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Articles for parents by Carol Christen
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Student loans, for academic or technical colleges, aren't "free money." Typically, loan repayment begins four months after you leave school. If students borrow more than two-thirds of their likely starting salary, they won't be able to pay their bills, much less afford a place of their own. Many young workers have been surprised by how negatively debt has affected their lives. Over 40% of students who borrowed money for their higher education didn't think the debt was worth it. You can find out more by doing an Internet search using the phrase "student loan debt."

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Generation M Career Issues

Carol ChristenMy name is Carol Christen. EUREKA has asked me to write a column for parents based on research and ideas from my book, What Color Is Your Parachute? For Teens. As parents have a big influence on their children's career choices, I am delighted to do so. If you have a question about career choice or career planning, please feel free to write me at

Generation M Career Issues… (Generation M is typically those born between 1980 and 2000)

Many members of Gen M are easily making the transition from school to career. However, some of them are facing a few re-occurring problems, most of which could have been avoided with some good career planning. In order to make What Color Is your Parachute? For Teens as helpful as it could be, I needed to know more about what was happening to this latest generation as its oldest members enter the world of work. I began by reviewing research on career issues that impact young people and talking with about 500 young people from the ages of 15 to 28. This group included some who were still in high school, some who were in college and some of whom had left school and were working. This first article will deal with that I learned for those conversations. A majority of the young workers surveyed mentioned that it was imperative to enjoy one's work because so much of one's life is spent at work (the average work week in the USA is now 44 hours; 30% of the workforce spends more than 50 hours a week at work). It was impressive that by the age of 28, so many young people had already learned this critical component of life satisfaction.

Doctor, Lawyer, Business Person… The need for career awareness and exploration

38% of the working young people surveyed felt they had very limited information about the kinds of jobs available. About the same percentage felt they would have made very different choices if they had better information. 34% said they wished they hadn't waited until they graduated from high school to have made career plans. 33% said that if they had gotten entry level jobs, internships or volunteer experience in their favorite fields while still in school, they would have achieved their goals faster.

What's a parent to do?

For high school students, finding career direction has three components: career awareness, self exploration and career planning. Ideally, young teens are engaged in career awareness activities. Mid-teens are doing career exploration and older teens are lining out a few post-high school scenarios through career planning. Media presents a narrow range of "cool" jobs. To early adolescents (11-15) the world of work may look like it divides into four categories—Artistic, Athletic, Academic and Attractive.

  • Artistic: fine arts as well as graphic arts, writing or poetry, music and other types of creative jobs
  • Athletic: professional athletes are the focus of this category, but also any occupation that relies on a strong body including law enforcement, firepersons, park rangers, construction, etc.
  • Academic: Careers needing college or university qualifications
  • Attractive: Modeling, acting, TV newscasters and reporters
Obviously, these categories leave out a lot of jobs. Remember, they are made up of the jobs our youth are most exposed to by mainstream media—not the jobs happening in their local communities. Many early adolescents dream of having jobs from the Athletic or Attractive categories, but dreams don't pay the bills. Parents can play a vital role in expanding young people's knowledge of real world jobs. Assist your teenager in researching the kind of jobs available in the fields that most interest them or the academic subjects in which they do well. Take every opportunity to expand your teenager's knowledge regarding the jobs that exist in the current marketplace, the requirements for those jobs and what those jobs pay. Parents want to encourage their children to pursue any occupation that fires their teen's imagination and ambition. But, parents must also insist that their offspring be self-supporting as of a certain age. Parents are not expected to support their children until they get their "dream job." One local job directory found in nearly every household is the Yellow Pages. You can make a game of taking one letter of the Yellow Pages and have your teenager find every business listing that appears to have something to do with one of their interests. Granted, not every job that happens in a community is listed in the Yellow Pages, but the most common ones are. This in itself can be a very good learning experience. You can also help your student investigate the jobs that happen on their favorite TV shows. Once your teen has a list of 10-15 jobs that happen in a field that interests them, have them pick 5 or 6 that they want to learn more about., your local library, and your child's school have lots of career information to help with this research. If your son or daughter develops an interest in a particular job, put that job on The Exploration List." Assisting your teen in finding real life information about this kind of work by having him or her talk to 2 or 3 people who do this work, and a visit to see one or two environments in which this job happens, will be very helpful.

The Job Meter can help your teen get ideas for further exploration.

Even the jobs that your teen rejects can help them learn more about themselves and what they want. Marty Nemko, a national career strategist and author of several career books, invented an exercise called The Job Meter. Here's how it works. For each career your child investigates, have them rank that job on a scale from 1 to 10 (1 = low interest and 10 = high interest). If a job doesn't rate at least a 9, ask your teen to explain what would have to be different about that job, or in what way would that job need to be different, in order for them to give it a rank of 9 or 10. Then, try to find names of jobs that might include these new attributes. Career awareness, career exploration and using and The Job Meter can help your teen become aware of their own preferences and expectations. Getting to know themselves will help high school and college students make better career decisions.

Carol Christen is a veteran career strategist and author of What Color Is Your Parachute? for Teens. Carol has spent several years researching the new generation of workers as they enter the economic marketplace of the early 21st century. Learn more about her work at