Mireille Moisan, Guidance Counsellor
Member of the Ordre des conseillers et conseillères d’orientation du Québec (OCCOQ)
Sarah, 14, shows up at her school guidance counsellor’s office… Cheerful by nature, today she is rather shy and has difficulty expressing herself. She responds as best she can to the counsellor’s questions. Head down, she squirms and fidgets with her hands. After a few minutes she bursts into tears: “I don’t know who I am! I don’t know what I want to do later in life and it’s all happening too quickly!”
Sarah’s situation is not exceptional: In fact, it is common inside the offices of high school guidance counsellors, regardless of the student’s personality. Orient yourself, find your way – it may all seem simple at first, but it is a tall order for youth who often have no work experience, little sense of themselves, and generally do not want to “make a choice” which may seem constraining and irrevocable.
Fear of being wrong
Most youth who feel anxious about making a career choice are often simply afraid of making a mistake. The multitude of possibilities presented to them; having to choose in a short period of time; less than convincing grades; and the many decisions to be made during the school year are all elements stoking this anxiety. They believe, often mistakenly, that a bad choice will impact their future and force them into a program, or WORSE, a job that they won’t like!
As a parent, you can reassure your child by letting them know that there really is no “bad choice.” No matter what they choose, they will gain experience and learn more about themselves. Our educational system allows for numerous and diverse pathways, so young people must understand that there is no such thing as the “perfect choice.”
There are several possibilities open to them, and they can always change direction along the way.
By demonstrating patience and confidence in your child, you can support him with reassurance and reflection on his qualities (sociable, organized, thoughtful, active, etc.) and skills (good at sports, artistic, manually skilled, etc.). It is not about saying “big” things, but rather simply emphasizing his strengths, giving him time to reflect, and most importantly, respecting the fact that his choice of career is his.
Fear of change and the unknown
As parents we are not always aware of what this decision represents in the lives of our children. Think about it: Once they finally feel comfortable in high school, they must now consider their future in a whole new way. This can mean a new school, new classes, new groups of friends, new teachers, possible student employment, maybe a move, a car and an apartment?
That’s a lot, right?
Some young people like and embrace change and novelty, but others are fearful, which has repercussions on their career choices, as all these changes add pressure to their decision-making.
These fears are normal. By taking the time to listen without judging, you allow your child to articulate and understand them. You can also reassure them by visiting open houses, education and job fairs, and through “student for a day” activities that allow young people to familiarize themselves with their future school environment. You can also encourage them to do short workplace internships to learn more about these unfamiliar settings and validate their various occupational interests.
Young people face many fears throughout this process, and these are just a few examples. There are many others, such as the fear of not being successful, disappointing their parents, moving away from family or simply the fear of failure. Don’t worry! With your support, your child will cope with it all.
Do not hesitate to seek help and advice, especially from your child’s guidance counsellor.