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Early Exposure to Career Options Gives Tweens a Head Start - Especially GirlsBy Ellen Langas Campbell
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” Even the loftiest answers, such as astronaut or brain surgeon, seem possible to a child while dreaming of his or her future.
But how many people do you know who achieved those early goals? Probably not many. It’s easy for kids to get sidetracked, especially during the tween years when they have to navigate middle school, cope with body changes, and devote time to participating in sports and outside organizations. Planning a career is probably not on the radar, but it’s the ideal time to lay the groundwork. Consistent exposure will lessen the stress that strikes kids and parents like a freight train when it comes time to choose classes and colleges and eventually, a career.
So how do you fit that into your child’s already jam-packed schedule? Encourage kids to participate in a variety of periodic no-pressure activities throughout their development to expose them to career and leadership opportunities. Don’t worry if your child seems to change his or her mind often or consider unconventional paths. Now is the time to help them cultivate their curiosity and explore options. Over time, the cumulative benefit can enhance self-confidence in their capabilities; help them maintain a healthy goal orientation and prepare them for selecting classes in high school that will pave the way for college and eventual careers.
There are plenty of age-appropriate activities at every level that introduce careers:
·Job Shadowing. This can be conducted informally with an employer’s permission or during more formal programs such as Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day® held on the fourth Thursday in April (www.daughtersandsonstowork.org).
·Interview a family member or friend about his or her career; set aside a time for the child to present and discuss the findings, such as at dinner.
·"Check out" career books at the library.
·Let your child explore the shelves of your local book store and pick out a book about careers or college majors – it’s never too early to start looking.
·Attend a local college to explore majors and what careers they lead to.
·Ask your student's guidance counselor about available resources.
·Get involved with scouting, which offers incredible leadership experiences.
·Volunteer with organizations that can provide exposure to a wide variety of job functions.
While you’re at it, don’t forget to walk the walk and talk the talk! Parents should model and establish productive work habits at home, such as arriving on-time, finishing assignments and following directions.
Studies show that while boys and girls start out with relatively equal levels of ambition and self-esteem during childhood, girls’ self-esteem peaks around 9 years of age and can drop dramatically when they hit middle school. Their attention often shifts abruptly from achievement and personal goals to social acceptance and body consciousness, often causing them to shelve their dreams and ambitions. That means that a girl who formerly aspired to being an architect, engineer or scientist might abandon those dreams while succumbing to peer pressure – and those lost dreams can impact not only her future, but tomorrow’s society as well.
To compound matters, the National Center for Education Statistics reports that women are still far less likely then men to pursue bachelor’s degrees in disciplines of math, physical sciences, computer and information sciences and engineering. That translates to fewer women pursuing careers in those fields…which results in fewer entrepreneurs or employees in those fields, and few role models.
It’s particularly important that girls have authentic role models and learn to lead without losing their feminine identities. Programs like Girls Inc., Girl Scouting and Girls Start Organization offer tools specifically created for the needs of girls. Books like the Girls Know How® series encourage girls to follow their dreams by exposing them to a variety of jobs, exceptional role models and characters who might be just like them. Each book within the fiction series features a girl presented with a challenge who is encouraged by an accomplished woman at the pinnacle of her career, a character based on a real-life successful woman. Career exploration activities suitable for boys and girls are available at www.girlsknowhow.com.
Most importantly, remember that career planning is a long-term process, not an event. With hard work, encouragement and the example of positive role models, all kids really can be who they want to be when they grow up!
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