That’s right. That’s the most restrictive question you can ask a child and I will explain why.
I was reading Michelle Obama’s book “Becoming” an amazing bestseller and that’s where the reality of the restrictiveness of this question struck me.
In the preface, she explains how simple her aspirations as a child were (I imagine she never thought she would be First Lady of America then, which to me is just a pinch of her achievements; you should read the book to find out).
Of course, she had an answer to the “what do you want to be when you grow up ” question _ A pediatrician. She later became a lawyer, lol. She explains she was ambitious though she didn’t know exactly what she was shooting for, and then she says;
Now I think it’s one of the most useless questions an adult can ask a child- what do you want to be when you grow u? As if growing up is finite, as if at some point you become something and that’s the end.It struck me.
Now I must say, it might not be a useless question because it definitely made me think as a child, but I must admit, it was restrictive in a lot of ways especially in my mind.
As a child, I thought there was one thing to become. I thought there was a stage called grown up where you achieve things, but I didn’t know end of that phase. Since there was one thing to become, since I had to choose something, it had to be the best.
I’m sure we all have our stories and factors that guided our choices, but I will share mine (please share yours in the comment section). In primary school, when we were taught professions in class, Doctors always came first, then lawyers, engineers, bankers and so forth and that was the hierarchy in my head. Doctor’s first, lawyers next and so on.
My elder sister had decided to become a doctor, I didn’t want to interfere (at least to me it wasn’t fair, lol) so I decided I was going to become a lawyer and that was it. Yea laugh at me, I laugh anytime I tell the tale too.
Anytime I was asked, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” I answered, “I want to become a lawyer”, if you had asked me what next, I would have said nothing
Mind you, the only thing I knew about the profession was that lawyers argued in court and you never beat them in an argument if you are not one and that it was a prestigious profession. Long story short, I knew the sound of it made my parents happy too for all the stereotypical reasons. Guess what?
In SS2 (grade 11), I told my mum I wanted to become a cosmetologist. Imagine how hard I’m laughing writing this, please join me😂. Why though? You ask, simply because I was confused, all along becoming a lawyer my answer to the what do you want to be question.
I did a lot of reflection then and struck a deal with God in prayer, if you want me to study law, let the admission be granted this year otherwise I’m applying for something else next year. Period.lol. (SS3).
I got the admission 😁, long story short, I know I got lucky to love the profession (I saw the admission as an affirmation) a lot of people now regret their choice in whatever area, but I wish I didn’t feel pressured to answer the question then or at least was made to understand that it’s not an end. There’s so much to do, to become, I didn’t know that as a child.
Like I said, it wasn’t a useless question, it gave me a sense of direction whether it was false or not, I’m sure you can relate to that. I knew I wasn’t going to be under my parents forever, I was one day going to be responsible, but it did restrict my thinking in a lot of ways.
How is that question restrictive?
1- It makes you feel growing up is finite: Just like Michelle said, which from experience I agree with, it makes the child feel growing up is finite, like there is a phase called grown up when you achieve things. What about now? As a matter of fact, there are a lot of children who have become a lot in their not grown up phase. What do you want to become in the future or when you grow up? is so abstract.
Marsai Martin became an executive producer at 13, she’s a three time NAACP image awards winner and a six time nominee, I would be wowed. I’m using this example because many of us identify with Blackish or Little. I know we have different paths but a lot of children have potentials that can be harnessed now, but somebody told them they have to grow up lol.
2- It makes the child set early bars on what they can be: what do you want to be when you grow up? So restrictive. I definitely set an early bar which I have now removed. My children will understand there is no what, the world is looking for solution providers and you can be one in more than one sphere, the course you study doesn’t restrict you to one path. I recommend an episode on Just Talk Podcast, titled Be all you can be.
3- The disappointment many feel when they don’t tow that path:
Before I comment on this, I know a lot of people choose out of passion and won’t mind trying multiple times, but I also know many like myself chose for reasons you might not term passion (I got lucky on the way) and are disappointed when they don’t tow that path because they have held on to one answer for the longest time. Many write JAMB and SATs repeatedly, some for the good reasons, some to keep up with that answer (if you can relate, please comment below🙏).
This is my take, as much as kids (anyone generally) should have a sense of direction, it should never be restrictive. Make your child or yourself understand that there is a whole lot to be. In her book, Michelle Obama goes on to state the many things she has become. There are solutions to be sought, growing up is not finite. Let the child understand that what they become is not centered on their course of study (many don’t know), it should be a guide. Keep yourself and them open-minded and harness all you have in you.
I know we have thoughts in this and I imagine how diverse, so please share your thoughts in the comment section, tell your tale if you can, do you agree that the structure of the question makes it restrictive especially to a child. Don’t forget to like, share and subscribe 🙏. Ciao!