What to do when a daughter wants to be a spy

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Now that Megen Laramore is 15, she has narrowed her wide choice of job options and focused on the career she wants for the rest of her life. She wants to be a spy.

Her father, Darryl Laramore, director of guidance for the Montgomery County schools in Maryland, took this announcement in stride. After 15 years of working with teens and adults in California and Maryland schools, he knows how to keep from squelching his daughter's enthusiasm while refining her judgment. He called the personnel manager at the Central Intelligence Agency and set up an interview for Megen with a female agent.

"This is a supportive way to keep a youngster's sights open while giving her enough information to make an intelligent decision," says Mr. Laramore, who is an editor for Career World magazine and author of a guidebook for parents on helping children choose careers.

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He used the same technique with his eldest daughter. "I have told her for years, 'Learn how to type. Almost any office job requires it.'

"Then when she hit 20, she announced that she wanted to become the chief of protocol," he says. "So I called the office of Kit Dobelle, our chief of protocol and finagled an interview for my daughter. And do you know what that wonderful woman told Nina?

"Learn how to type. Almost any office job requires it."

Mr. Laramore has encouraged his three children in their careers since their 12th birthdays -- "a good day to get them off the family dole and out earning their own spending money," he counsels.

It's troublesome for kids to hold down jobs before they learn to drive -- all those wet, cold mornings folding newspapers, he recalls. "But oh, is it worth it."

He helped his children write resumes, role- played them through mock interviews, and encouraged them to discover their marketable skills and job preferences by writing their own autobiographies.

"Parents are often willing to spend great sums of money for some imaginary test that will identify their child's skills and steer them toward a career," he says. "But no such test exists. There is no better method I know of for seeing what abilities you have than writing your autobiography."

Once the retrospection is written, the child can stand up and read it to the whole family. Then family members can help the child pull out his skills from what they've heard -- be they organizing, working with others, writing, or computing.

"We all have three kinds of skills, those we picked up in school, those we learned at home -- like riding a bike, which is a marketable skill -- and those that come naturally -- like an ability to work with animals," says Mr. Laramore. "Dogs simply don't bark for some children, babies don't cry for others, and machines run smoothly and repair easily for particular types of people."

He believes that your ultimate career choice should rest on these natural skills since "these are the things we are happiest doing."

The ultimate choice, however, should come a "long way down the line," he says. "Meanwhile, the more a child knows about what jobs are available, the better his choice will be." Such awareness can be fostered by:

* Asking children to observe jobs. Ask such questions as: What kinds of work go on in a restaurant? At a construction site? What do you like best about these jobs?

* Making a collage of careers with scissors, paste, and old magazines.

* Reading a road map of your city and looking for all the different jobs performed along a particular route.

* Bringing home newspapers from other cities and countries, and reading the want ads. Point that certain jobs force you to work in certain areas -- like aircraft designers working on the West Coast and fashion models making careers in New York.

* Talking about the relationship between family life and work. The overtime of a hotel manager and the pressure on an air traffic controller, for example, can tend to eliminate any family life, while the nearness of farm or other at-home work can tend to sustain it.

Parents should make themselves aware of "stereotyping and other barriers," Mr. Laramore advises. "Don't force your child into your own career -- or the career you wish you had."

He uses a simple test to break such barriers. "Think of your oldest child, and write down five or six carrers you think that your child you had."

He uses a simple test to break such barriers. "Think of your oldest child, and write down five or six careers you think that child might be good at -- ones that would use his skills and talents."

This done, he recommends that you imagine the same child -- in the opposite gender. "If your oldest child is a boy, make him a girl -- with the same skills and talents. Now make up a new list of careers for the child, and compare your two lists. If they're different, ask yourself why."

Mr. Laramore isn't sure that he'd want either a daughter or a son of his to be a spy, but he's willing to let such prejudice take a back seat to his supportive role as a parent. "You have to be positve about these choices," he counsels, "and hope that better information will talk the kids out of them."

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