Accept, give support to your teen's academic goals

March 10, 2003|by ROSE RENNEKAMP

Your teen has just told you he wants to go to college. You're proud. In your mind, you're picturing your child as a doctor, lawyer or engineer.

Then, he informs you he's planning on studying to be an actor, dancer, artist, professional basketball player or any other career you know is hard to break into and in which it is even harder to make a decent living.

Yikes - what now? Should you try to talk him out of it?

Quite simply - no. The choice of our children's careers are theirs, not ours. What you should do is help your teen learn all he can about the career - the good and the bad - leave the choice to him and support his decision in any way that you can.

My son announced at 16 that he was going to be an actor. He'd just finished working in a local theater company production and was enjoying his experience in a high school play, as well.


My immediate thought was, "Oh, no, you'd be such a great pediatrician - or vet!" But I bit my tongue and said, "You're a great actor and you do seem to love it."

While you may wish they loved accounting or medicine or computer science, it's important to accept what your child loves and help them find their path.

There are things you can do, however, to help your teens understand career options and the steps they will need to take in pursuit of their dreams.

The most important thing you can do is ensure they have a solid educational base. ACT research shows that taking a challenging core curriculum in high school - including four years of English, three years of advanced mathematics, three years of natural sciences and three years of social studies - will prepare students for college-level work, no matter what the major. Many schools also recommend at least two years of a foreign language.

You can also help your teens think through the realities of their career choices. The U.S. Department of Labor publishes the Occupational Outlook Handbook on the Internet (

The handbook is a nationally recognized source of career information, designed to provide assistance to individuals making decisions about their future work lives. It describes what workers do on the job, working conditions, the training and education needed, earnings and expected job prospects in a wide range of occupations.

To get some first-hand experience, encourage your teens to look into part-time jobs, internships or volunteer opportunities in their areas of interest. This will help them understand the field they are considering, plus provide activities to include on college admissions applications and rsums.

It's now more important than ever to give teens the confidence they need to adapt to a changing world. The path to success in any career is likely to be full of missteps and detours.

Teens who recognize failure as a chance to learn a lesson and come back stronger are often one step closer to the career of their dreams. You can help them by giving them a lot of emotional support and a measured amount of parental guidance.

By the way, my son no longer plans to be a professional actor. His current plan is to get a double major in education and computer science, and do theater work for fun.

It sounds like a great combination to me. He'll be well positioned to pursue a variety of careers and he may change directions many times.

The Department of Labor projects that students will change careers - not just jobs, careers - an average of five times during their lifetimes. However, with a solid foundation, a commitment to ongoing learning and strong emotional support, it should be a very exciting, challenging and rewarding career journey.

Rose Rennekamp is the vice president of communications for ACT. Do you have a question you want answered in a future column? E-mail Rose at

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