Subject to choice
How can teens see into the future?
When my son was 6 he wanted to be a pterodactyl.

It’s just as well he’d changed his mind about that by the time he reached 14, because that was when he had to choose the school subjects that would more or less fit him for professional adult life from age 18 until he retires or dies, whichever comes first.

While I admittedly can’t suggest an alternative – other than, say, kids just dropping the school subjects they really, really hate (which in my case would have been all of them) – I find this an extraordinarily tall order.

What do we know about the world when we’re teenagers? If you thought that was a rhetorical question, steel yourself: the answer is ‘everything’. You know, for instance, that even if you drop maths (because you DO really, really hate it), you will still somehow be able to become a lawyer and wear snappy suits. You know that despite not being able to write up a comprehensible phone message, you will have penned your first blockbuster by the age of 21. You know that sticking with biology is pointless because you are going to be ‘discovered’ throwing a pretty tantrum in a bank in Hollywood, like Charlize did. And most of all, you know that whatever guidance your parents give you, they do because they want to make your life as difficult and unpleasant as possible.

My daughter at 14 was a potential high-school dropout. Far from taking an interest in her subject choice, she just rolled her eyes and said, ‘What. EVAH,’ when I tried to get her to sit down with me and look at her options. ‘Just tick some boxes, I don’t care,’ she finally grumped, when I explained to her that she had to make choices NOW that would affect what she did professionally for the rest of her life.

Three years on (and not without considerable pain and suffering, for both of us), she is a changed person. And she’s deeply regretting having carelessly chosen maths literacy (what we used to called standard-grade maths, I believe), and ploddingly predictable business studies over far more pertinent computer science.

Now that she’s at an age where she can actually see her adult life beginning to unfold before her, she’s understanding for the first time how profoundly those subject choices, made 3 years ago in the throes of pubescent disenchantment, might affect her choices for the future.

How do you think subject choices should work?

Read more by Tracey Hawthorne.

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