A better question to ask Canada’s young people

As part of our venture I have been thinking about how we talk to kids about what they want to be when they grow up. I know when I was growing up, it was very common to be asked “what do you want to be when you grow up?”. Of course, as an 8 yr old girl, my knowledge of the world was very limited to my immediate surroundings so of course thy typical answers become: teacher, doctor, fire fighter, police man… the people that we interact with commonly or on a regular basis.

Personally, I have a really hard time answering that question. Even when I think about it now, at almost 40 yrs old I struggle to come up with an answer. How can I know what I want to be when I grow up when I don’t know all of the things that there are in the world, all of the things that exist, all of the opportunities.

Why do we even ask that question? Is it because we are curious? Is it because we are trying to guide children in a certain direction? Are we trying to influence them with our own beliefs about the path that their life should take? We should spend some time thinking our motives.

If we ask that question from a place of growth and learning and encouragement, then maybe we should ask it differently. Maybe instead of asking kids “what they want to be when they grow up”, we start to ask them “what’s the change they want to make in the world?” or how about “what’s a problem that you want to solve?”.

Imagine the conversation that you could have when you start by asking children to think about their future as an opportunity, instead of as just a job. It opens an opportunity for a very rich discussion about problems or changes that they might be thinking about. They can start to think about how their skills and interests can intersect with resolving that problem. For example, one child might say that they want to solve the problem of access to clean water. Well, there are many different ways to have an impact on this problem — you could talk about how you might need engineers to work on new technology, you might need lawyers to impact government policy, you might need construction workers to build things, you might need …..

On the other side of the coin — what if the child does not have a large global problem they are thinking about?. Well, I think that’s ok too — or maybe the problem they want to solve seems trivial or “small” like “there are no good video games to play!” Again, this opens the conversation about what they think a cool video game might be, and all the different people involved in designing video games. Or, it could be an opportunity to expose children to the Grand Challenges of the 21st century.

At a minimum, it just might get them thinking. Leave it with them, let them ponder their future — and support their passions and aspirations for the future!

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