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The Problem With "What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?"

Annmary Ibrahim

Posted on August 19, 2020 21:34

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"What do you want to be when you grow up?" This question is meant to inspire a multitude of answers and unlimited possibilities from wide-eyed children. So then why is it something children, teens and young adults dread hearing?

The answer is as simple as it is ironic: this unlimited question is too limiting. Children have an incredibly expansive imagination; they believe they can be anything and as many things as they want. However, once they are hit with the question of what they want to be, suddenly their expansive universe must be downsized, and they must decide on one path. While this may not seem like a big problem, it is important to remember that children are perceptive, and adults are not always subtle.

As a child, I remember watching adults' eyes light up as I told them I wanted to be a doctor, and I remember their reactions when I added "AND a fashion designer AND an artist" to the end of my answer. I realized that I liked watching them be excited about my future, and the only future version of myself that they were excited to see was the one where I was a doctor.

I was met with partial acceptance and the ever famous "art can be a hobby." I was crushed. But eventually, after the constant repeating of that response, I found myself mimicking it as well, and soon my answer was edited down to "doctor." And for those who cared to listen more, it was "doctor with a hobby."

The matter complicates further when finances are involved. Because there is more money in certain careers, these careers are placed atop a pedestal. And due to their competitive nature, anyone who makes it is considered talented and intelligent. While this may be true, the constant fetishizing of careers like doctors, lawyers and engineers often leave people forgetting the talent and intelligence involved in other careers, making it all the more difficult for children to feel confident in their pursuit of said careers.

We can assume there are kids who have faced no pressure when being questioned about their futures, but even they are still limited by the fact that kids grow up and interests shift and realign. Your answer as a child may change a million times over before you get to "grown-up." The idea that "people change" is nothing revolutionary. However, it is not a concept children fully understand, and the issue in this is that when children decide on a career, pre-life experience, they will feel more pressured to stick by their choice even if their interests change.

Although it is an adorable, picturesque question to ask children and giggle at the silly responses they give such as "scientist who tests out poison" (a real response), it is important to realize the pressure and damage brought on by this unassuming question. Rather than ask where children see themselves in the future, we should be building them up in the present. We should question their interests, their passions, what they know they are good at, and what they want to get better at so that one day they can arrive at "grown-up" with confidence and excitement in their choices.

Annmary Ibrahim

Posted on August 19, 2020 21:34

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