Journalist and Writer
Hilary Wilce specialising in all aspects of education
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The Quandary - 17 Jul 2008

Our 11-year old wants to be a vet. He is above-average academically but not outstandingly so. Should we encourage him?

Hillary's Advice

This is a very interesting question. How far should we support our children’s ambitions? To many parents, the answer is a no-brainer. We should support our children, they say, to the hilt. Tell them they can do anything they want to, and that the sky is the limit.
But schools are stuffed with children of minor talent who confidently expect to become famous footballers and singers, and fantasists who still see themselves as doctors or airline pilots despite their dismal academic showing.
Instead of pointing such children skywards, shouldn’t we be helping them plant their feet more firmly on the ground?
The answer will always depend on the individual context. In this case these parents seem to have a clear-eyed view of what it takes to be a vet –commitment, high achievement, lots of animal-related work-experience – and an equally clear-eyed view of their son’s abilities. If he decides to plough away at his ambition, they will be right to encourage and support him as much as possible, although it will also make sense to help him to keep some fall-back positions in mind, should things ultimately not go to plan.
But he is only 11, and at this stage too much parental enthusiasm could well be misplaced. Lots of young children say they want to work with animals, but change their minds later. So they need to make lots of interested noises, but also stay in the background for a year or two, leaving him free to dream and change and grow.