Parenting and Career Development. ERIC Digest.
by Kerka, Sandra
The family is a place in which children learn to interpret reality (Way
and Rossmann 1996b). Parents serve as significant interpreters for children
of information about the world and children's abilities (Hall, Kelly, Hansen,
and Gutwein 1996). Researchers have studied the influence of parents and
the family on children's career choice and development. Much of this research
has demonstrated links between career development and such factors as socioeconomic
status, parents' educational and occupational attainment, and cultural
background. This Digest highlights a different body of research that considers
the effects of family relationships. This research is based on attachment
theory, which suggests that close relationships provide experiences of
security that promote exploration and risk taking (Ketterson and Blustein
1997), and social learning theory, which views "early experiences as a
basis for developing career self-efficacy and interests as well as career
goals and choices throughout life" (Altman 1997, p. 241). The Digest looks
at the ways in which parenting styles, family functioning, and parent-child
interaction influence career development.
THE ROLE OF PARENTING STYLES
Roe, an early theorist, proposed that early childhood experiences play
an indirect role in shaping later career behavior (Brown, Lum, and Voyle
1997). She suggested that parent-child relationships influence personality
orientations and the development of psychological needs; vocational interests
and choices are some of the ways in which individuals try to satisfy those
needs (ibid.). Although Osipow (1997) and others point out the difficulty
of demonstrating links between parenting styles and vocational choices,
some research evidence is emerging.
Parenting styles are broad patterns of child rearing practices, values,
and behaviors. Four types of parenting styles are indulgent (more responsive
than demanding), authoritarian (highly demanding and directive but not
responsive), authoritative (both demanding and responsive), and uninvolved
(low in responsiveness and demandingness) (Darling 1999). The authoritative
style balances clear, high expectations with emotional support and recognition
of children's autonomy. Studies have associated this style with self-confidence,
persistence, social competence, academic success, and psychosocial development
(Bloir 1997; Strage and Brandt 1999). Authoritative parents provide a warm
family climate, set standards, and promote independence, which result in
more active career exploration on the part of children (Kracke 1997).
Although authoritarian parenting is associated with school success,
pressures to conform and fulfill parents' expectations regarding education
and careers can cause a poor fit between the individual and the chosen
career, as well as estranged family relationships and poor mental health
(Way and Rossmann 1996a). Families with uninvolved (or inactive) parents
"seem unable to function well either because they cannot set guidelines,
or because they do not pursue interests that involve places and persons
outside the family" (ibid., p. 3). This makes it more difficult for children
to develop self-knowledge and differentiate their own career goals from
their parents' goals.
FAMILY FUNCTIONING AND CAREER DEVELOPMENT
Overall family functioning, a broader concept that encompasses parenting
style, includes such factors as parental support and guidance, positive
or negative environmental influences, and family members' interaction styles
(Altman 1997). Family functioning has a greater influence on career development
than either family structure (size, birth order, number of parents) or
parents' educational and occupational status (Fisher and Griggs 1994; Trusty,
Watts, and Erdman 1997).
Parental support and guidance can include specific career or educational
suggestions as well as experiences that indirectly support career development,
such as family vacations, provision of resources such as books, and modeling
of paid and nonpaid work roles (Altman 1997). The absence of support, guidance,
and encouragement can lead to "floundering," the inability to develop and
pursue a specific career focus. Lack of support can also take the form
of conflict, when a parent pressures a child toward a particular career
and may withdraw financial and emotional support for a career path not
of the parent's choosing (ibid.).
Family functioning also includes the response to circumstances such
as poverty, alcoholism, marital instability, and illness or death of family
members. Sometimes an individual may respond to a stressful or negative
family environment by making hasty, unreflective career choices in an attempt
to escape or survive (ibid.). On the other hand, critical life events can
spur a transformative learning experience that may shape a career and life
direction (Fisher and Griggs 1994).
Interactions between parents and children and among siblings are a powerful
influence. Interactions can include positive behaviors such as showing
support and interest and communicating openly, or negative behaviors such
as pushing and controlling (Way and Rossmann 1996a). By sharing workplace
stories, expressing concern for children's future, and modeling work behaviors,
parents serve as a context for interpreting the realities of work (ibid.).
Parent-child connectedness facilitates risk taking and exploration, which
are needed for identity formation in general as well as for the formation
of vocational identity (Altman 1997; Blustein 1997). Siblings can be a
source of challenge and competition and a basis for comparison of abilities,
thus providing a context for identity formation (Altman 1997). Because
career development is a lifelong process, "family of origin continues to
have an influence through the life span" (ibid., p. 242). Understanding
early family experiences and relationships can help adults identify barriers
to their career progress.
THE RELATIONAL CONTEXT OF CAREER DEVELOPMENT
If the concept of career is considered a social construction, then one
of the ways in which children form this concept is through social relationships.
Parents' influence on career development stems from the continuous process
of relationship with their children (Young et al. 1997). Analyzing career-related
conversations between adolescents and their parents, Young et al. found
"a reconstruction of the relationship between the parent and the adolescent
through some aspect of career exploration" (p. 76). Their research demonstrates
"how relationships and family functioning are embedded in career conversations
and how the construction of career occurs in families" (p. 84).
Ketterson and Blustein (1997) also support the relational context of
career development. They cite research demonstrating that secure parent-child
relationships are associated with progress in career decision making, affirmative
career self-efficacy beliefs, and career planfulness. Their study found
that students who have secure attachments to parents engage in greater
levels of environmental and self-exploratory activity. They conclude that
secure, comfortable relationships are critical in helping students take
the risks necessary in exploring new settings and roles.
Way and Rossmann (1996a,b) explore the question of differences in individuals'
ability to make successful career transitions. Their research used an ecological
systems perspective to show how development is influenced by relationships
with others and with the environment. Their interviews with youth and adults
identified a proactive family interaction style that significantly contributes
to career readiness. Proactive families--
* are well organized, cohesive, and expressive
* speak their mind and manage conflict positively
* seek out ways to grow
* are sociable
* make decisions through democratic negotiation
* encourage individual development
* are emotionally engaged
Using an authoritative parenting style, proactive parents help children
learn to be autonomous and successful in shaping their own lives. They
also transmit values about work and teach important lessons in decision
making, work habits, conflict resolution, and communication skills, which
are the foundation of career success.
Of course, family systems intersect and interact with other systems
such as gender, race, and class. Poverty, lack of access to opportunities,
and gender-role expectations can hamper the career development process.
However, the work of Altman (1997), Bloir (1997), Blustein (1997), and
Fisher and Griggs (1994) shows how close family connections and strong
role models can be facilitative factors in confronting these barriers.
The research reviewed here demonstrates the strong influence that parenting
behavior and family functioning have on career development. The findings
suggest that career counselors and career educators should (1) shift the
focus from the individual to the family system; (2) develop a new and richer
view of parent involvement in schools; (3) help families become more proactive;
and (4) consider ways of duplicating helpful types of family functioning
in schools, especially for children whose families are not proactive (Hall
et al. 1996; Way and Rossmann 1996b).
Although proactive, authoritative parenting is demanding and time consuming,
parents might consider ways in which their childrearing patterns and family
interactions are or are not proactive. They could also support learning
strategies that promote career readiness, such as encouraging children
to take challenging classes, providing opportunities to instill confidence
and expectations that family members will do their best in difficult situations,
and making informal contacts for exploration of occupational choices (Way
and Rossmann 1996a). Moses (1998) also cautions parents that "children
develop many of their initial ideas and beliefs about work on the basis
of what they hear from their parents, as well as what they observe for
themselves" (p. 245). Parents' intentional career-related actions are important
in preparing children to be tomorrow's workers and tomorrow's citizens
(ibid.). However, the "day-to-day patterns of family relationship may be
the most significant gift a family can make" (Way and Rossmann 1996a, p.
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