NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Kids need information to make good decisions. This is particularly true when it comes to careers. Without exposure to ideas and options they tend to either avoid making the decision or, more often than not, they select a career direction on a whim which has little basis in genuine interest or ability.
As parents, conversations with our kids about careers can be frustrating for a number of obvious reasons. Typically, we approach the conversation as an afterthought ("hey, maybe I need to talk about this stuff before it's too late"), or as a problem ("my kid isn't motivated or is lacking in direction"). Rarely do we look at this as an opportunity or as a proactive step. Likely because many of us didn't have a career plan for ourselves or because the path seemed obvious. Or, alternatively, our kids' reaction will be unpredictable; heightened sensitivity that leads to an argument or radio silence.
But as high school and college graduations approach and the kids prepare to leave for school or to enter the real world, now may be the best time to talk about careers. Not to establish deadlines or conditions but, rather, to plant seeds and to encourage.
Here are six recommendations on how to have the "career" talk:
1. Ask open ended questions. When we ask a yes or no question, we should expect a yes or no response. Do you have a career plan? No. A career goal? No. A resume? No. Quickly we reach a dead end. Instead, think about what would motivate you to talk and to explore creatively if you were in their shoes. Questions like: When you consider jobs and careers what sorts of things come to mind? Or: Tell me about what courses you most enjoy. I wonder what people who enjoy those courses can do professionally? Or: When you and your friends talk about jobs and careers what most interests you? The goal is simply to get them to think and, over time, begin to establish a career identity.
2. Provide support and encouragement. Our kids will face far more change and many more career challenges than we, as parents, have ever experienced. Explain that they will not be judged if they falter and that the only way to figure life out sometimes is to try many different things. Ask them what you can do to help them think through and navigate this process.
3. Collaborate but don't direct. Telling your kids what to do and how to do it is like giving them the solution to a problem without explaining how it was arrived at. There is absolutely zero benefit or learning. If you always do the heavy lifting they will never learn to do it on their own.
4. Ultimatums will backfire. When you threaten your children with punishment, they will either tell you what you want to hear or dig their heels in and do nothing. Figuring out career direction is tough for most of us. It takes time and it doesn't necessarily happen under pressure. But the more they do the more likely they will achieve career insight sooner.
5. Encourage your kids to make the most of their college career office and alumni services. Besides hosting companies that interview on campus, career offices provide resources for career assessment and counseling as well job boards for summer, part time, and permanent positions. They also help alumni with job search and career management. The alumni affairs office and the school's LinkedIn alumni page offer access to graduates who work in virtually every career and industry. Networking with these folks is great for information gathering and for an occasional reality check. Better to figure out early that you are not well-suited for a career or job before you get attached to an idea and commit significant financial resources and time.
6. Introduce the concept of careers as early as possible. As younger children, take them to work and explain how you spend your time and why. Encourage their school to host career information events where many different professions are represented. The goal is not to convince them to pursue your career or to feel pressure to make a decision. It is to expose them to the concept of jobs and careers and to help them grow into a direction that feels right. Above and beyond all else, make it fun. When they think that work will be a burden or never a satisfying experience they will avoid wanting to deal with it.