When teens go beyond the ‘safe’ careers

So what are you advising your teen to pick as her career? My son, already in his Std. X and due to pass out in another couple of months has turned my very safe and sorted advise on its head. Being responsible Indian parents, we have been preparing him for a career in sciences, in the subject of his choice.

Then suddenly in July of last year, he returned from a month long camp with Seeds of Peace in the US where he met his peers from the Middle East, our neighbouring Pakistan, from the US; and he decided he was going to be a storyteller. ‘There are enough people in the world working in the areas of science, the world does not need one more engineer or a doctor. I want to get people’s stories out there and I want others like me to understand and know what it is like to live in Palestine, to grow up in Israel; to see war every day and still love life.’ Those are his words.

Of course, after the first wave of passion had ebbed, we looked to explain to him how he needed to consider a proper education, something that would qualify him for a ‘regular’ job, and then if his passion for storytelling still was strong, he could always build his career there. So for the last six months, we have discussed, chatted and explored his career options and now even as he sits just 2 months away from his finals, the options are completely open.

As a parent, I am proud of his ability to think beyond the obvious, I am happy that he has found a passion that he really connects to. But on the other hand, I worry about what kind of a career he will have, when he chooses to tell the stories of people living in war-torn areas. Following his declaration, I checked out the various war writers and learnt that they have difficult lives, and they are totally committed to their careers. Most of them walk a very thin line between life and death, and their experiences teach them to see the war situations in a different light. Often this unique perspective of theirs threatens the political situation and they are not allowed to voice their opinions in the mainstream media. Many of these journos and war reporters have to publish their own books to get their stories out there… to me, all of this sounds like a recipe for a very unstable and unsafe future.

Is this what I want my boy to be doing? I am not sure. I share my opinions with him and he kind of listens to it all, some of it does scare him… knowing that a career on the war front would mean almost no family life, it would means living in constant fear of what could happen to him. I constantly speak to him of how he can help the people living in these areas better with technical skills in engineering or medicine, and he listens to that too.

As I read the various researches on how teens are biologically ill-equipped for decision making, I increasingly feel I must take the decision for him as he sets about choosing a line of study. Maybe the solution lies in enabling him to see my side of the story and convincing him that we have only his best interests at heart.

But this very approach makes me question whether we are not clipping his wings even before he has taken flight. Taking the safe route, studying the sciences at some good university seems like the sensible thing to do. How will it influence his dream of being storyteller, of connecting to those whom the whole world has shut out? He writes poems, creates art and loves alternative music, loves to perform and is truly the creative package. As the next few months unfold, I look forward to exploring and planning his future along with him, and I do believe that things will work out for the best.

I am well aware of the careers people are making as Instagram and Facebook influencers, having their YouTube channels, and otherwise making careers out of social media. But to me, these are short term opportunities to be cashed in. These are not careers even though they make money for the individuals involved. So while I do enjoy coming across these really popular people on the internet and reading about their success, I am rather skeptical about how long the success lasts. And what happens ones these opportunities dry up? Will the individual, if required, have the skills to survive beyond the media opportunities?

~ Bharti Athray

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