How far should parents go in enforcing career choices?

Sunday July 08 2018

Career experts say although it is important for parents to influence their children’s career choices, they should be careful not to dictate. Net photo

Tales of people pursuing particular careers they are not passionate about are endless. But how much influence should a parent wield in their child’s career decisions?

Raymond, a Fashion and Design student at Management Training Advisory Centre, has always dreamed of becoming an interior designer. But his dream was far different from the dream his father had for him. “Being an engineer himself, my father wanted me to follow his footsteps,” he says.

In fact after Senior Four, his father wanted him to enroll for an engineering related course. Though Raymond had no problem with the shortcut, he had a problem studying a course he had no passion for. “I was determined to stick to only fashion-related courses,” he says.

This brought about a father-son conflict causing Raymond to take a year off studies. As he figured out his next step, he took on a catering gig, the proceeds of which he used to enroll himself into the Fashion and Design course he is currently pursuing.

Though parents certainly have a big role to play in their children’s lives, Ngozi Osarenren, a professor of guidance and counselling and head of department, Educational foundations, University of Lagos, notes that imposing their ideas on or forcing a child to pursue a particular career should be minimal. “In such matters, the child’s ability and interest should be taken into consideration,” she says.

Among the many students who got cornered into courses they have no passion about is Daniel Comboni, a student of Journalism and Communication at Makerere University. “My relatives convinced my parents to enroll me for Journalism. The argument was that there were many teachers in the family so I should forfeit my dream of becoming a teacher and do some other course for purposes of diversity,” he explains.


“Since I could not pay my own tuition, I accepted my fate. If the best is not available, the available becomes the best, so I gave it my best shot,” Comboni says. This, however, was to come with its own challenges.

Thinking about the future
Margaret Arimpa Nyombi, a parent, says sometimes one finds themselves in a situation where they have to make the tough decisions for their children’s future. “You can ask a child what career they want to pursue and they have no idea. My daughter in Senior Six for example changes her future career all the time.

Today, she wants to study Law, tomorrow teaching, the next day the course her best friend wants to do. She simply does not know what she wants,” she says. As a parent, you have to intervene in such a scenario.

“Sometimes these children are just dreaming up some random careers that do not exist. Though I believe in letting our children choose their own career paths, sometimes they need to be guided to avoid making the wrong choices,” Arimpa says.

Create opportunities
True to this, Henry Nsubuga, a counsellor at Makerere University, Counselling and Guidance Centre, encourages parents to help their children discover themselves.

“Create opportunities for them to thrive in what they want but forcing a child is inappropriate because everyone has their own interests. Although parents would like to make academic and career choices for their children, they should understand that this may come with some negative effects,” Nsubuga warns.

“At first I could not concentrate on journalism because I had hope of changing the programme - which never came to through. This somehow affected my performance,” Comboni says.

Similary, Nsubuga reveals that such students tend to have less quality work to deliver. “This is because they lack room for creativity and this not only affects them, but also the people they are going to serve,” he says.

Advice to parents
Nsubuga advises parents to always take their children’s side as long as the decision is not dangerous. “Parents should put an enabling environment for their children to discover themselves as well as advise them on the different courses they want to do. A parent should also have time to discuss their children’s career decisions.”

On the other hand, Brenda Ayesigye, an instructor at St Matthias Institute of Technology, feels that parents should also seek career guidance so that they are able to give their children better advice in making the right career decisions.

Though parents are instrumental in a student’s career choice, the decision is one that should involve both parties reaching a consensus –the student playing the major role.

Parents role crucial
According to a study by GTI Media (UK) and the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services involving 3,000 students and 800 parents, majority of students say their parents play a major role in their decision-making about careers and study. More than half (54 per cent) of the students said their parents tried to exert influence over their choice of course or career, while 69 per cent said their parents had tried to influence their choice of university.
Only 27 per cent said their parents had discussed alternatives other than university education with them. Seventy per cent of parents said they encouraged their children to go to university and of those, 43 per cent felt a degree would improve their children’s long-term career prospects.
Students did not object to parents’ attempts to influence them; 66 per cent thought this was the right thing for parents to do, while only 7 per cent thought it was wrong.