a peek inside the fishbowl

06 Mar, 2017

A new chapter unfolds

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Misc. life|parenting

As I mentioned in this recent post, our firstborn is off to school in the fall, which will leave us minus one child here at home during the school year. If you follow me on Instagram you probably saw some photos from the different universities we visited awhile back:

I can hardly believe it. Sigh.

Where is she going to study? Well, we don’t know yet. She’s been accepted to three out of five schools she has applied to so far. She’s relieved to know someone out there wants her, but she is also waiting to hear back about one particular university.

Not that I would file any of these points under the “Parenting Regrets” column, but can I take a moment to make a few observations about this new chapter in our lives?

Career discussions with teens can start early, I mean REALLY EARLY

I knew I wanted to do be a writer in second grade, but not everyone is like me. That’s why it’s helpful to plant those seeds early and chat with teens and tweens about career options as soon as they start to develop their own interests. I understand that kids may not know exactly what they want to do the rest of their lives, but they are probably passionate about something: animals (future vet!), books (librarian, author, editor!), computers (programmer, game designer!), doodling (graphic design!), lemonade stands (app developers, entrepreneurs!), arguing about why they don’t need to make their bed in the morning (HELLO LAW SCHOOL). So making observations about their interests and helping them pursue them in bigger ways might be a good idea.

You know, I really don’t think young people have an idea of the thousands of different kinds of jobs there are. Many jobs escape our notice because we don’t understand them or even know they’re out there. You know what might be helpful? Going through job ads with your teen. Sit down together and head over to a site like Monster.ca or Charityvillage.com and just see what’s out there! Good topics to discuss while you’re there could include salaries, taxes, and cost of living.

Related to this: I spotted this in my Twitter feed recently. It’s also worth checking out:

Pay attention to that high school course catalog

Here’s a worst case scenario to think about. Imagine you’re a teenager who decides, in the early part of grade 12, that you want to pursue a field of study at a particular school. You look at the school’s course requirements and realize that you should have been taking math all along because now the options are (a) rethink your career aspirations or (b) take a year off and do nothing but study math. If you’re that teen I bet you are devastated. That’s why those career conversations need to start early and course selections need to be to be made strategically. Related to this, of course…

Grade evaluation

What grade average does your kid need in order to get into the school of their choice? In no way am I advocating helicopter parenting here, but it’s important to have this info at hand even if your child is doing well in school. Let’s look at the real life case of Frannie Goodstudent (not her real name). Frannie always brought home good grades, in the 80s. Her mother, Mrs. Goodstudent, also did well in high school and university and was pleased that the apple did not fall far from the tree. Frannie’s father, who was not a high-achieving student in high school, was DOUBLY proud of his daughter’s academic achievements. No need to worry about this one! And no one gave her grades a second thought until Frannie decided she wanted to go to Niche Program at Big University. They looked into it together and to their dismay, found out that it’s such a desirable program, Frannie will need high 80s or 90s to get in. Suddenly, those great marks aren’t good enough. What’s a girl like Frannie to do?


There is a reason this one deserves the ALLCAPS treatment. The importance of those extra curriculars really hit home while going through the university application process.

In Ontario, all high school students are required to do 40 hours of volunteer work before they graduate. Instead of volunteering for mindless tasks just to get their hours, kids should really think about finding volunteer opportunities that match their career aspirations, even if it’s tangential. Volunteering at a hospital, for example, would look great for someone applying to medical-related studies.

Kids, get a job.

Teens should all be working. Fullstop. Work keeps ’em out of trouble while earning some cash. As an added bonus, they gain amazing experiences and pick up lessons they will remember for the rest of their working lives. The things they learn along the way trickle over to their personal lives as well: How do you deal with angry people? Harassment? Computer problems? How do you write an email? These are skills for life.

Without revealing where our two kids are currently employed, I will say this: they are both dealing with people and having to troubleshoot/think on their feet all the time. It is awesome. I love hearing their work stories. Every single thing that happens is filed away in their brains and, in turn, shapes them into the resilient and independent young women they need to be.

Parents, we need to be realistic about what it means to work, and work towards a career

Have you ever told your kids things something along the lines of: “DO YOU WANT TO FLIP BURGERS ALL OF YOUR LIFE?” (I am guilty of this. Ugh.) Unfortunately, this line might backfire on us when our kids balk at flipping burgers for an entire summer. And here’s a newsflash: some adults work in fast food and retail because they enjoy it, need a paycheque, or all of the above. Someone needs to work at those jobs, otherwise society as we know it will fall apart.

It’s important to talk about what work life is really all about and what young people can expect when they get out into the world. Work is hard. Sometimes you will feel awful and heaven forbid, find yourself crying in a bathroom stall… or taking a nap in your car during your lunch break because you have been working so hard you can’t keep your eyes open. You will find out that some adults are just like the kids you hated in high school. You won’t feel appreciated. Sometimes, you will want to quit. But, but, but, work can also be fun, and fulfilling. It’s an opportunity to meet great people and learn new things that will expand your world and prepare you for your NEXT job, which will be bigger and better.

Wow. I guess I had a lot to say about this new chapter eh?

9 Responses to "A new chapter unfolds"

1 | Misty Pratt

March 7th, 2017 at 9:29 am


We’re still far from this stage, but this is amazing advice. I don’t think I got any career direction, other than a short personality test in high school (which told me I should be a social worker) So I ended up flailing for several years – I started in business school (blech!) then switched to geography/environmental studies. A much better fit, but here I am at 36 still not working in my field of study. As a total book nerd, I wish someone had pointed out my main interest (reading/writing) and helped me figure out a job related to that.

That said, I don’t regret my path in life. I’ve had amazing jobs and I have learned so much along the way. I love that I’m flexible – I’ve worked in business, retail, health research, healthcare, teaching, social services and more! I think what’s important is letting kids know that things are not set in stone. You can make switches, and learn new skills.

2 | andrea tomkins

March 7th, 2017 at 9:53 am


Sabrina McTaggart sent along a great tip via Facebook and I wanted to share it here:

“If your teen is interested in a certain program at a certain college/university, make sure you take time to closely look at what courses they would be taking in all 4 years. [Not just the first year, which can often be a generic menu of courses.] Too often I have young adults in my office who are half way through their studies, but report that they don’t really like what they are choosing and wish they had picked something different. Advance research is key!”

Advance research is so important. The question is, how do we go about it without being naggy and overbearing? Sigh. It’s tough.

I would like to use this opportunity to point out that Sabrina totally knows what she’s talking about. She’s a youth career coach! I’ve spoken to her a number of times. In fact, if you’re interested, I recommend you read this Q&A the Kitchissippi Times did with her on this subject. She had LOTS of great advice!

3 | andrea tomkins

March 7th, 2017 at 9:56 am


Thanks for your comment Misty.
You’ve tapped into something else that I’ve been thinking out. Where’s the line between gentle guidance and pushy parenting? It’s hard to know how hard to press sometimes.

I remember doing those personality tests, but it was ultimately a high school teacher who set me in the right direction!

4 | Claudette

March 7th, 2017 at 10:05 am


My niece is a couple of years older than my first born, and in grade 9, so first year high school. In BC they requirement for volunteer hours is similar to that of Ontario, and my sister told my niece that she should start looking into volunteering now, rather than wait until the last or second last year of high school when it’s stressful enough without having to rack up 40 hours all in one year. Why not start early?

As you say, volunteering (and part time jobs) will get them experience and it will make it easier, later, to land work, even part time work, in a field they actually enjoy. How many of us have worked in an environment we’re not crazy about just because the job (or volunteer position) was available and/or it paid for some financial need?

I’ve already asked my son to keep an eye open at all his various arena activities. How many teenagers does he see running the score board? Assisting coaches in teaching young kids how to skate? Is this something he might look into doing when he gets to high school? It may even help to get the word out now (and he has, he has volunteered to do the score board at his sister’s ringette games, he even got a paycheck out of it, and he’s only 11!).

This is a great post and one I will share. Thank you Andrea!

5 | Louise

March 7th, 2017 at 8:09 pm


As the parent to a grade nine student (who will no doubt blaze a trail for her three younger siblings) thank you for these pointers! And best of luck to your firstborn and her decisions.

6 | Jane Snider

March 8th, 2017 at 9:08 am


Great advice Andrea! I would also add…if your kid is planning to live in residence, it’s a good idea to research the options. Our son is in first year at a university that an older friend of his is attending–nothing like those first hand stories of room-mate problems to motivate! The option he preferred (shared apt. style dorm with private rooms) meant he had to be proactive about finding 2 other dorm mates to share with, while he was still in Gr. 12.

Also…getting a head start on life skills like laundry, banking/personal finances, cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, driving, etc. while your kids are at home will help make the transition that much easier.

7 | sabrina

March 8th, 2017 at 6:49 pm


In response to Andrea’s query “How can we get them to do advance research without becoming naggy and overbearing?” Totally get this, as I have had two sons head off to university. Here’s an idea to address that: they will be far more invested in getting the specifics about what they are jumping into if they have some ‘skin in the game.’ What I mean by that — is if they are paying some portion of their college/university expenses. I know this runs counter to what we want to do as parents: from the time they are newborns, we start saving for their college education and we so want them to go on to further study. But the young person who is paying for half of their tuition is far more likely to want to know exactly what he/she is paying for with their hard earned cash!

8 | andrea tomkins

March 9th, 2017 at 11:04 am


Good point Sabrina! Thanks for chiming in. I am a BIG believer in making the kids share the burden of costs for any post-secondary education. It makes them value it more for sure.

9 | a peek inside the fishbowl » Blog Archive Spring things, and a bit of news - a peek inside the fishbowl

May 18th, 2017 at 3:20 pm


[…] Queen’s in the fall. She got a nice little scholarship too! (A few of you will remember this post about teens, work, and university application. Clearly, I was worried when I wrote it.) As you can […]

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My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human offspring: Emma (24) and Sarah (22). During the day I work as a writer at the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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