Parental Behaviors that Influence Adolescents’ Career Development

by Briana K. Keller

According to a large body of research, family factors often influence career development and decision-making. Career counselors and parents have been interested in understanding these influences for several decades. However, understanding the precise ways in which families impact career development has proven difficult because the constructs of family and career development are broad and because the association between these two constructs varies with age.

A Recent Study with Young Adolescents

My research with nearly 300 middle school students and their parents sheds some light on the complex interaction among family and career factors. I conducted a study to find out how specific parent behaviors positively and negatively influenced the career development of a sample of predominantly Caucasian young adolescents attending public schools in both rural and urban areas. The students completed the 50-question Career Maturity Inventory (Crites & Savickas, 1995), the 12-question Middle School Career Decision-Making Self-Efficacy Scale (Fouad, Smith, & Enochs, 1997), and a 30-question parent career behavior checklist created and evaluated for use in this study. The students’ parents also completed the likert-scale parent career behavior measure. The regression and correlational analyses revealed that perceived parent behaviors were significantly related to the career maturity and decision-making self-efficacy of the middle school students after controlling for student gender and grade level. The following paragraphs describe the primary findings in more detail.

Important Parent Behaviors

The most important finding from the study is that basic loving and supportive parent behaviors (such as parents telling adolescents they are interested in their opinions) seem to be more important for middle school students than specific career-related action behaviors (such as giving adolescents written material about specific careers). The multiple regression analyses revealed that when students feel supported and loved by their parents, they have more skill in thinking about careers and the world of work than when they do not feel supported and loved. The results also indicated that when students feel supported and loved by their parents, they have more confidence in their own ability to find career information and to choose a career that would be interesting and exciting to them. This is important because other research shows that adolescents who feel efficacious regarding career decision-making tend to make more satisfying career choices later in life.

My study showed that several parenting behaviors seem to be especially important for middle school students. The logistic regression revealed that 5 perceived parenting behaviors discriminate between adolescents with high and low career maturity and decision-making self-efficacy scores. According to the results, if parents want to enhance the career development of their young adolescents, they should try to do the following:

    •Express interest in various teenage issues that are important to their children.
    •Tell their children they have high expectations for their career.
    •Encourage their children to make their own decisions.
    •Tell their children they are proud of them.
    •Help their children understand the results from career tests or interest assessments they have taken.

The results of the study also showed that middle school students and their parents have significantly different views about family relationships and parent behaviors. Furthermore, the partial correlation analyses revealed that students whose views about family relationships were very dissimilar from their parents’ views had low levels of career decision-making self-efficacy. To put it another way, when middle school students and their parents are ‘in tune’ with each other about family issues, the students have more confidence in their ability to make good career decisions. This indicates that, in addition to support and love, communication and honesty between young adolescents and their parents may be important for the career development of the adolescents.

Implications for School Counselors

Working with Parents
: Based on the results of this study, school counselors can use the following suggestions to help parents learn to positively influence their young adolescents’ career development.

    •Inform parents that career development is important for adolescents of all ages, not just high school seniors.
    •Let parents know that they will influence their adolescents’ career development, either positively or negatively. Encourage them to become positive influences.
    •Inform parents of the wide-reaching, long-term effects of family attitudes, conversations, and relationships.
    •Encourage parents to express interest and pride in their adolescents as human beings.
    •Encourage parents to overtly convey confidence and trust in their adolescents’ ability to make decisions and plan for their future.
    •Let parents know that adolescents need both warmth and autonomy to have optimum career development – in other words, adolescents need to know parents are there for them but also trust them to make their own decisions.
    •Communicate career information in newsletters.
    •Provide parents with a list of local career resources so they can learn more about career development in general and about their role in adolescents’ career development.

Working with Adolescents:
The following suggestions, based on the results of this study, may be helpful for career counselors who work with adolescents in schools.

    •Ask adolescents about their family relationships, especially their relationships with their primary caregivers.
    •Ask adolescents how much their parents talk to them about careers and show support for their career ideas.
    •Provide a safe and supportive counseling environment.
    •Express interest in adolescents’ ideas, opinions, and hobbies.
    •Teach adolescents how to make good decisions.
    •Express confidence in adolescents’ abilities, plans, and future.
    •Express pride in their accomplishments - regarding school, career, extracurricular, social, and personal areas.
    •Help adolescents develop intrinsic motivation and pride.


The results of a study of middle school students and their parents showed that parental behaviors do relate to young adolescents’ career development. Furthermore, psychosocial support behaviors seem to be more important for this age group than career-related action behaviors. For optimum career development, adolescents need their parents to strike a balance between expressing warmth and encouraging autonomy. These findings can assist career professionals who work with adolescents and/or their parents.


Crites, J. O., & Savickas, M. L (1995). Revised for attitude scale and competence test CMI sourcebook. Published by John O. Crites. Distributed by ISM Information Systems Management, Inc., Careerware.

Fouad, N. A., Smith, P. L., & Enochs, L. (1997). Reliability and validity evidence for the Middle School Self-Efficacy Scale. Measurement and Evaluation in Counseling and Development, 30, 17-31.

Briana K. Keller recently completed her doctorate in counseling psychology at Indiana University. She is now working as a career counselor at the University of Washington and teaching a graduate career counseling course at Seattle University. She can be reached at kellerb@u.washington.edu.

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