Are certain mindsets preventing your teen from making a career path decision?

mindset parent tip Oct 21, 2020

If your student is struggling to make a career path decision - or any major decision they might need to make in this stage of life - it may be because they have a limiting mindset that’s holding them back. 

Whether or not you and your teen are on the same page about the importance of self-reflection and taking time to make a career decision purposefully, coming to a decision may be difficult. When that happens, a limiting belief or mindset could be the underlying reason. 

Let’s take a look at some common limiting beliefs that your teen may be experiencing, and how you as their parent can help them overcome them. 

“I’m Just Going to Choose a Career That Makes a Lot of Money”

This is a major limiting mindset among teens. Faced with the prospect of full independence, where they have both the freedom to do what they want and the responsibility to provide for themselves, money seems like a hugely important factor in their career. 

As an adult, you probably already know this isn’t the case. Help them break out of this mindset by asking why they think money should be a primary factor. Be careful not to overtly tell them this - the goal is to guide your teen into realizing it themselves. 

It’s also helpful to talk about your own experiences. What things do you and your family consider more important than money? Did you pick a career for the money only to later regret it? Your personal self-reflection and openness with your teen can open the door to many conversations that will pick apart the limiting beliefs they hold. 

“I’m Going to Do the Same Thing My Friends Are Doing” 

Some teens may have had the same friends for so long that they find it hard to know their own identity outside of the group. Because of this, they may assume that they will like whatever one or more of their friends have decided on for a career. 

This is completely normal, and it’s entirely possible these friendships are formed because of common values or interests that will lead them to the same career as their friends. But you can help them be sure of that by asking questions that uncover why your teen has chosen the same career path as a good friend. Even if they ultimately come to the same conclusion, the process of analyzing the “why” behind their decision can give them more confidence going forward. 

If your teen tells you they’ve chosen a career because their friend has (or if you suspect that’s the case), dig a little deeper. Ask what interests them about this choice. What part do they think they would most enjoy? What do they think the worst part of this job is? These kinds of questions can guide your teen into considering deeper, longer-term reasons for choosing a career. 

“It Doesn’t Matter If I Like My Job”

Plenty of teenagers already have a strong sense of cynicism, so you may find them looking at a career path like some look at school or chores: something that has to be done, but you don’t necessarily have to like it. 

There are a few ways you can help break apart this mindset. First, try sharing your own experiences. Out of all the jobs you’ve had, how has your life been better or worse depending on how much you like your job? Focus on the subtleties and nuances that your teen wouldn’t know about without professional work experience. 

Another approach is to ask them what they would do if they could do exactly what they like to do every day. Look for answers that have career applications. Talk about how you don’t have to love every second of every day of your job (and in fact, you probably won’t) but having the core function and purpose of your job be something you enjoy makes a huge difference in your quality of life. 

“I Already Know What I Like”  

Finally, there are plenty of teenagers who are convinced they already know best and don’t need to dig any deeper. But no one can ever arrive at complete self-understanding, so encourage your teen to think deeper. 

If they already know what they like, ask them why they like it. Get them to be specific! Then ask how they know what they like, what experiences formed it, or anything else that comes up naturally during your conversation. They may mind some unexpected connections or new realizations that push them to a deeper decision. 

Questions to Ask to Overcome Any Limiting Mindset

There are dozens of other possible mindsets that could be preventing your teen from fully engaging in deciding on a career path. No matter what the specific reason for your student’s hesitation, your patience, honesty, and desire to understand them more fully will go a long way in relieving them of those limiting beliefs. 

The three most important things to keep in mind as you help your teen are to start the conversation, ask lots of follow-up questions, and avoid judgment. This will empower your student to assess themselves more fully and honestly.

Here are a few questions to help you jumpstart these conversations with your student. Note that these are a little vague on purpose - you can adapt them to any objection or limit your teen may have. 

  • Why do you feel this way? 
  • When did you realize this was important to you? 
  • Can you remember the first time you noticed this? 
  • Have you read/watched/heard something that helped you come to this conclusion? Tell me about it. 

Open-ended questions serve as conversation starters. Don’t ask leading or pointed questions - ask with genuine curiosity about who they are and what makes them tick. You’ll be surprised at what you might learn!

Help Your Teen Overcome Limiting Mindsets

Don’t get discouraged if you run into one of these limiting mindsets - we all get them from time to time! It’s a natural part of the process of self-reflection, and at this stage in your teen’s life, they may be very new to the idea of doing this purposefully. 

By being patient and nonjudgmental, you can help your teen overcome these mindsets with open conversations about the how and why of whatever is holding them back. Encourage and empower them to think a little deeper, and watch their confidence and self-awareness take off. 

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