The Cliché Question That, When Asked, Improves Kids' Well Being
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” is one of those cliché questions that adults ask automatically. It turns out that the answer may reveal a lot about an adolescent’s health.
Teodora Zareva is an entrepreneur, writer, board games geek and a curious person at large. Her professional path has taken her from filmmaking and photography to writing, TEDx organizing, teaching, and social entrepreneurship. She has lived and worked in the U.S. and Bulgaria and is currently doing her MBA at Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford. Her biggest passion lies at the intersection of media and youth development. She is the co-founder of WishBOX Foundation, a Bulgarian NGO that helps high school students with their professional orientation by organizing events, courses, summer camps and developing digital media resources.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” is one of those cliché questions that adults ask automatically in the presence of kids, and likely don’t make much of the answer. It turns out, however, that the answer may reveal a lot about an adolescent’s health.
A recently published paper in Academic Pediatrics outlines the findings of the first study to examine the link between adolescent career aspirations and their well-being.
The researchers asked almost a 1000 students from low-income families the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” They found that the answers could predict the students’ self-efficacy, hopelessness, and health behaviors.
Students who wanted a career requiring higher levels of education, or a higher median income, had high self-efficacy, and lower levels of hopelessness, compared to students whose choice careers required a high school diploma only. The high aspirations group was also associated with decreased odds of alcohol use, at-school substance use, and risky sexual activity. The group with no career aspirations had the lowest levels of self-efficacy, and the highest levels of hopelessness.
The findings suggest that asking “What do you want to be when you grow up?” may actually be a useful tool in the hands of youth workers and parents — a quick way to get an idea about teens health and well-being in situations where administering complex psychological tests is not a viable option.
Adults should listen to the answer and notice whether a teen might need to address any underlying issues. They should also encourage high-education career aspirations and provide the support necessary to reach those goals.
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