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Your kids, whether 8 years old or 18 years old, need to start thinking about future careers.  It takes planning, skills, learning, and strategy to successfully make a living.

And that stuff doesn’t happen overnight.

You, parents, probably already understand Ephesians 6:4, “…do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”

But part of bringing them up is teaching them how to function in the world.  It’s our responsibility to teach our kids not only the faith, but also about life and work (which really is part of our faith anyway).

Here are some foundational ideas in how to teach your kids about careers in the 21st century.

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Don’t Ask Your Kids What They Want to Be When They Grow Up

kids career entrepreneur space needleWhat?  I thought that was the #1 question you’re supposed to ask kids.  In fact, it’s my “go-to” question when I awkwardly don’t know what else to say to a kid.

But this question fundamentally assumes that a career is all about them.  Yes, it helps them be imaginative and self-reflective, which are good things.  But it also promotes selfishness from the very beginning.  If you want to be a dinosaur rescuer, then you should.

But careers are about those you serve.  Of course you’re interested in making a living – everyone has to, after all.  But building a career is about helping your local (and often global) community.  It’s about meeting a need.  And taking care of your family.

So instead, ask, “What problem do you want to solve?

This simple question gets at the very same idea.  It also promotes imagination and self-reflection.  But the difference is that it is outward-focused.  It’s about serving.  It causes them to look outside themselves at the world and to develop analytical skills.

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Ask Your Kids Lots of Questions

First of all, from a learning perspective, asking questions (Also known as the Socratic Method) helps people to think much more critically than just lecturing.  Your kids will be able to sort through issues on their own, instead of just listening to answers (and probably daydreaming about monster trucks and what’s for dinner).

Secondly, as you ask your children questions, you learn about them.  You begin to understand their interests, dislikes, strengths, weaknesses, and passions.

And while it is  good in itself to just know your kids well, it also allows you to help guide them.  If they have an interest in technology, don’t let them just drown themselves in mobile Facebook and Cracked Magazine.  Encourage their interests by sending them to space camp or doing a lego-building community course with them.

And as you guide them, and as they develop their interests and skills, two things happen.  (1) They become much better equipped to succeed in their field.  (2) They understand how much you love them because you took an interest in them.

Don’t Teach Your Kids a Closed-Minded Understanding of the Market

When I was a kid, the only thing I learned about careers was this process:

  1. Graduate High School.
  2. Go to College and then graduate.
  3. Get a job.
  4. Climb up the corporate ladder.
  5. Retire when you’re old.

That was simply the process one must go through in order to not die homeless on the cold, heartless street.  And there were no other options.

But I honestly had no idea what the marketplace was like.  No one taught me anything else.

kids career entrepreneur Canoe StoreThe problem with all this is that the days of working one job for 40 years and then retiring are gone.  In the technological age, the middle class has to be creative in order to make a living.

And there are so many more options then what I was shown during my formative years.

Teach your kids that you can be an entrepreneur.  It’s actually less risky and more attainable than I was ever taught in school.

They can go to tech school and market themselves with a particular specialized skillset.

They should develop a portfolio of work so that they can enter into different fields as necessary during different seasons of their lives (or even at the same time if they have to).

Be Practical about it with Your Kids

I never say to my kids, “You can be anything you want to be.”

Instead, I say, “You can be anything you want to be, as long as you can figure out how to make money doing it.”

As you ask probing questions about the direction your child is taking in life, ask practical questions.

“Okay, so you want to save the rainforest.  In what particular way do you want to do it?”

“Hey, that’s great.  You’re going to build shelters for animals who have lost their jungle-home from deforestation.  Okay.  What are you going to build with, if you do not want to add to the problem of cutting down trees?”

“Ah, you’ll use different materials.  So how will you make those different materials?

“You’ll build a factory.  Very nice.  How will you fund the construction of a factory?”

“Yes, government grants would be very helpful, but it won’t cover it all.  Are there other private businesses or foundations that might help?”

“Assuming you can gather the funding, how much money will you take out for yourself?”

And on and on.

Help your kids think through the practical steps.

Little Johnny might never actually end up pursuing a material-other-than-wood factory to help build shelters for animals.  But he will learn the kind of thinking process you need to go through to get there.  And he’ll be able to apply that thinking to the problem he does end up solving.

Teach Your Kids about Investing

kids investing career storefrontMost Americans, including myself at a young age, have never learned the most foundational principle in business and finance:

*Only invest in things that will directly provide more revenue.*

It’s not an investment if it only serves to make you more comfortable or have more fun.

And this is actually a life-lesson which is applicable to many areas of life, even if you’re not a business (wo)man or financier.

Pursuing investments is the only way a person will ever be able to move past his/her salary ceiling.  For many Americans, that means getting out of a paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle.

Teach your kids about investing.  You’ll save them a world of stress later on in life.

And teach them in practical ways.  Here’s an example:

  1. When they’re teenagers, give them a loan for $1,000 (or something).
  2. Explain the terms – It has to be paid back in one year at 2% interest (or something).
  3. Provide guidelines like, it can only be spent on something that will give you more money later.
  4. Help them build a plan – Maybe buying a junker car, refurbishing it, and then selling it.  Maybe starting a (very) small lawn-mowing business.
  5. Require that they pay you back for the loan.
  6. Let them enjoy the money they made.

It will be simple, and probably not very high-margin.  But it teaches them principles about investing.

All the principles in this article will help your child grow into someone who can manage money and careers well.  It is not a skill we teach very widely in this country.

But without this skill, you lose great opportunities to serve your community and the church.


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