Q: My 12-year-old son wants to be a professional football player, but I don't think this is a very realistic goal for his future. Can you recommend a book or online source that a student can use to discover what careers are there to choose from, what that person needs to have as an aptitude, and what earnings that person might expect? How can I help him have good goals for his future?
A: Young children often state that they want to be firemen, astronauts, or football players when they grow up. These wishes are based on idealized images of people in their world, often media heroes. As children enter adolescence they usually become more realistic in recognizing their own abilities as well as getting information about their "chosen" profession. By late adolescence they have learned that in order to be a doctor, for example, one has to have good grades in school, and an ability to take each step at a time to achieve their goals — high school, college, medical school, internship and residency training. Certain professions require an innate talent in music, art, or athletics, including the right body build.
At 12, your son has not attained his full growth. Is he very athletic, the kind of kid coaches choose for their teams, and is football a sport his teachers would suggest for him? Since your son seems to enjoy sports, he should be exposed to several after-school sports activities. He will soon find out how competent he is. Some youngsters who love sports but are not physically suited take up sports writing and cover the games for the school paper. Later in college, some students majoring in communication, broadcast the local sporting events.
Adolescent aspirations change with great frequency. A teenager may wish to be a scientist one day and a rock star the next. I recommend exposing him to a variety of experiences. He does not have to choose a profession for many years. It is important that he complete the necessary tasks of childhood — namely, school achievement. Don't discourage him from dreaming, as long as he does what is expected of him. By 17 he will have a better idea of what he doesn't want to be and perhaps by 20 an idea of what he does want. What is most important is that parents not put a child into their preconceived mold (i.e. the family business or law). Support your son on his quest to achieve in life, and let him know you love him, whatever he does later on.