How to talk to your teenager about their future

Photo Credit: michael_swan via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: michael_swan via Compfight cc

By Lauren Vogel, PhD.

Your teenager was probably five years old when you first asked them what they want to be when they grow up. But the conversation really needs to step up a notch once they hit high school. And it’s not always the easiest conversation to have. What you want for your children may be quite different from their own ideas – and that’s if they have any ideas at all. Here are some tips on how to talk to your teen about their future and tertiary education that we’re sure you’ll find useful, whether you’ve got a new high schooler or a new school leaver.

Get prepared early

Be involved in your child’s education and start researching course options early.

You know what your teen enjoys, what they don’t, and why. Use this knowledge to start researching courses that you think they might enjoy and then start an open-minded conversation with them.

When I was in my final year at school, my mum read through the entire university course guide, highlighting all the courses that she thought I would find interesting and noting why. Nowadays it’s online which means it’s easy for you to get searching.

But don’t just research the universities. There’s a stack of private institutions with a wide variety of courses, and online study is a huge growth area. Shorter online diplomas that teach practical real-world skills are becoming more popular, with the best ones being those where the teachers are real-world experts. Government loans are also available for some diplomas.

Less talk; more (active) listening.

Start an on-going conversation with your teen about their course choices. Remember that communication is a two-way street – it’s not just about talking but active listening.

Active listening is about giving your full presence. Get rid of all distractions and really show that you are paying attention. Practice open body language, empathy, open-ended questions, summarising, and paraphrasing.

Did you know that teenagers simply don’t have the cognitive capacity to process things in the same way that adults do? Try not to get frustrated if they talk in circles or never seem to come to a conclusion – this is part of the process.

Focus on understanding their point of view rather than on providing them with answers. The idea is not to come to a conclusion after one conversation but to encourage an evolving conversation based on open communication and understanding.

This is not the be all and end all

Build a sense of excitement and optimism about their future. The reality is that the university entry score counts for very little in the context of a whole career.

So your child didn’t get the entry score they need to get into a particular degree? There is always the possibility of alternate entry routes through other degrees or diplomas. Many diplomas offer automatic entry into the second year of a relevant university degree. There is also the option of returning to tertiary education as a mature student after gaining valuable life or work experience.

You can also transfer courses, degrees, and educational institutions very easily once you’re in the system.

For more inspiration around life beyond school when your child didn’t get the marks they wanted, visit’s There’s Life After the HSC website.

Turning passions into moneymakers

Help your teen work towards a future that is meaningful to them. The best course option might not be for the subject matter but for the skills it can teach your child.

Passions no longer have to be the hobbies that you do in your spare time; you can turn your passions into a moneymaker if you learn the right skills.

Many of us work in jobs today that didn’t exist 10 or even five years ago. When I was at school the word blogging didn’t even exist and now it’s a career option for some people. You don’t know what careers are going to be available to your teen in the future, so ground them in what excites them.

Try to pinpoint what they love, rather than just what might be a sensible decision. Do they really love playing the guitar? Writing? Building things in the backyard? Then think of creative ways in which these passions could translate into a career they love.

There are courses available that can help your teen turn their passion into a successful business. A business diploma, for example, teaches fundamental business skills such as how to start a successful online business, identify marketing opportunities, and manage risk.

At the end of the day, we all want our children to lead happy successful lives. Professor Dan Shechtman, a Global Faculty member of Dūcere (an Australian-based online education provider), endured decades of ridicule and even lost his job for the discovery that would later win him the Nobel Prize in chemistry. In an interview with Ducere, what was his biggest piece of advice?

“If you want to succeed in your life, become an expert in something you like … and I promise you, you will have a wonderful career.”



  1. Wonderful advice – great article 🙂

    • Definitely something worth sharing to the current HSC students.

      In our research, we’ve found that self confidence and a healthy attitude towards the HSC and the ATAR is deeply affected by the way parents interact with their children. It’s important to emphasise that there are many opportunities outside of high school and that the ATA is not the be-all and end-all of life.
      Levelup Campaign recently posted..Real Skills, Endless PossibilitiesMy Profile

  2. This is an awesome article! from our research in Level-Up we found that support from the family is a very important factor that contributes in determining the attitude of the individual doing the HSC. The more stress and capitalisation a parent put on the student, the more likely that the student will have their own self pressure and lack of confidence in their result.

    Its important that we remind high school leavers that there is a life after the HSC and this life has more opportunities opened to them.
    LevelUp Campaign recently posted..Real Skills, Endless PossibilitiesMy Profile



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