and encouragement will still be there. :)

  6. am very fortunate that we have parents who give us free will to decide what career we should take on. and they’re very supportive in every endeavor we have. hope all parents are like that :-)

  7. I understand the desire to want to push for excellence, and I’m sure the results can be amazing, but I’m pro letting them decide what they like or want to do and then just letting them know I’m here if they need me.

  8. Hi pepper, well said. Parents can make great role models for their children, and studies show that children think about their careers quite early based on their folks’ lives, but forcing kids to do something stiffles their very being. It’s gentle guidance although I know my daughter is definitely going to uni, no choice there, but ive taken her to some of my classes when I was studying so she has seen it for herself … This helping her … To think she’ll have made up her own mind, not me making her do it ;-)

  9. Yes, parents can be pushy. I’m just lucky that mine were not but they still played a big influence in my life. I think that’s the trick – influencing but not imposing :)

  10. Clarkmartin says

    very very informative blog and your post is awesome i really need this type info of Imposing a Career Choice on Your Children. Thanks for share it.

  11. I come from a family of doctors. We actually have 10 doctors (including the extended family) and 3 others who are currently in medical school. However, I never knew any one of my aunts, uncles or even my dad to be pushy when it came to their children’s career choices. It just so happened,I guess, that they were big influences in our lives. (Heck! we all practically grew up running around in hospital corridors.) But no one ever imposed for us to choose this career we are taking now. I also have cousins who chose not to follow a medical career path and it was okay with their parents. They were all very supportive and that’s how it should be.

  12. Hi sis! This post comes in perfect with regards to the conversation I had with my two kids recently. My daughter asked me if Pop Stars earn lots of money than Architects, I was speechless at first. I recalled that she said she wanted to be an Architect when she grows up, just like her Dad’s client but after watching Barbie Princess and the Pop Star, her mind changes:) I guess it would really depend on our kids choice on what would they be when they grow up, our role on the other hand is to guide and support them:)

  13. I was never pushed into a course in college that I didn’t want. But I did experience some parent pressure myself. When I had my very first job, I was so unhappy I wanted to resign immediately. My mom didn’t want me to, she thought I was just having trouble adjusting to “real” life and she doesn’t want me to be a quitter. I did stay there for 6 months just to finish my probation period and so I won’t get into trouble with my mom but after that I resigned. After that I think my mom learned to trust me with my own decisions. Being pressured by someone else is very tiresome but I’m glad that parents are there to guide us into the right path. They may make mistakes along the way but at least we know they just wanted the best for us.

  14. I wish my mom read this when I was younger. Hihi. Anyway, I’m not the type that will choose a career path for my daughter. Her dad, however, insists that she will be a doctor someday. I’ll have him read this when he gets back. :D

  15. Awesome post. Being responsible for guiding your child towards their future career can feel overwhelming – and can also be frustrating when your child does not listen to you or take your advice. But picking a time when you and your child are both relaxed or doing other things can help you make inroads.

  16. not guilty haha I’ll let them choose whatever they want (umm as long as I can afford it hahaha)

  17. Roxi @ Mr. Jacob's Mom says

    I promise that I won’t impose on Jacob regarding this. He can choose whatever he wants to be, so long as he’s happy. It’s our job as parents to support them and be beside them whatever path they choose. And yes, hoping we can afford their dreams too :D

  18. I have a very strong personality and I can be strict sometimes. But despite these, I believe I will never be the kind of parent who will force my ways down my kids’ throats. As early as now I try to listen and consider their interests. Besides, my parents gave me the liberty to decide on my own. So I would do the same to my kids.

  19. I think I’ll be guilty of this in the future. I won’t dictate the exact course she should take but it should lead to a licensed profession (i.e. doctor, lawyer, engineer, architect). Yes, in a way I may be selfish but I want my kid to be have the financial freedom to do all the other things she wants.

  20. I didn’t know that parents in western culture could impose a certain career on their children. I thought they’re all for independence.

    Well, I hope that all parents allow their children to have freedom on their career choices and focus on guidance more.

  21. I need help! I’m confused rite now. My father made me go for a career choice n I tried to do it n I kept failing at it till an uncle of mine asked me to study something else n I ddnt want to study d course but I needed to escape my father so I took d offer. Now I hv graduated n I’m still not happy or fulfilled n I don’t even hv d zeal to study wat I wanted anymore. Wat do I do?

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