Thanksgiving is a cherished time for family gatherings and gratitude. It also presents a unique opportunity for high school parents to have meaningful discussions about their teen’s future, particularly regarding career choices. While these conversations hold immense potential for guidance and mutual understanding, they can sometimes become sources of stress and tension. In this blog post, we’ll explore effective strategies for transforming these discussions into productive and harmonious exchanges, ensuring the holiday season remains a time of growth and connection for every family member.

1. Set a Relaxing Tone

Begin by creating a comfortable and relaxed environment. With its festive and familial atmosphere, Thanksgiving provides a natural setting for open conversations. Ensure the discussion is part of a casual family gathering rather than a formal or pressured “meeting.” Avoid starting the conversation when people are busy cooking, watching a big game, or tired. A good time might be after dinner when everyone is relaxed and sitting together.

2. Share Your Own Stories

Sharing your career journey can be a great icebreaker. Encourage family members to share their thoughts, but don’t put anyone on the spot. It can be more of a group discussion than a direct questioning of the teen. 

Talk about how you chose your career, the challenges you faced, and the lessons you learned. This will humanize you in your teenager’s eyes and help them see career choice as a journey, not just a decision. Be honest about your successes and failures, as this will encourage open communication and demonstrate that it’s okay not to have all the answers right away.

I share a story with my boys: I went to college thinking I wanted to be a Marine Biologist. I loved the water. I watched TV shows about scuba diving and learned about the fishes and coral with fascination and awe, dreaming of doing that one day. It wasn’t until a few years in college that I realized being a Marine Biologist wasn’t my path. It required a lot of math courses, and I hated math more than I loved the water. Then, I thought I wanted to be a fundraiser because I am very “cause motivated,” and I thought that was the only way to fill that need. I worked as a fundraiser for four years after college. What I learned is that I disliked fundraising. The 50+ work week hours, so little pay that I still lived with my parents, and the work required just was not for me. It wasn’t until I was 24 that I went to a career counselor and found that Learning and Development was the best fit for me.

3. Foster An Atmosphere of Openness

Create an environment where your teen feels comfortable sharing their thoughts and fears. Encourage open-ended questions. Instead of direct questions like, “What do you want to do after high school?” try more open-ended ones like, “Are there any projects or subjects in school you’ve enjoyed lately?”

Avoid dominating the conversation and listen more than you speak. Remember, this discussion is about your teen and their future, not your expectations for them. Encourage them to express their interests, passions, and concerns.

4. Avoid Pressure

Resist the urge to pressure your teen into a specific career path. This is their journey, and while your guidance is invaluable, the final decision should be theirs. Pressure can lead to stress and conflict, which is counterproductive.

5. Follow-Up Conversations

Remember, a single conversation during Thanksgiving isn’t enough. Make career discussions an ongoing topic in your household. Regular check-ins where your teen can talk about their evolving thoughts and feelings are essential.

As you gather around the Thanksgiving table, remember that this holiday is not just about turkey and traditions but also about fostering connections and envisioning a future filled with possibilities for your teen. By weaving the fabric of your experiences, encouraging exploration, and engaging in open, pressure-free dialogue about diverse career paths, you are not just having a conversation but laying the groundwork for your teen’s journey toward a fulfilling and exciting future. Thanksgiving becomes more than a day on the calendar—it becomes a catalyst for inspiration, encouraging your teen to explore, learn, and grow into the person they aspire to be.