Are you too involved, or not involved enough?

A parent should definitely be involved in a child’s career choice but should stop short on making the “final” decision on their behalf.  The reason for this is that career decision-making is not a singular event which starts when a person leaves school. It is a process, part of discovering more about who I am, and what I want to do with my life one day.

Are you too involved in your child’s career choices or uninvolved? Answer yes if you have ever thought or said any of the following:

(1) Are you too involved?

  • “I know my child better than they know themselves”
  • “I don’t want my child to make the same mistakes in life which I made”
  • “I never had the chance in life, so I want something better for him / her”
  • “I’m paying for their studies so I get to decide on what they study”
  • “My child can do any career … just not … (career name)

If you’ve ever thought or said any of these things, chances are you have normal protective parental instincts. However, be careful not to make their choices for them. The power of a parent’s advice is far greater when the child asks for advice and does not have it forced upon them. Don’t choose for them, what if your choice turns out to be wrong? Don’t live your dreams through your child.

(1) Are you involved uninvolved?

  • “I have no idea what my child’s subjects are at school”
  • “Whatever my child wants to do with their life is OK by me”
  • “My child must make their own mistakes, I’ll be there to pick up the pieces”
  • “Its my wife’s / husband’s job to take care of those decision”
  • “Its the school’s / teacher’s job to take care of those decision”

If you have said or thought any of these things then maybe look at getting more involved in your child’s career. In my experience, some parents don’t feel its their job to get involved. Make the time! Make the effort to find out.  Even if you don’t know the answers, ask the right questions. Start young and get involved with school projects like, career dress-up day, projects to do with volunteering or job shadows organized by the school. Use your contacts with family, friends and at work to get more information.

 What ages or stages should parents to get involved?

Career development is a life-long process and so there is no real starting point. There are however, important decision making stages in your child’s school career which you need to be aware of. According to career guidance specialist, Donald E. Super career de velopment can be summarised in four stages:  Growth (age 4 – 13), Exploration (Age 14 – 24), Establishment (25–44), Maintenance (45 – 64), and Decline +65).

Growth stage (age 4 – 13)

This stage is all about, who am I? and exploring different careers without having to make choices. Children learn about by themselves by interacting with parents, family and friends, and at school through teachers and their peers. They learn about their interests, abilities and strengths by trying out lots of new and different things. They  observe the careers in around them and what they are exposed to through family and friends.

Your role  is to encourage your child to dream no matter how fantastical. Always be positive. If your daughter says: “I want to be a teacher”, say something positive about teaching and what a good teacher he /she would be. If your son loves dancing, encourage him to dance”.

Get involved in school activities to do with careers, career dress up day in Grade 7 (age 13). On this day, children come to school dressed in the career they want to be. Just have fun.

Exploration Stage (Age 14 – 24)

The name “Exploration” suggests young adults are finding out, identifying their interests and capabilities, figuring out how they fit with various occupations. At this stage they make tentative career choices, leave school and either study or get their first job.   

Subject Choice in Grade 9

One of the most critical decisions of the this stage happens in Grade 9, whe final subject choices are made. The subjects chosen have an impact on what careers your child will be able to follow. Whether to take Math’s or Math’s literacy is often a concern. Some parents are dogmatic in insisting that their child takes Math’s when this might not be the best option. When choosing subjects, parents and teachers may be involved; sometimes it may be useful to get objective, professional advice. Read more on subject choices here.

Study Field in Grade 11 or 12

In Grade 11, young adults choose and make application to various universities and colleges. Thes choices have cost implications so parent’s involvement is important. Encourage your children to study further after school, as this may well improve their prospects of find a job. Having a base of study provides a stepping-stone for further study and career advancement later. Keep in mind the cost of study and budget available. The most important rule of thumb when selecting where to study is:

  • Quality of the study institution
  • Quality of qualification they are doing
  • What is convenient?
  • What is affordable?

Help you child to research various options available: University, University of Technology, TVET College, or Private College? Do some research, visit, which has a list of accredited public and private tertiary institutions.  Each institution has its own entry requirements based on the new scale of achievement for the National Senior Certificate (NSC).

  • What level of study should your child be aiming for? If it is a degree you will need to meet the minimum entry requirements for degree studies?
  • Make sure that applications are done on time.
  • Apply to more than one institution as a fall back.
  • Apply early!

If needs be, try to objectify the career guidance process: speak to a consultant or trained career practitioner who could be a registered Psychologist or a Psychometrist with experience in the field of career development. Recommend your child do a career interest questionnaire. The questionnaire on, is the most widely used in South Africa and is free of charge.


In my experience, almost every parent, with very few exceptions, wants the best for their child. Parents sometimes get too involved when it comes to career decisions, by the same token some parents don’t get involved enough.

Parents should be involved and there are some key stages where they can help their children make difficult decisions. Remember:

  • Build their self-esteem by positively reinforcing their choices when they are young.
  • Try to make career development a positive experience by discussing your child’s dreams and hopes with them.
  • Build trust and build your relationship with your child while they are young.
  • Get involved in projects related to careers at school.
  • Expose your children from a young age to different careers through what you do and what your family and friends do in their jobs.
  • Don’t live your lives through your children by expecting them to achieve what you never had the chance to achieve.
  • Don’t make their choice for them, this can lead to if “your” choice turns out wrong and you are held responsible later.
  • Don’t ever say I told you so.
  • Build your child’s self-esteem and confidence to tackle whatever they may face in life and make sure they know through your actions and then words that they are fully accepted?