How to Parent Teens About Their Future Employment


As parents, we have come from an age group that has known extended, if not full, employment. A job, or the reasonable prospect of one, was a normal expectation. We subscribe to what is often called The Protestant Work Ethic – we believe that people should work for their living or to keep their families. We also feel that our identity is defined in terms of our employment. That is, you are not so much John Smith, father of two and husband of one, but John Smith, doctor or machine fitter. People without a job, in this view, are without an acceptable identity. They are lay bouts, scoundrels or failures.

Our very first question on meeting a new person is still often ‘What do you do?’, and by that we mean what is your paid occupation. People whose daily efforts are not rewarded with a pay packet or salary cheque are often extremely apologetic, whatever their reason for being in that situation. Even though she is engaged in one of the most difficult and worthwhile jobs of all, a woman bringing up a family is liable to belated herself by saying ‘Oh, I’m only a housewife.’

Future Employment

The labor market has changed considerably, however, since we were young. Technological advances have meant that we need a smaller workforce to run our society and to produce even more goods than the larger one used to do. The pool of people needed to run our society will get smaller still – but we continue to judge people as if not having a job was a matter of choice when often, and increasingly, it may not be. The obvious solution would be to spread the burden of work more thinly over a wider number of people. Whether we take up this challenge and drastically change the nature of employment by making use of part-time or job-sharing schemes, or whether we go on as now with the ‘haves’ in work and the ‘have knots’ out of it, the fact is that a greater number of people will spend a greater amount of time out of the workplace. ‘Spare’ time will soon become main time, which means that we really must start training our young people to enjoy and make use of this leisure.

For a start, instead of seeing themselves as members of a profession or job, perhaps we could encourage youngsters to find a particular interest that involves them and to pursue that as their main identity. Instead of being employed or unemployed, they could be a ‘badminton player’ or a ‘martial arts student’. Or even better, ‘I’m Joe Bloggs, a very nice person to know.’ Whether we are fully employed or not, we often find our greatest satisfaction in the things we do in our ‘spare’ time. So it is often ridiculous that we assume that this part of our lives is incidental or of less real importance than our paid employment. When it means that people having difficulty in finding employment, or who are surplus to the labor requirements at any one time, suffer enormously from the feeling that they are at fault or inferior, this attitude is possibly harmful, not only to individuals, but to society as a whole.

Young people are often aware of these dilemmas and will argue that there is no point in pursuing qualifications ‘because it’s a waste of time, and who wants a boring job anyway?’ Be honest, how many of us really do enjoy our work? How much of our anger at ‘social security scroungers’ is based on the understandable irritation at their apparently having a life of ease while we labor away at jobs we don’t enjoy but feel we ought to do? Might it not be better if some of us took the opportunity to spend more time improving ourselves and doing things we always wanted to do, and part in giving our time to help others in volunteer, charity work or community schemes? You remain in the boring job to get money to buy possessions – some of which you may not even want. Your offspring may be willing to pay the price of having fewer things, in order to buy other than material satisfaction. This does not make him or her less ethical than you. It just means they have a different moral viewpoint.

Part of this could be the recognition of the importance of skills not directly related to work. One of the most important jobs any adult can undertake is also the one for which we are often the least prepared – being a parent. It is assumed that parenting ‘comes naturally’, which is a ridiculous underestimation of an extremely skilled ‘profession’. If we spent less time worrying about fitting our youngsters for the labor market, maybe we could devote more attention to helping them gain the far more valuable skills of communicating, getting on with other people and being able to bring up their own children.

In spite of the fact that their 11 to 13 years of school education is supposed to equip them to cope with an independent existence, school life often holds them back from being able to do so. Pupils are often still treated as children – beings too young to be trusted with any responsibility more onerous than keeping track of their own pencils. At the time when we say we expect them to be involved in decisions and choices that could affect the rest of their lives, we actually demand obedience, discipline and acceptance.

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About the Author: Roberta Southworth is a psychiatrist by profession. She likes to help out people by writing informative tips on how people can to solve their family and relationship issues. She is currently staying in Ireland. She has 5 years of couple counseling experience.

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