If you were to ask any parent what they wants their children to be when they grow up, you’d likely hear something along the lines of “independent and happy.” All parents want the best for their kids, and that usually means wanting them to grow into adults who are thriving in lives and careers they can be proud of.
Nearly everything that parents do for their kids, from early childhood to young adulthood, has this goal in mind. This is where the term “preprofessional” comes into play.
We use this term at our camps and programs to describe children with a healthy balance of three essential requirements for an independent, happy life: experience, education, and attitude. “Preprofessional” goes beyond labeling children and teenagers as students, acknowledging the many facets they may have: athlete, home cook, enthusiastic networker, budding scientist, future entrepreneur, and countless other titles.
Developing a preprofessional mindset early on is important for children. They might already know the basics of what’s expected of them in the future, but they deserve a helping hand.
Mums (and dads!) play a big role here. Parents can help their children begin to think about how the things they discover or enjoy today could have a real impact on them in their adult life. While previous generations had more traditional careers, Gen-Z’ers are growing up in a different world — they crave independence, professional growth, and meaningful work.
The skills they will need to be successful as a college student and preprofessional will be different from the skills that their parents or grandparents needed, so exposing them to these skills early and seeing what they naturally gravitate toward really matters.
Turning a Child Into a Preprofessional
As you parent your preprofessional children, put the following tips into play to get them thinking the right way:
1. Explain how your child’s experiences are preparing him or her for the future.
Even an experience like babysitting the neighbors’ kids or volunteering at a community group’s event is a chance to develop people skills, use good judgment, and tackle challenges, but don’t assume your child knows that — to your child, it might just seem like a way to make some extra money or spend an afternoon.
Give them insider knowledge. You might say, “Remember how you calmed down the Smiths’ toddler when he was upset that his parents left for the night? Understanding and solving a problem like that can be difficult, but you showed real skill there — and that’s going to be essential to nearly every job opportunity in your future.” If you’ve had a similar experience at your own job and can relate, even better. Encourage these kinds of discussions while you have your child’s ear, being transparent as to why you wish you had been able to see things so clearly when you were his or her age.
2. Let them experience new things at their own pace.
What happens when you push an idea on your children? Often, they want nothing to do with it (and may resent you for pushing so hard). Practicing preprofessionalism should take place in a relaxed, organic way so your child feels free to explore many different interests and strengths. From summer camps to guitar lessons, make it a priority to find out what interests
your child, and allow discovery to occur.
That said, don’t expect every avenue to be “the one” for your child’s future. Plant seeds here and there, and see which sprout. Not all the seeds will take root; that’s to be expected. If you send your child to coding camp, and he comes back without an ounce of interest in computer programming, it was still worth the experience. Exposure is the goal, not proficiency. Be patient, viewing this as a journey you’re supporting, not a destination with a deadline.
3. Approach learning proactively.
Ask any educator, and he or she will almost inevitably tell you there’s a lot of back-end work that goes into the activities created for students. The same goes for learning at home. If you approach learning activities halfheartedly, they might not resonate with your children.
However, if you plan these activities deliberately and proactively, there’s a much higher chance your kids will connect with them and get excited about them. For instance, instead of deciding on a whim to go to the art museum, take the outing to the
next level by looking up what’s on display and asking your kids to seek and find certain paintings. Preprofessionalism doesn’t come out of nowhere; it happens because you make it happen.
4. Go into new experiences with your head held high.
In no thesaurus is “new” synonymous with “scary,” but sometimes, it’s easy to feel that way—and that goes for kids and adults alike. However, this attitude teaches kids to fear the unknown rather than explore (and conquer) it.
Parents are in the perfect position to model behavior that doesn’t back away from new experiences. The next time you’re out to eat, try a dish that’s new to you, and encourage your child to taste it, too. When you’re at the neighborhood pool, a school function, or your tennis club, introduce yourself and your child to new faces. Learn phrases in new languages, read books together on a subject you know nothing about — the possibilities are endless! Eventually, your children will be leading the way, forging their own paths to new discoveries — and new passions.
Right now is a fun, exciting time to be a parent, and it’s never too early to treat your child like the independent person he or she will be someday. The world will demand more from this generation than any before it, so make sure your kids are ready to rise to the occasion.
Steve Robertson is the CEO of Julian Krinsky Camps & Programs (JKCP), an organization specializing in youth-to-adult programming that turns curiosity into passion and skill. Steve has been with the company for 18 years. In this role, his primary responsibility is to cultivate a culture that results in memories lasting a lifetime.