Educational psychologist Dr. Dion Terralong shares her advice on how parents can help encourage their children’s passions and follow their dreams
Ballerina. Astronaut. Doctor. Teacher. We all had dream jobs while we were kids, but how many of us actually went on to follow our dreams and fulfil those early goals? According to new research from family activity app Hoop, 15% of us are still aiming for our childhood dream job.
With the rise of social media and technological advances, our kids are amongst the first generation to grow up with a whole host of new career options and opportunities that have never existed before. As more and more focus is placed on STEM subjects and equal opportunities across careers that still see heavy gender-biases, have kids' aspirations for their future careers shifted?
New research, polling 1,000 children aged 16 and under, asked young people what they wanted to be when they grow up. Results from Hoop revealed professions in animal and conservation come out on top of kids' aspirations, with a career in STEM or medicine coming in second and third.
While long-standing childhood dream jobs including teacher, police officer, ballerina and vet remained in children’s top 10s, some surprising additions joined the lineup including Youtuber/Vlogger as the third favourite for boys, singer/popstar/rockstar as the ninth for girls, and computer game tester/designer taking the number 10 spot for boys.
Figures revealed girls are more likely to aspire to caregiving roles such as Vet, Doctor or Nurse, while boys are more likely to seek careers in the spotlight including footballer or Vlogger.
61% of children polled admitted popular culture (including TV, books, YouTube, computer games and celebrities) have played a key role in shaping their dream jobs. Just 20% cited school or parents as key influences.
Educational psychologist, Dr. Dion Terrelong, shares her thoughts on the findings:
“A child’s identity begins from the moment they are born. Between the ages of three and five, children may talk of wanting to be animals and fantastical creatures – as shown by the one little girl who reported that she wanted to be a unicorn when she was older. By aged seven, these turn into more viable occupational aspirations, influenced by the people they meet and the immediate environment they are in.”
Whatever our children’s ambitions may be, as parents, we want to actively encourage and nurture their passions. Knowing how we can best do this can be tricky. Dr. Dion suggests:
“Parents should actively encourage and expose their children to the world’s possibilities at every stage of development. In fact, studies show that children with high aspirations show greater motivation to go on and to have more positive life outcomes, including emotional attainment and earnings in adulthood.
"What’s key is to expose children to as many different experiences as possible and encourage them to dream big, after all, the career they may have tomorrow may not exist today.”
4 ways to encourage your child’s passions
We asked Dr. Dion to share her top tips on how parents can help encourage their child’s passions:
Get out of the house
It’s important to take your kids out so they can see what’s going on with their own eyes. From sporting to theatre events, or even a walk around a local historic castle, it’s about getting out, seeing the world and being able to form an opinion about what they like.
Exposing children to other cultures and language can be powerful. If you can afford it, this can be abroad. But it could simply be going to local cultural events and celebrations e.g. watching the Chinese New Year parade through London’s Chinatown, trying language classes or checking out themed exhibitions. Exposing your kids to different cultures really helps to broaden their knowledge, spark their imaginations and develop their awareness of the wider world and how they fit in it.
Challenge yourselves as a family
Try something new every weekend. It’s easy to fall into a pattern of repeating the same activities each week. In the future your kids will say ‘as a child I used to…’. Help them write that future narrative, opening their eyes up to the possibilities.
Allow them to dream big
Kids’ aspirations may seem far-fetched, but go on the journey with them. Children’s aspirations should be encouraged, heard and valued as children with high aspirations show greater motivation and go on to have more positive life outcomes, including educational attainment and earnings in adulthood. So having aspirations at all is as important as them being realistic.
Remember: it’s never too late to get started. Adolescence is a major developmental task where children really start to consider and deliberately shape their identities; which, thankfully, continue to evolve as we get older.
It is as important to open up the eyes of a 5-year-old to the world as it is a 15-year-old. Adolescence is where self-limiting beliefs can creep in but this is where you, as parents, through conversation and opportunity can help to keep these beliefs at bay. Show your child the curiosities and opportunities that exist and can be sought out in the world.
When it comes to kids’ aspirations of what they want to be, parents play a huge role. What you and other family members do or want to do will influence your kids. From a young age, the professions they start to aspire to are often the ones they see in their immediate environment, so showing them other ideas will broaden their sphere. Similarly, if they could be influenced by negatives in their environment, help them see life beyond this by explicitly sharing your belief in them and showing them different examples.