Published: 18 March 2016

Butt in or butt out? A parenting dilemma

Dr Yanjun Guan of the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management explores how parental behaviour can influence a young adult’s career path.

How much of an influence do you think your parents had on your career journey? Did they barely get involved, or were they perhaps a bit too overbearing?

According to Dr Yanjun Guan of the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management and fellow researchers from Rutgers University, Peking University and Renmin University of China, a parent’s actions, or lack of it, can have a significant effect on their offspring’s motivation to explore career options and adapt to changing circumstances.

For their paper entitled ‘Career specific parental behaviours, career exploration and career adaptability: a three wave exploration’, Guan et al. conducted a three-way survey with 244 Chinese undergraduate students and their parents in order to test the roles of career-specific parental behaviour in shaping the career adaptability of the students. Career adaptability is the psychological resources involved in the problem-solving process in one’s career development. The career-specific behaviours include: parental support, parental interference and lack of parental career engagement.

Guan et al. hypothesized that the undergraduates’ career exploration and adaptability would be positively influenced by parental support, and would be negatively influenced by parental interference and lack of parental engagement.

Their findings did indeed support their hypothesis, and they also found that there was a dynamic process through which parental behaviour affected career exploration and adaptability, and could engender both positive and negative effects. For instance, when parents were supportive and could back this up with practical supportive resources, their offspring were more likely to initiate exploration behaviour, but if parents couldn’t provide these resources, their children tended to withdraw and lose motivation. Their findings also highlighted that over-interference from a parent also brought about lack of motivation in the student, which emphasizes the importance of sustaining a young adult’s sense of competence and autonomy in helping them develop adaptive abilities.

According to Guan et al., these findings carry implications for research on career construction theory and career counseling practices.

Guan et al. acknowledge there are limitations with this study in that it was conducted in a Chinese context, which is characterised by collectivistic values (meaning that collective goals preside over self-driven goals), so they suggest future research be replicated in other cultural settings.

Read the full paper.

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