To parents with teens deciding what to study

May 18, 2021
Hèctor Verdú Martí

We are sprinting towards the end of this scholar year. Adults and young people are tired, probably even more this year, full of restrictions, with little room for evasion. We think about vacations, but first, these previous weeks are often a time of great decisions, when we shape how we want the next year to be, and maybe even beyond. Teenagers are faced with their first major vital choices: what they want to be in their adulthood.

These days, our lips probably have uttered expressions such as: "Study whatever you want, you will surely make it". Or "Are you sure you’ll get into with these marks you have?". Or "why don't you do this; it’s full of professional opportunities". Or even "you should study X, just like your father, your grandfather and your great-grandfather did, the record shows we have done fairly well".

Many parents will push for university, while we all know a college or master's degree is no longer a guarantee of getting a well-paying job. I am not saying our kids don't have to go to college, which has some intrinsic benefits. But we must not fall into the trap of ruling out other options with other intrinsic benefits. And the solution is neither to embrace degrees with novel and imaginative names that make us believe that they will open the doors of new professions.

Our kids are deciding in a context of uncertainty, they choose what to study now, but their jobs are yet to be conceived

Just be aware our children are deciding now, but those who do it before will enter the labour market in five or six years, eight or nine the youngest. At the speed new technologies are transforming the labour market, we are still not able to imagine many of the jobs that will end up taking up. How, then, can reactive institutions such as universities, which are the latest to adapt to their curricula to the needs of the labour market, imagine those jobs? Our kids are deciding in a context of uncertainty.

Therefore, trying to anticipate what is to come to give our children some advantage leads nowhere. We can think the other way round, though. What is it that our children need not to study? Scrap from their heads the idea of ​​doing anything where we can foresee robots or artificial intelligence. We already know in all professions humans are being replaced by computers in many of the tasks they used to do. From law to medicine or journalism. Anything we do must equip us to be in a position of control and supervision of the machines. Or creation. Or contact with the land ... and here, surely studying is an advantage, but farmers have done it for millennia without going to university. Or caring for people. Finance? We must understand it, but we already know who will do the bulk of the work. What will be needed is people who think, act, and take initiatives to protect the environment. People with intercultural integration skills will also be in high demand, because comes a time when millions of people will resettle in other countries, walls will be built, and many fears awaken.

So, what do I advise my children to study? I do not know. The best is you say little and listen a lot. What moves them? What are they passionate about? What concerns do they have? How do they see the world? How do they want it to be in a few years? Feed their curiosity and accompany them so that they are very adaptable, that they know how to read the contexts, so that they are always willing to learn again, so that they have the courage to say no when something does not feel right, so that they always have a vital purpose alive, and they do not give up on their dreams neither. Teach them to cultivate balanced relationships, show them how to love themselves and how to love, teach them they do have to do everything by themselves and when to ask for help, so that they learn to collaborate and make others better, because in the coming world not a person has a complete answer, and the solutions we require are so complex that we have to reach them collectively, all together.

And do not stop exploring all of this in yourselves, mothers and fathers, no matter how much you have stumbled, despite things have not always gone well for you, although you have crashed one and another against that same closed door. Because you know that you have got up again and you have learned to look for solutions. Do not make them plans, it does not make sense. Support them to embrace life.