education

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The influence of parents on their childs choice of career

Prior to the Industrial Revolution, work revolved around the sector of agriculture. Most of the economy, at this point in time was based on the farms owned and operated by the families themselves. Therefore, this required that all of the family, being grandparents, parents, children and nieces, gather together and work in the family farm in order for them to ‘surivive’. As Mifsud (2004), stated in her dissertation “Parental influence on adolescents in career choice”, jobs were a matter of destiny and children entered the same type of occupation as their parents or grandparents.

However, all of this changed with the rise of the modernization in Malta, were social and economic changes took place. One major cause that marked these social and economic changes was technology (such as the progression in communication), which accordingly, affected every aspect of daily life: stability of the family, work, marriage, leisure and value of education (Olsen & Cooper, 2008). One noticeable influence of these changes was predominantly on work. With this revolution, people, particularly young people, were endowed with the opportunity to choose from a great deal and diverse career occupations that became available outside the family sector. Due to this, unlike traditional societies, work roles became separated from the basis of inheritance or kinship position and thus young people were no longer constrained to work with the family and to follow their parent’s footsteps (Mifsud, 2004).

Eventually, education “developed, in such a way as to complement the needs of the modern societies” (Cassar, 2004; p. 33). As a result of this, Maltese children today are obliged to attend school between the ages of 5 to 16 years old. Therefore, unlike previous years, today’s children are faced with the challenge of competing with other students of the same age in order for them to achieve the best educational qualifications. This will present opportunities for them to choose the best, rewarding and satisfying careers from the wide range available. Apart from educational qualifications there are other social contexts that influence the decisions of adolescent’s in what career to choose. These are one’s personality, socioeconomic status, parents and peers, schools, and gender (Santrock, 2001). Throughout this assignment I will be focusing particularly on the influence of parents on adolescent’s choice of career. During this period, apart from peers, “the parents are the most influential people in their lives” (Berk, 2007; p.345).

Despite the fact that children are not expected to continue on their parent’s footsteps, the influence of parents’ has survived (Gravina, 2005). This influence is clearly seen from the very high level of commitment that Maltese parents have with regards to their children (Abela, 2000; p. 97-8). Today parents are being both directly and indirectly influential in what careers their children pursue. This influence begins at an early age, when parents, sometimes indirectly, model a particular behavior and attitudes in relation to their work in front of their children. This influence goes on to the type of schools parents choose for their children, what options their children choose to study at a secondary level, and whether or not their children should continue school. Throughout this assignment I will refer to these factors one by one and establish what kinds of influence the parents have on their children.

Parents as role models

From an early age, children observe other people’s behavior and in turn try to be like them by imitating them. These people are often referred to as role models. Due to the diverse occupations that exist today, children are confronted with different role models. As Sharf (2002; p.168) argued, “Adults are important role models for children in learning about the world of work”. Key adult figures that serve the best example to the child in learning about the work life are parents.

Children whose parents work, see, hear and observe their parents talk about the jobs they have. Due to this, children acquire knowledge, values, perceptions and aspirations in correlation to their parent’s jobs. Moreover, Trice and Tillapaugh’s (1991, cited in Sharf, 2002; p.168) found “that children’s aspirations to their parent’s occupations are influenced by their perception of how satisfied their parents are with their own work”. In other words, parents influence what career their children’s choose by the way they talk about work at home, their overall satisfaction and pride in their work, and one must not forget also the position and payment of their work, which in the long run affect the family status. According to Berk (2007; p.455), “higher SES (Socio-Economic Status) parents are more likely to give their children important information about the world of work and to have connections with people which can help the young person’s obtain a high-status position”. Apart from this, highly educated parents will have higher expectations on their child’s future careers. This is confirmed by a study carried out by Bezzina (2008) in her dissertation “Career Barriers encountered by students in a female secondary school”. She found out that those students, whose parents work in sectors that are considered to be of a low status, aspired less professional jobs than those students whose parents work in professional sectors. From my experience I believe that children, whose parents are of a certain level of education and jobs, push their children to achieve more. My father, who is now retired, worked at an important position in the Dockyard whereas my mother was a housewife. Unlike my father, my mother finished school early (at secondary level). Due to this when I was at secondary level myself, I didn’t quite find support from my mother, in the sense that when I found homework difficulties I had either to wait for my father to come home from his late shifts (because he worked also part-time at that time) or try and solve it myself, which was quite difficult. Because of this my parents began sending me to private lessons. I also remember that my parents never pushed me to achieve high marks. That I pass from the exams was quite enough for them. I am not saying that they would not have been satisfied if I came first at class or form; however they never really put the pressure on me to achieve the best of the marks. On the other hand, now I am quite aware of what I lost. When I go to my aunt’s house, I always see her pushing and encouraging her children to do not only their home work but also extra work. My aunt is a Mathematics teacher herself, and since she is deeply acquainted to what is happening in schools and outside the school, she pushes her children a lot, to achieve a lot. Indeed the marks my cousins obtain are quite surprising. The eldest daughter of my aunt is indeed now at University taking up the course of engineering. This experience I have described directs us to the next argument I will make: when adolescents perceive their parents to have high educational expectations, adolescents are likely to have higher aspirations for themselves. These parents are also more likely to offer tangible assistance for instance assistance in school work, and finance which in the long run influence whether the child continue studying for a high status position.

When talking about parental influence, one has to keep in mind however that there are parents who do not work, or are not satisfied with their work life. Moreover, some families in Malta live in poverty just because the parents do not earn enough money to support the family. In my first year at university, I did some voluntary work with two children who were at that time staying at the YMCA. The family of these children was living in a state of poverty and both parents were illiterate. Due to this, these children were not given the opportunity, like other children of their age, by their parents to learn at least the alphabet or the clock. They weren’t even able to communicate with me clearly in Maltese. I used to ask myself ‘what will happen to them once they finish secondary school? What kinds of job will they have later on in their life?’ This kind of situation “reduces vocational choices and many adolescents living in poverty do not believe they have much of a choice” (Kaplan, 2004; p. 437). Apart from this, there may be some students who are required to start working at an earlier age in order to help in the family finances. Due to the lack of educational qualifications they may have, they end up doing jobs which offer a low salary. Conger and Peterson (1984, cited in Coleman & Hendry, 1990), state that it is important to make clear that the influence of parents on career choices will not be determined only by the nature of role model but also by the degree of warmth and affection experienced by adolescences in their relationship with their parents.

Parent-child relationship

Anne Roe (1957) is a person in the field of Career Development who investigated and gave considerable importance to Parental Influence on the choices of careers. She argued that “the parent-child relationships play an important role in occupation selection” (Santrock, 2001; p.442). She wanted to “show that people in certain occupations have a common background in terms of the way they were raised (Sharf, 2002; p.308). In order to do so, she classified three types of parent-child relationships: Concentration on the child, Avoidance of the child and Acceptance of the child. When the relationship is of concentration on the child, the parents encourage dependence and request perfection. When the parents avoid the child they will be either rejecting or in the worst case neglecting him/her. In the relationship where parents accept the child, “parents encourage independence… and create a tension-free environment” (Sharf, 2002; p.318). This “warm supportive parent-adolescent tie, permit young people to explore ideas and social roles that foster autonomy, predicting high self-reliance, work orientation, academic competence, and favorable self-esteem” (Berk, 2007; p.413). This kind of relationship provides also emotional support which is very much needed in times (adolescent times which is stressful) like this.

These parental attitudes bring about certain types of personalities in the child (Sharf, 2002; p.319) and promote values, such as independence and freedom, which in the long run help in the choice of career. According to Roe, “Individuals who have warm and accepting parents are likely to choose careers that include work with people… By contrast... individuals who have rejecting or neglectful parents are more likely to choose careers that do not require a good ‘personality’ or strong social skills” (Santrock, 2001; p.442). Anne Roe’s theory has been criticized a lot. Despite this, Sharf, (2002, cited in Gravina, 2005) believes that Roe’s theory of parent-child relationship provide interesting perspectives of parental influence on the career choice of children. In addition to this, he also states the importance of the child-parent attachment theories when discussing parental influences.

Attachment theory

According to Berk (2007, p.196) “attachment is the strong affectionate tie we have with special people in our lives that leads us to feel pleasure when we interact with them and to be comforted by their nearness in times of stress”. Traditionally attachment was the foundation of the infant-mother relationship. However, contemporary theorists like Bluestein (1995) indicated the importance of continuous and secure relationships between parent and child till late adolescence, “when career exploration is a major activity” (Sharf, 2002; p.325). This is supported by many researches which show the importance of parents to respond sensitively to their children in order to promote higher motivations in schools and better decisions with regards to careers (Berk, 2007). In having a secure attachment with their parents, adolescents identify themselves more with their parents and by doing so they will involve their parents more in decisions and choices. They are also more likely to listen to their parent’s opinions. In other words, “in these well-functioning families, teenagers remain attached to parents and seek their advice, but they do so in a context of greater freedom” (Berk, 2007; p.414).

Choice of child’s education

It is not only when adolescents are to choose their careers that their parents directly intervene. Parental influence begins from an early age, when parent’s deicide which schools their children should attend to. In a study conducted by Zammit (1984, cited in Mifsud, 2004) parents were asked what job they would like their son or daughter to take, and most of them stated that they would like their children to do something better then themselves. Unfortunately, sometimes this poses a problem because in doing better than themselves, some parents might mean doing what they aspired and couldn’t achieve at their age in time. For instance “the mother who did not get into medical school and the father who did not make it as a professional athlete may pressure their youth to achieve a career status beyond the youth’s talents” (Santrock, 2001; p.442). As a result of this, parents, even if they can’t afford it, send their child to a private school because they have the mentality that by doing so their children would obtain more. Such parents view the private schools as “better than others” (Cassar, 2004; p. 43). Some people may also opt to send their children to private lessons for extra work. I am not saying that this is completely wrong but as David Elkind (1981, Cited in Santrock, 2001; p.441) argues “today’s parents are pressuring their adolescents to achieve too much, too soon”. The education of the children is becoming more and more dependent upon what parents want their children to achieve “rather than on the children’s abilities and efforts” (Cassar, 2004; p.42). This influence of parents in their’ children education might have both advantages and disadvantages. One advantage might be for instance that it ‘pressures children’ positively. This pressure encourages students to do well and at the end of the day achieve high status occupation. On the other hand, many children view this pressure negatively and instead of succeeding, they fail in achieving high status positions. However, all of this depends also on the kind of relationships parents have with their children. “Notwithstanding all these revelations, it cannot be said that all parents in Malta seek to assist in their offspring’s future” (Cassar, 2004; p,45).

Optional subjects

The influence of parents on adolescence career choice continues from the choice of school to the choice of subjects that they are expected to choose at the secondary level. Many parents are quite aware that these choices will mostly determine what career their children might pursue in the future. As Sultana (1992) said, once these choices are made, it is impossible to turn back and start again on a different path. At the time when adolescents are to choose their optional subjects, they are at the phase of development. Part of this development “involves striving for autonomy- a sense of oneself as a separate, self governing individual. Teenagers strive to rely more on themselves and less on parents for decision making” (Berk, 2007; p.413). I remember when I was going to choose the subjects at from two and I wanted to choose Art as one of my options. My parents at first couldn’t accept the fact that I was going to choose art. Their main concern was that it is difficult to find a job that requires skills in Art. At that time I wasn’t kind of looking at the future since I was more interested in what I liked. My mother wanted me to choose computer studies, the reason being that it opens a lot of career paths. One can imagine how much we fought on this. At the end of the day my parents accepted, and I chose art. Nowadays when I look back I wish that I listened to what my parents told me and involved them more in the decision making process, because ultimately I couldn’t continue on art. Despite this, Bezzina (2002, cited in Cassar and Cutajar, 2004; p.45) found that students main source of help in subject choice was the parents. I think that at times parents influence is vital and many adolescents today are to some extant seeking their parents more for advice. As already stated, this also depends on what kind of relationship the child has with his/her parents.

Further education

Parents who influence their children from a young age continue to influence their children later on in life when they finish secondary school and are faced with a major life decision: the choice of a suitable work position. Due to this, adolescents have to choose whether to continue studying or not. Very recently I was talking to my mother and she explained to me that when she was an adolescent, many of her friends were expected by their parents to begin working once they finish secondary school, in order to help with the family finances. Today this situation changed and now parents are giving more value to education (we have to keep in mind however those low SES families). With this competition taking place at schools and with the new careers that are becoming available (such as careers in relation to information technology), many parents expect their children to continue on with their education. Here we see that parents continue to influence their child’s decision on career even till post secondary level. In a research conducted by Bezzina (2001, cited in Cassar and Cutajar, 2004; p.45) “parents perceive that their influence is important, and they make it a point to exert their influence in one way or another”. In some cases this influence is beneficial to the child, especially if the relationship between the parent and the child is a good one. The parents might provide adequate guidance such as to consider other options for example to attend Junior Lyceum instead of ITS in order to obtain more educational qualifications and have more possible paths to follow. However parents who influence the child in a demanding way will be interfering with the child’s decisions.

Methodology

A particular hypothesis that I established from the literature review and my experience about parental influence is that, ‘parents, today, influence their children in career choice’. Since I am a curious person, I wished to determine whether such hypothesis is true in practice and in general. In order to do so, I carried out a study amongst adolescences who are now attending post-secondary school. The method I utilized for this study was quantitative and my main instrument was a close-ended questionnaire.

The questionnaire is made up of 14 questions. In the first part of the questionnaire, participants were asked general questions about their age, career choice, and school sector and about private lessons. Following these, the questions become more personal. The students had to: answer questions such as parent’s school level and current occupation, rate their parent’s satisfaction with their job and how they perceive themselves to be happy in their career and to rate their relationship with their parents. In the last part of the questionnaire participants were asked to list those persons or factors that influenced them the most in the choice of optional subjects and career. My main intention in doing these questions was to explore whether a co-relation between these factors (such as parents satisfaction with current job and how participants think they are going to feel with their job) exists which determines, in the long run, whether or not parents influence their children in their choice of career.

I distributed these questionnaires to ten students; by which I could gather a small representative data. The age of the students varied from 16- 17 years of age. A reason why I chose this age group is that by this time, they would have already chosen whether to continue studying or not and thus are more aware of what career they want to pursue. Although I did not take a large sample, the results from these questionnaires helped me a lot. By doing this study, I will now be able to prove whether the arguments, literature and experiences described in the assignment are true.

Results and Discussion

In this part of the assignment, I am going to examine the sections that I tackled earlier on in the assignment with the results I found from the questionnaires. I will be linking some of these sections together, in order to make sense of the results I obtained.

Influence of Parents

During this period, apartfrom peers, “the parents are the most influential people in their lives” (Berk, 2007; p.345). Although in many cases peers are of great influence, what I particularly found from this study is that when it comes to choice of subject and career, adolescents are more influenced by their parents. Following parents, in my results, the school is shown to be the next influential sector of adolescents when making a choice. Both friends and ‘others’ (a term which I referred to in my questionnaire and which participants identified them as being teachers and siblings), are shown to influence adolescents particularly on equal level. This support an argument I made in the assignment that ‘Despite the fact that children are not expected to continue on their parent’s footsteps, the influence of parents’ has survived’ (Gravina, 2005).

Parents as role models

No. of Participant

Choice of Career

Occupation

Level of Satisfaction

Mother

Father

Parents

1

Architecture

Secretary

Architecture

7

2

Engineer

Teacher

Engineer

7

3

Lawyer

Housewife

Lawyer

6

4

Manager

Housewife

Manager

8

5

Accountant

Housewife

Accountant

7

6

Doctor

Nurse

Accountant

9

7

Accountant

Housewife

Accountant

7

8

Psychologist

Teacher

Psychologist

8

9

Accountant

Clerk

Accountant

8

10

Teacher

Teacher

Teacher

9

Results of questions 2, 9, 10, 11 &12

This study illustrates first of all the variance of careers between both genders. One noticeable result shown in the above table is that the majority of the mother’s occupations revolve around caring profession: housewife, nursing and teaching. Although I didn’t make reference of gender in my assignment I believe that this is of great influence on children in their career choice. I believe that those adolescents, particularly females, whose mothers work in professions not considered to be feminine, will serve as a role model for their children in choosing careers which might seems unattainable due to the gender stereotypes.

In my assignment I argued that children today are not expected to continue on their parents’ footsteps. However, from the data that I gathered I observed that every participant’s choice of career is somehow related to at least one of the parent’s occupation. Participant’s number 1, 3, 5, and 7 chose a career exactly like the father. However, only one of the participants, participant number 10 chose a career like the mother. The other participants 2, 4, 6, 8 and 9 chose a career that has, at least to some extent, some characteristics found in their parents occupation. For instance participant number 8 opted to become a psychologist. Her parents are both teachers. Both professions are considered to be caring professions.

From the ratings of parent’s satisfactions and the participants perceived level of satisfaction of their future job, I observed that those participants that rated their parent’s satisfaction lower than how they perceive their satisfaction to be with their future career, have mothers who are unemployed and work as housewives. Despite this, all participants expect for participant number 4, rate their level of satisfaction as equal as or better than those of their parents. In my opinion this strengthen the findings made by Trice and Tillapaugh’s (1991, cited in Sharf, 2002; p.168) “that children’s aspirations to their parent’s occupations are influenced by their perception of how satisfied their parents are with their own work”.

Parent-child relationship

No. of Participant

Choice of Career

Close with Parents

1

Architecture

7

2

Engineer

8

3

Lawyer

7

4

Manager

9

5

Accountant

7

6

Doctor

9

7

Accountant

10

8

Psychologist

8

9

Accountant

8

10

Teacher

8

Results of question 13

In this study, I tried to determine whether parent-child relationship affects what the adolescents opt for a career. Anne Roe, as stated earlier wanted to “show that people in certain occupations have a common background in terms of the way they were raised (Sharf, 2002; p.308). She focused on Concentration on the child, Avoidance of the child and Acceptance of the child. In order to identify whether such parental behavior towards the child affects what the child chose as career, would have been difficult, because it is not ethically right to go on about and ask strangers what type of relationship they have with their parents. As an alternative to this I asked the participants to rate how close they feel with their parents. The result show that all of the participants feel somehow close to their parents. Since the study is on a small scale, I will take one particular occupation that is somehow common in the study: Accountant. What I found from the results is that participants who chose Accounts as a career, rate their relationship with their parents differently. In addition to this, when one study in depth such an approach, one have to take into consideration also the child-parent attachment.

Parent’s level of education

I wanted to study this issue particularly because I believe from my experience that children, whose parents are of a certain level of education and jobs, push their children to achieve more.

No. of Participant

Choice of Career

Level of Education

Mother

1

Architecture

Secondary

2

Engineer

Tertiary

3

Lawyer

Post-secondary

4

Manager

Post-secondary

5

Accountant

Secondary

6

Doctor

Tertiary

7

Accountant

Post-secondary

8

Psychologist

Tertiary

9

Accountant

Post-secondary

10

Teacher

Post-secondary

What I found interesting in this study is that actually, some father’s and mother’s have similar education level. It is very difficult to determine a conclusion of whether parent’s level of education influence career choice or not, since the research is based on a small scale number. However, what I could identify is that none of the participants parents have low educational level such as primary level, thus I think that by and large all of the participants were encouraged to continue studying and pursue a professional career.

Conclusion

It seems from the small scale study I carried out, the theories I described and the arguments I raised throughout this assignment, that parents are still influential. Many students seek help from their parents when they are to choose something important as this of career. Unfortunately, sometimes not all parents are knowledgeable enough to give their children the best information they need with regards to the choice of career. Due to this I believe that students must seek either a guidance teacher or a counselor. They must seek for this guidance from the very beginning, when they are to choose their optional subjects. Still, I believe that the majority of the students do not seek for this help. Some students might be shy to go to a guidance teacher or counselor; some students might be discouraged by parents to do so and other view the time with these people such as guidance teacher and counselor as a loss of time. Due to this, students must be aware of the importance of the assistance these people may give them. An effective way in helping them become aware of this is throughout the PSD lesson by the PSD teacher.

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