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5 Messages to help your kids with their career choices

05 June 2013

Understand the power that parents hold in guiding their children's career paths. Discover the High Five messages for successful career planning and lifelong learning.

South Africa’s university graduation rate of 15% is one of the lowest in the world (HSRC, 2008). These figures are frightening, especially for the person who carries the financial burden of unsuccessful completion of tertiary studies. For the more fortunate students, the financial burden is placed on their parents who experience difficulties when their child decides to change their study direction, fail a subject, or even drop out completely.

“I thought physiotherapists only work with sportsmen / woman, now I am helping people coughing up slime”

“I never realised that I need to complete a Masters before I can really register as a psychologist”

These are only two of the hundreds of statements we have come across when trying to assist students in planning their careers. Parents however think that a handful of psychometric assessments and a 5 hour one-on-one career counselling session are there to clear up ALL career confusion, answer all questions and even motivate students to be the best they can be. However, realistically, career planning is more of a lifelong event, starting with your family. Parents are perfectly positioned to support and encourage their children in their career journeys. Career planning is seen as a process which involves helping children to develop their roles and to use their experiences to create the life they want to live. Also, since their roles and their experiences are forever changing, it is important to understand that career planning is a dynamic process (Morhart, 2010). Research has found that we will change careers up to 9 times in our working life. Change is inevitable; career planning is not just an event with a psychologist but a lifelong process supported by parents, peers, and various professionals.

This article is based on Loretta Morhart’s work, Career planning with Teens. Parents are seen as one of the most influential factors impacting on children’s career paths. However, parents do not always know what they can do to support their children as they explore their career options and make decisions for their future. The High Five messages were developed by career planning experts as a foundation for successful career and life planning. These messages will assist parents supporting their children to develop their work, family and community roles and to use their experiences to create the life they strive to live.

Message #1: Follow Your Heart.

"Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you've imagined."

Henry David Thoreau

Create the opportunity for your children to dream. People are happiest and do their best when doing what they love. Furthermore, pursuing dreams provides motivation, direction and helps to clarify what is really important to people (Morhart, 2010). Our children grow up in a different world than what we did. Becoming an astronaut for NASA, a news reader for CNN or a talk show host, just like Oprah, is actually a lot more attainable than when we grew up. As parents, encourage your children to dream and ensure that you facilitate the energy created by these dreams to develop their skills and competence in areas needed to make these dreams a reality.

Message #2: Access Your Friends.

As parents, one cannot expect to be an objective expert facilitator about all career options available. You will quickly realise that you might need to access your friends and allies for support in your child’s career planning. Remember to involve people who play a major role in your child’s life, such as family, neighbours, coaches, teachers or friends. Ask your friends to talk to your child about their career paths, career dreams, career failures and all things related to career planning. Make sure that your child is exposed to different opinions and ask whether he/she can possibly experience different work environments. The quality of your child’s career planning will depend on the quantity and quality of information gathered throughout their life.

Message #3: Change is Constant.

During the previous century the biggest challenge was to land a job, thereafter we comfortably settled in and started working towards our pension. These days we stay in a position generally 3 years, and then move on, adapt and change. One of the biggest gifts we can give our children is the skill to adapt when necessary. Both in work and in life, change is a constant force. Change can also create opportunities. Being flexible, versatile and adaptable can harness the power of change to build career success (Morhart, 2010). Our children’s goals, dreams and career direction will change multiple times in their life. As parents, teach your children to celebrate the change and measure their success in the process of career planning and not in the final destination.

Message #4: Learning is Lifelong.

Many parents believe that their child’s ability to learn is dependent on their IQ. They do not realise that learning is related to the child’s ability to sit still, and take the time to learn. The self-discipline required to learn is a crucial skill needed throughout the child’s life. Your child cannot see learning as something that will end, or finish after school or studying. Learning should be seen as a continuous process. Learning, skills development and work are intertwined activities that your children will engage in as a continuous cycle of career building experiences (Morhart, 2010). As parents, keep on learning, let yourself be an example, you are never too old to learn.

Message #5: Focus on the Journey.

Life is a journey of experiences with destinations or goals as milestones along the way. Career building requires attention to goals and to all that occurs on the journey toward these goals. As your teens continue their career journeys, they may achieve their original goals, or revise them and set new goals (Morhart, 2010).


Loretta Morhart, 2010. Career Planning With Teens; A Guide For Parents, Guardians, and Counsellors. Moeketsi Letseka & Simeon Maile (2008), HSRC Policy Brief. High university drop-out rates: a threat to South Africa’s future.


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