Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it. Proverbs 22:6
Serena Williams, Justin Timberlake, Yo-Yo Ma, Shirley Temple, Tiger Woods, the Olsen Twins, Michael Jackson, and many others are all examples of people who have done noteworthy things in their lives. They were all well on their way to a sucessful career, if not already in one, before reaching the age of majority. Few were necessarily child prodigies — someone who at an early age masters one or more skills at an adult level. They were simply children who learned early what they were to do with their lives.
I wonder whether it is good for parents to steer their child toward a career at an early age.
What would have happened to these people if their parents had not directed them to indulge that one interest over any other. I don’t speak of parents who force their children into things that they are not interested in, hoping to turn their child into what they could never themselves be. I mean parents, like mine, who noticed something about their child and saw the potential for a life career.
If children whose parents noticed that they were interested in dissecting bugs and science-related television shows (e.g., Bill Nye the Science Guy, when I was little) were encouraged to learn more than the generally required science lessons, sent to science camps and taken to museum exhibits, would they be further along the way to becoming doctors and scientists? If parents of children who liked to draw everything that they see and build houses or cars out of legos and popscicle sticks were encouraged to go beyond average in those things, would they be more likely to become architects, engineers, and graphic designers?
Had my mother, recognizing my naturally analytical mind and tendency to argue my point, encouraged me to develop those skills and expand on that part of my personality, would I have known earlier that I wanted to be a lawyer? Would I have been better prepared for the tasks required of me both in law school and in future legal practice?
I have increasingly noticed middle and high schools geared toward a specific subject matter and even a few toward a specific career. I wonder if these schools are the new apprenticeships — teaching a child early in life a path which they can take in their career. I believe that a child who evidences a special interest or capacity would greatly benefit from clear direction to indulge his or her special interest.
My mother was very attentive to me and supported me in everything that I did. As a child I wanted to be a dancer, and she guided me as best she could to do the things that would help me toward that career while still telling me that I could do anything that I set my mind to.
This also leads me to another question . . . what if parents send their child down the wrong path? I would assume that the strength of conviction and confidence gained from indulging in something at which he or she excels can only benefit a person throughout life — even if he or she never enters that field or changes careers at some point.
But there is still the question of what happens to the children of parents who attempt to live vicariously through their children, pushing them down a path that the parent, hopefully in good faith, is erroneously convinced will be good for the child? I don’t know. If it becomes common for parents to steer their child in a particular direction, it would be increasingly difficult to prevent this from happening.
But I guess that I am holding a utilitarian view in thinking that the benefit to the many children who are not left to wander aimlessly could outweigh the, hopefully, small detriment to the few children who would suffer by their parents’ actions.