How to talk about STEM

July 5th, 2023

Research shows that parents are the biggest influence in teen’s subject and career choices.

With science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) careers growing almost twice as fast as other sectors and having some of the highest salaries, parents can help their child by talking to them about STEM’s relevance to their life outside the classroom.

For example, they can highlight everyday uses of STEM, or careers that use STEM skills and qualifications.

Here are some tips to engage in conversation with your teenager, aiming to inspire more thoughtful discussions and fewer eye rolls.

Focus on their strengths and interests

By the time they graduate high school, every teenager has had to answer the question: “what do you want to do when you leave school”. It’s entirely normal for students to be unsure about their future career. It’s has also been estimated that 65% of future jobs don’t exist yet.

When approaching career conversations, it can be more helpful to delve into what interests them and what they enjoy doing, along with what impact they might like to have with their future career, or what problems they’d like to solve.

Once you’ve established their passions and interests, help them discover the links. For example, a young person who loves fashion and design might spark an interest in STEM by discussing how maths is being used to create innovative designs that produce zero waste, or how neuroscientists can help brands choose a logo that represents their products and is recognisable.

Work with them to uncover connections

You know your child best and may already have an idea of how to talk about careers with them. However, if you’re unsure, acknowledge what you don’t know and treat it as something you can do together.

Careers in STEM are ever-changing and flexible, so researching with your child can also help ensure they have the most recent and relevant information. Careers With STEM and the Girls in STEM Toolkit have great career quizzes and resources that guide young people on how their interests and passions link with careers in STEM.

Use the people around you

You aren’t expected to be an expert in every field! It can be difficult to think of examples related to every STEM subject. It’s important to lean on the people around you to gain their diverse experiences.

Hearing it from multiple people in their lives can also strengthen the impact of the message you are trying to convey.

To help your child see the connections that STEM has to the real world, you can also reach out to:

  • your partner or spouse
  • family members and friends
  • mentors, teachers, colleagues and coaches.

Stay positive

The content covered in high school STEM classes can be challenging, particularly in Maths and Science, and it can be tempting to create bonds by commiserating with young people on how you also ‘hated’ Maths in high school. When your child expresses a negative feeling, even if you feel the same, try to be positive, or neutral.

Acknowledge their feelings with a statement like “I understand that you’re feeling sad about your last Maths test”, then try to bring the conversation around to a success they have had, no matter how small, or perhaps a time when you have felt failure and how it helped you to grow.

These attitudes demonstrated over time make a huge difference to how young people perceive and respond to challenges and overcome difficulties.

Take your time

There is no ‘best time’ to have these conversations with your child. In fact, shorter, more organic talks over a long time period tend to have a lot more impact.

The everyday conversations in the car while chatting about their day, or at dinner when they mention they’re making an app in tech class often make the most lasting impact. The normalisation of these conversations creates a culture of STEM appreciation and value.

However, here are also some opportunities in which to bring up these conversations:

  • When they’re selecting elective subjects
  • When they express interest in a new extracurricular activity
  • When you ask what topic they’re doing in a STEM class
  • When they ask for help with homework

You best understand your child and can gauge their reactions to the different techniques and strategies suggested above. Even if you encounter resistance, keep in mind that you might be sowing a seed of curiosity that your teenager can explore in the future at their own pace.

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