The Question We HAVE to Stop Asking Kids

Ariel Swift

Stop asking kids what they want to be when they grow up.

I see a couple of things when adults ask kids this question:

  1. kids answer with jobs they can see

  2. adults don't know what to do with the answers - or worse - they let kids know their answers could be better

Granted my observations are purely non-scientific. But I bet you know what I'm talking about.

At first, small kids don't even know what the concept of "growing up" is. And the confusion is all over their face. And then, perhaps after they have an understanding of the People in Their Neighborhood (or they have been exposed to some creative television), they have answers that are closer related to what they will be for Halloween. The options might be professions that have a visible presence in the young person's life, like firefighters, police officers, or store clerks. Or you know, people with gear: superheroes, princesses.

And then those super smart kids learn this question gets asked a lot. So much, that they memorize their answer because it feels like work now. Ugh.

Adults ask and reply, “Oh! That's wonderful!” Or, something cringe-worthy, like what happened with my daughter the other day after she said she wanted to work at McDonald's. The adult responded, "Oh you can do better than that."

When I heard the response, I worked to not step in and say, "Who do you think you are? You don't get to squash my daughter's dream!"

Because 1) What is bad about working at McDonald's? And 2) working at McDonald's is a job that seems like the best job in the work if you look at it from a seven-year-old's mind. Unlimited chicken nuggets. Fountains of ketchup and soda. A drive-thru window. An intercom. It's practically heaven!

The jobs kids imagine have very little to do with paychecks, health insurance, and contributions to society. And thank goodness. If we keep squashing the dreams of little kids, we start to expose them to the reality that being an adult isn't all that fun. And I say we keep this part a secret a little longer, shall we?

But why are adults even asking kids this question?

Is it to learn more about the person?

Some would argue yes. I argue there are better ways, and certainly better questions to learn that information.

But still, why even ask the question? Is it a taught habit? Is it fulfilling some other purpose that isn't initially obvious? Is it just the default from "How To Talk To A Small Human 101?"

We love the play, imagination, and creativity that is part of the child's brain, and yet with this question, we want them to use their imagination to see themselves being an adult, at work. Again...Ugh.

What if instead, we asking about interesting things they have seen lately.

Or a new food they've tried. Or what book they are reading. Or if you must ask what they want to be, don’t throw shade at an eight-year-old’s response.

And quite honestly, if the goal is to get to know kids better, asking questions isn't going to inspire many children to talk.

Kids like to move. If you really want to get to know a small person better or distinguish yourself from other adults who just don't get it, try asking them for help, or work on a project together. Kids may not know what it means to be an adult in the adult world, but they sure have great ideas about stuff when we include them.

Why not let them give it a go?

Or, if you don't actually care to get to know the kids you encounter, just don't pretend to care. Kids can spot a phony.

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