Academic journal article Career Development Quarterly

Helping Adolescents with Career Development: The Active Role of Parents

Academic journal article Career Development Quarterly

Helping Adolescents with Career Development: The Active Role of Parents

Article excerpt

In a New York Times article (Lewis, 1991), Judge A. Leon Higginbotham, Jr., a Black judge of the United States Court of Appeals, attributed the successful beginning of his career to pressure exerted by his mother on the Trenton, New Jersey public schools to allow him to take Latin, thus insuring him a place on the academic track.

Although this critical incident occurred over 50 years ago, it captures some of the flavor of our research on the influence parents have on the career development of their children as well as a number of important dimensions that parents and counselors can consider as helpful in the assistance that parents can provide young people. First, we see a parent actively involved in the education, and thus the career, of her child. Second, the end result, Judge Higginbotham's placement on the academic track did not happen by chance. It was the result of his mother's planned, intentional action. Third, we see the relation between a short-term action exerting pressure on the school board, and the long-term outcome, the successful career in law. Although Judge Higginbotham's mother may not have envisioned this particular outcome, it is likely that she realized the long-term career implications of being on the academic track. Finally, the particular event is interpreted as a meaningful component in a life story.

Parents and counselors are apt to look wistfully at this story, perhaps saying to themselves, "If only helping our children with their careers were so straightforward." We are not informed, for example, of the judge's reaction to having to take Latin, of his feelings about having his mother intervene on his behalf, nor of the conversations that they might have had about this plan. Parents regularly encounter events such as these: encouraging one's child to undertake some activity which may have, at least in the parent's mind, important long-term consequences, but which the child is not interested in; intervening on behalf of the child when the child would prefer the parent not to; and difficult, or nonexistent, conversations between parent and child about these topics.

The present article offers some suggestions to counselors about how parents can help with the career development of their children. These suggestions will be based largely on the author's research findings on this topic and on the conceptual ideas on which the research is founded (Young & Friesen, 1990, 1992; Young, Friesen, & Borycki, in press; Young, Friesen, & Dillabough, 1991; Young, Friesen, & Pearson, 1988; Young, Valach, Dillabough, Dover, & Matthes, in press). First, I will establish the family as a context for adolescent development. Then I will describe how intentionality and meaning, narrative, and identifying and dealing with conflict are related to parents' efforts to help adolescents with career development.


One of the results of research on adolescents in the past decade is a renewed emphasis on the family as the context for adolescent development (Gecas & Self, 1990; Steinberg & Silverberg, 1986). It is contingent on counselors and others to help parents provide the kind of family context and specific assistance appropriate to adolescents at their developmental level. Because career choice is one of the primary developmental tasks of adolescence, it represents an important means for constructive parent-adolescent engagement. Conversely, because of the very salience of career issues, they can exacerbate conflict between parents and adolescents.

A substantial literature suggests that parents can affect children's self-esteem, self-competence, values, and psychological orientation (Dusek, 1991). Yet parents' ability to influence is also a function of the changing nature of the parent-child relationship during adolescence (see review in Collins & Russell, 1991). For example, Rosenburg (1986) reported that self-conceptions are highly influenced by the interpretations that adolescents make of their family experience. …

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