Don’t panic if your teen is worried about their CAO application. It’s important to remember that sometimes your teen can lose sight of their goals and get confused about which college course choices to make or their career direction.
As parents you can help support them in some very simple ways to help with those decisions. Here are some tips for parents who are helping their teen decide what college course to apply for through the CAO.
Tips for Parents for Teens Making a CAO Application
With the CAO deadline fast approaching, sometimes I hear students say ‘I’m not sure what I want or if I’m making the right decisions for me’. When I hear these words I take note. They are actually expressing the right thing – career direction and course choice should be about what is right for them and not just what course they will get into.
Unfortunately, with the focus so much on escalating points for college courses, young people can easily lose sight of their personal goals and confuse their critical questions about ‘what I want to be or do’ with instead, ‘what course will I get into’. This can be a cause for despair and a lack of motivation that doesn’t help their studies either.
So, for parents in this situation, here are some simple tips I can share to help you and your teen:
Dedicate Some Time to an Indepth Conversation
It is absolutely vital that the young person has a one-to-one conversation about their interests, their dreams and their goals. They deserve this dedicated time. They have much to contribute to the world and their contribution is needed. Where they can align an area of deep personal interest with a career direction is particularly noteworthy but, this is not always possible, so further exploration may be needed.
Setting up a consultation with an experienced, open-minded career guidance person, used to working with students, is advised. Where a student cannot be easily guided, psychometric testing may be recommended. Psychometric tests, depending on the selected test, are an objective measure of personality, interests, work style/ environment, values and ability. They can propose a range of suitable careers to match the person’s profile and ability. Only an accredited tester is qualified to administer and interpret these tests.
This approach, matched with the subjective one-to-one conversation can be a very effective way to coach the young person. Frequently schools’ career guidance counsellors are snowed under due to heavy caseloads so it may be necessary to pursue a private provider for this purpose.
Time to Rank
Students often vacillate between a few areas of interest but are unsure which to pick and in what order. This calls for a ranking exercise of their selected career areas, in order of their priority.
The listener, be it guidance counsellor, parent, teacher or friend, should always ask the ‘why’ question – why does this interest you, why do you want it, which do you want more. Hearing their reasons articulated out loud can help them make up their own mind.
I saw this work to great effect recently for a Leaving Cert student. She was toying with the idea of studying Agricultural Science and Food Systems – by the end of the career exploration session she was convinced that she was making the right choice and left with a pep in her step!
Ask a Different Question
For some young people, the question ‘What do you want to be?’ does not work and can leave them feeling quite lost. One young lad told me that whenever someone asked him what he wanted to be, he always said ‘engineer’ just to get people off his back!
A different question we can ask that is more inspirational and grounded in the real world of work is ‘What challenge or problem in the world do you want to solve?’ And crucially ‘what do you need to learn to be able to do that?’
This approach moves us away from focusing on jobs and helps them see the bigger picture: the challenges, problems and opportunities that exist in society and the world of work. It is based on the premise that while jobs and careers are likely to change, the challenges we are trying to solve will remain!
I have seen this approach work wonders and shift the careers’ conversation to a whole different level, whether working with students or graduates. Using a supporting set of career challenge cards, the young person identifies the challenges and opportunities that exist in the world that motivate them, enabling them to make more informed decisions and approach the changing world of work with a different mindset.
Ask About Values
Building on the previous point, encouraging the young person to think about their values when selecting a career direction is important. This should also inform their choices. Put simply, if they are into sustainability and the green agenda it’s unlikely they will want to work for Shell!
I have seen a family member’s life experience greatly influence a young person’s values, e.g. an 18 year old girl heavily influenced towards studying biotechnology due to a family illness and her desire to find cures and contribute to global development.
An intuitive guidance counsellor will facilitate the conversation carefully and bear the student’s values in mind.
Parental Influence on Career Choice
Parents should not underestimate their influence on their teen ‘the voice in the head’, although their son or daughter may not credit them with it at the time! There is no single way that works for everyone so parents need to be open to supporting their young person in various ways.
They can do this by listening to them, by asking how they can help, by noticing what comes naturally to them, what brings them joy, by learning to read them and by affirming them in those respects.
For example, you might say ‘I notice how well you relate to others; how you like your own company, your attention to detail, the way you finish out a job’. Remind them that these are all transferable skills that contribute to the workplace and to one’s personal development.
Above all, don’t panic – get informed, reach out for help for yourself as a parent and for your teen and acknowledge that their career journey, no matter how challenging, is part of their life journey and self-development.
There is lots of time. After all this is Generation Z and the prediction is they will have up to seventeen jobs in their lifetime!