Think back to your childhood. How many times have you been asked “what do you want to be when you grow up?” All of us at Learning Time agree that this was one of our least favorite questions as a kid. Some of us had a template answer that we would just repeat over and over again. Others genuinely had no idea but felt pressured to give an answer anyway (what was your answer?) Recently, psychologist Adam Grant suggested that asking this question can actually do more harm than good.
Does it really make sense to ask this question to a child?
Think back to when you were 6 years old. Did you know what you wanted to be? Did you even know what ‘working’ meant at that age? Did you have a good idea of the different career options? Asking this question leads to what is referred to as ‘identity foreclosure’, meaning that children develop tunnel vision on a certain ideal or ambition. Michelle Obama wrote, “I think it’s one of the most useless questions an adult can ask a child. What do you want to be when you grow up? As if growing up is finite. As if, at some point, you become something and that’s the end.” We don’t want to close the doors to all the opportunities that exist; we want to do the opposite and open more doors than your child knew were possible.
What can you say instead?
Some kids are naturally curious about this topic, and that’s fine. If your child says they really want to be a firefighter, you don’t need to discourage them. Instead, you can say that firefighting is great, but they don’t have to decide now. There are a lot of options and things they can do in the future. This will help encourage them to try new things and explore more potential interests.
The next time you’re at a family gathering or even if you’re just having a conversation with your child, try to remember that there isn’t really any point in asking your child this question.