What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?

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We have all heard a child tell us what they want to be when they grow up. For a while, I kept a running list of my oldest daughter’s aspirations as she moved from dancer to horse trainer with several ideas in between. The standard careers that make a child’s imagined future, like firefighter or YouTuber, are fun to hear and are actually an important part of a child’s development. Career exploration begins at birth, occurring when the object of a story is doing something interesting, “I want to be a train engineer”. As they get older, conversations about work over the dinner table will spark a child’s interest, “I want to be a teacher like Dad”. Helping your child recognize career options early can show him or her that work can be fun if it is in an area of interest. 

By elementary school age, your child may have had many iterations of their aspirations and this is encouraging. The more exposure they can have to different career choices the better. Discuss what the adults they know do for a living, like relatives, the parents of their friends, or neighbors. Read a variety of books that will expose your child to different types of careers. Use your home as an object lesson and determine all the careers that contributed to its existence, including furniture, plumbing, television, and all the conveniences you utilize.

An encouraging activity to do with your child is to purposefully identify their skills, abilities, and interests. Brainstorming together will help them feel accomplished and give you both ideas for activities that will enhance those skills. Do they do well in school? Do they get along well with their peers? Artists might make good architects or graphic designers. Mathematicians could find encouragement in a STEM club. If you are creative and resourceful you can find inexpensive outlets for these skills in our area. School, the community recreation center, and especially 4-H, offer many opportunities to explore and uncover talents.

Once your child is in his or her teens they are asking themselves the questions, “who am I?” and “where do I fit in?” whether they say it out loud or not. The pressure to answer the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” weighs heavier. As a parent or guardian, it becomes important to keep the communication channels open to ideas and discussions that could lead to positive defining experiences. Colleges like NC State & NC A&T offer summer camps and programs in a variety of areas that can give your teen immersive exposure. Once again, help them identify their skills, abilities, and interests and make sure they know you support their efforts to define personal career goals. 

It is a good thing when children and teens are aware of careers or occupations available to them. When teens choose careers that fit their interests, abilities, and personalities they will have greater life satisfaction. This awareness cannot come too early. I wonder, what did you want to be when you grew up?

If you want resources for your career exploration or opportunities for camps and clubs in Lee County contact Pam Kerley. Pam is the 4-H Program Assistant for North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Lee County Center. 4-H is a positive youth development program offering programs that suit a variety of backgrounds, interests, budgets, and schedules. From in-school to after-school, clubs to camps, 4-H’s programs are available in Lee County and we welcome children who want to have fun, learn, and grow. In North Carolina, 4-H is brought to you by the NC State Cooperative Extension. N.C. Cooperative Extension’s experts and educators share university knowledge, information, and tools you can use every day to improve your life.