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Demanding career choices from children hurts their growth

Jaime Terada/YJI

Delta, British Columbia, CANADA – “What do you want to be when you grow up?” It’s a phrase often heard in one’s youth. From preschool through high school, children are constantly encouraged to think about their career plans and next steps of life.

But this philosophy can do more harm than good, for a myriad of reasons.

At first glance, the question seems harmless. By generating the wheels of thought associated with their futures, we encourage youth to dream big and be excited about the possibilities that await them in their lives. We teach them that working hard and having passionate ideas will pave the way for their success.

But this ideology starts to show its flaws when we think about what we are really teaching our next generation. Encouraging children to enter the career-focused world that we live in at such a young age hinders the true benefits of imagination. 

Career education in youth puts a cap on what society deems as real jobs.

Being a doctor, lawyer, or engineer is great; but what about other options? Being a YouTuber or a social media influencer are becoming real possibilities. Plus, youth consume media content at a much younger age and therefore idolize it as a career. 

Schools also don’t expose students to the many intricacies of a field of study. For example, what elementary schooler has heard of a geological technician or a customs broker? Both are very real jobs, but neither are presented as possibilities to the next generation.

This can stifle kids’ aspirations, and can make them feel as though their talents are worthless in this “real world” we present to them. 

Society also looks down on the switching of career paths. The idealized way of life is to pick a ladder and slowly scale it throughout your life. But we also force kids to choose their career path when they are still teenagers.

The ideology claims that if you don’t know exactly what you’re going to do with your life, as an undeveloped child, you are falling behind in this imaginary race that is life.

How can we expect children to know what path works for them when they don’t have any experience in life post-high school? This way of thinking can glue young workers into a job they don’t even like, simply because it isn’t seen as acceptable to start again on a new track.

The main issue, however, is this enormous amount of pressure that we shackle to our youth. Even at the age of 8 or 10, we consistently remind children that they should be thinking about their career, their job, their future.

The ideology claims that if you don’t know exactly what you’re going to do with your life, as an undeveloped child, you are falling behind in this imaginary race that is life. When we put such pressure on the shoulders of children so young, how can we expect them to carry it throughout their whole youth?

This burden can also whittle away at one’s confidence. Children will be scared to stray from the path that society has paved for them, and that venturing off to make your own way will inevitably end in failure. This is such a degrading mindset to teach our youth, especially in formal education where the message is clear as well.

With the stress of making a life-altering decision so young, and without the confidence to truly make it, youth will be scared to go into the truly potential-filled parts of their lives.

Some view this pro-career philosophy as a way to inspire the future generation. But  we’ve ingrained the importance of a crystal-cut future so deeply into society that people define their lives as teens. Stenciled out are the few and difficult acceptable career paths.

We feel chained to one choice for our whole lives. And a massive amount of pressure is shackled to us from a very young age. All these circumstances that are framed in a positive light are detrimental to our youth.

In order to truly foster the next generation of great minds, we need to let them think and live freely.

Jaime Terada is a Junior Reporter with Youth Journalism International.

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