Why should a young person be coached by a parent of all people - let alone when their career is at stake?

October 12, 2017

When I trained as a post-graduate, career guidance professional in the early 1980’s, the word “coach” was not in regular use. A coach was someone that sports teams used. Gradually, however, “coaching” and “mentoring” have become part of an employee’s repertoire of skills, particularly those with a responsibility for managing people at work or in the community. Coaching has grown as organisations have recognised that a “coaching culture” is the best approach to enable employees to develop effectively, learn faster, become agiler and feel more engaged with their work.

Career Coaching is now recognised as a developmental process which progresses over a lifetime and is an approach that gets the best out of people by improving their work and life choices. Life has changed since the 80’s, and young people and employees are now encouraged to ask the right questions and manage themselves effectively in a School, College, University or organisational setting. They feel it is their right to choose their career. We believe it is also their right to have access to career coaching when they need it.  Currently, there is no joined up, career coaching service that follows young people through school, higher education and on into early working life. There are organisations that provide experienced career guidance professionals and online assistance, but their service is only as good as resources allow and cannot be provided for everyone.  The most consistent influence throughout a child’s lifetime comes from their parents which is why parents should learn to be their child’s career coach.

For some parents, a “coaching” relationship with their child may feel completely natural and part of what they do when a career discussion crops up in conversation. For others, it may be a question of deliberately setting aside time to get to know their child better and then introduce the subject of career choice. Often how you see yourself is not how your child sees you and vice versa. At the beginning of any close relationship, there is a period of exploration and acceptance of each others’ differences. It is worth thinking about how your family communicates.

In our family, communication is direct, open and often humorous.  However, in some families communication may be more indirect, quiet and serious and therefore the way you choose to communicate dictates your style of coaching. What matters most is your ability to listen and understand each other’s expectations when you talk together. If parents see this as a joint endeavour, the following dilemma experienced by a parent we spoke to, is unlikely to occur as the parent will not feel they have to be in total control.  “I don’t know how much I should influence my daughter? Should I tell her what to do, or say nothing?”

One parent of three teenage children we spoke to said:” it needed courage and patience to listen and trust their views. I had to make a conscious effort to refrain from imposing “my way” and appreciate that their world was different to mine.”

After one of our workshops, one parent said: “I have realised I want the children to follow my aspirations, not their own.”

As a parent and a professional career coach, I am not surprised that some parents and young people, when faced with a lot of careers information available, feel at a loss about how to choose the best route. In the struggle to find ways to simplify and categorise options, the easiest solution is to adopt a stereotypical approach to career choice. It is much easier to make assumptions and create labels about what you have known in your past experience – in fact, give in to your prejudices – and this is particularly true in the face of low quality, careers education. Going for a “safe” option based on out-of-date information feels better than opening up the possibility of learning new ways of doing things.

In the face of career uncertainty and a myriad of choices, the only certainty is your young person’s knowledge of themselves and their potential.  This is the compass they need to navigate through the education and career options available at the various stages in their educational and working lives.  My sons have experienced many twists and turns in their careers to date, but they have instigated this for themselves and we have talked about options and decisions together. They understood from an early age that to grow requires a certain amount of calculated risk, persistence and resilience if they make mistakes since life is full of surprises.  It is their belief in, and knowledge of, themselves that helps them to remain confident in a turbulent work environment.

Throughout my long career, I have been the career coach for hundreds of adults who were also parents, and I’d like to think that they are using their experiences of being coached and passing it on to their children. We would like to see more parents and children communicating and learning together in this way to help them plan their career journey.

Career resilience was the subject of a previous blog and gives some of the skills your children can learn to increase their resilience.