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Family dynamics in career planning

The student who is indecisive about a career is afraid of disappointing one or both parents by making a particular career choice

Career development is a lifelong process of acquiring knowledge, skills and abilities to achieve personal goals and build a future. The family plays an important role in a student’s career development. Making a career choice is a private affair, but the family plays the most important role in a student’s career development; thus, the choice emerges out of parent-child interactions.

The career decision-making process is intertwined with the other developmental tasks of youngsters — identity formation and psychological separation from the family.

However, arriving at a career decision is a difficult and anxious task for many students. A good percentage of students enter colleges and universities without having decided on a career or spoken to a career counsellor. Research indicates that every student undergoes stages of career indecision in their life. Initially, career indecision was regarded as a routine developmental delay. But it renders the student ‘helpless’ to decide on, and implement, career plans and draws parents into greater involvement with them. The student who is indecisive about a career is afraid of disappointing one or both parents by making a particular career choice. Career coaches often hear the students making comments such as, “My father is always after me for pursuing a career in sciences” or “My mother wants me to become a doctor.” These perceptions require an appropriate exploration and consideration of conventional and new-age career choices.

The young adult’s career choice or indecision can be alternatively conceptualised not as an individual achievement or personality trait but rather as the outcome of a larger set of transactions between the person and the family because parents affect their child’s choices of career by acting as mentors, role models and job information providers or by exposing them to the developmental environment. These transactions represent either a successful or unsuccessful transformation in family dynamics collectively. Certain family interactions enhance this transformation, whereas others inhibit it, thereby creating a climate that promotes and maintains indecision. During this phase, the adolescent is attempting to establish an adult identity, separate psychologically from parents, and form clear educational and vocational plans. The interrelatedness of all three tasks — identity formation, psychological separation, and career decision-making — removes career indecisiveness.

To promote independent decision-making, parents may need to alter the nature of their contributions in their child’s career decision-making. This change may involve maintaining sufficient distance from their child’s developmental work instead of offering direct assistance (brainstorming career possibilities, doing course research or job responsibilities). In other words, as the adolescent becomes more actively involved in career decision making, parents must correspondingly assume a more peripheral role. They should offer encouragement but, at the same time, indicate clearly that independent action is both accepted and expected. Through the coordinated responses of both the adolescent and the parents, a family context emerges that is supportive of career decision-making.

With regard to career decision-making, such family processes may be manifested in several ways. For instance, both parents can support vocational exploration instead of encouraging a particular career choice. They can accept the tentativeness of their child’s decision-making rather than challenging it or demanding greater decisiveness. Appropriate family processes would also demonstrate that both parents can avoid emotional entanglements with their son or daughter over career-related matters in terms of pursuing study abroad options.

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Printable version | Feb 21, 2020 1:13:39 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/family-dynamics-in-career-planning/article30652798.ece

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