When our children were much younger, a favorite question we loved to ask was “what do you want to be when you grow up?” As the children grew up and attended school, they learned about community workers, farmers, doctors, and teachers. As they grew in understanding, the answer to this question became more complex in the face of the vast possibilities before them.
As students enter middle and high school, the focus becomes the academics required for graduation. Numerous surveys reveal most students are bored with their classes and see no link between the classroom and their future work. How sad! Marching through all those classes, tests, and assignments just to get it over with is a waste.
How can we change this? We can give them a sense of purpose to deepen their commitment to education. Helping them find what they really love to do unlocks new determination to achieve educational goals.
Parents, you are the ones who know your children best. How can you help them discover the spark that will add new meaning to their academic work? You can ask questions, listen, and reflect those words back to them. Sounds easy, but the key is to use their words and thoughts, not yours.
Start by asking, “what skills come naturally to you?” When you do not get an answer, you may be tempted to describe the things you see as their strongest skills. Don’t jump in. Rather, allow time for their feedback and questions.
Here are four driving questions to focus your discussions with your child:
What do you love to do?
What are you great at doing?
Does the world need this?
How will you be paid for it?
Your conversations are ongoing and will change as your teenager becomes old enough to pursue interests. Volunteer opportunities can deepen skills and educational interests for future work. Volunteering at an animal shelter, nursing home, or local nonprofit offers a valuable chance for service to help your child identify strengths, skills, and interests.
Do you see evidence of their keen interest in computer design, music, art, or writing? For instance, if the student is interested in computer game design, there are related studies and professions that can broaden your child’s vision of their future. Connect with friends, family, or community members who have careers that use these skills for firsthand facts about the profession.
More resources to help your teen develop a sense of purpose:
Ellen Mooney is a retired principal and teacher with more than 45 years of experience in K-12 education.