What can parents do to start their children thinking about the kinds of careers they want? ''One way kids have of driving their parents bananas is to pretend not to be interested in the world of work, even when they are,'' warns Richard N. Bolles, author of ''What Color Is Your Parachute?'' the best-selling career strategist's guidebook.
He also observes, ''In our day and age some kids may not want to go to college right after high school. They may want to work for a while - if only to find out what a crummy job they'll get if they don't get an education.''
Mr. Bolles reminds parents that the young people who seem so recalcitrant about pondering the world of work probably have their hands full in the world of school.
Another point is that the choice of a college, and of a major at that college , ''doesn't always foreclose options,'' says Mr. Bolles. ''People can free up their kids by saying, 'Choose your school and choose your major there, but know that that doesn't commit you to a career.' ''
What is critical is that students take the initiative somewhere along the line to get some good career counseling, perhaps through their college placement center.
''And remember that there are really no experts on careers,'' Bolles says. ''There are people who can tell you what occupations are 'hot' right now.'' But these may be wrong for your kids.
''Students should be their own vocational experts. They should learn to ask intelligent questions, to ask people, 'How did you get into the job you have? What do you like about it? What do you dislike? They can start with the people they see around them - waiters in restaurants, for example.''
Young people need to ask themselves, what do I see that matches my interests and skills? And what are my favorite interests and skills?
To give you and your kids some idea of what's out there in the world of work, you might be interested in the Occupational Outlook Handbook, a federal government publication whose 1984-85 edition is due out this month. It will cost order from your nearest government printing office bookstore or from the Superintendent of Documents, Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402.
If you don't buy the book, you should still be able to find it in the school library or guidance office. You may be greeted with a chorus of groans if you suggest these to your kids as a source of helpful information. But at a bare minimum, they should have some helpful reference material, including the Dictionary of Occupational Titles.
Sylvia Porter's wide-ranging book on personal finance for young people, ''Your Own Money,'' includes a chapter on careers, with addresses of trade associations for a great many fields. Also included are some resources helpful specifically to girls, such as the US Labor Department's Women's Bureau.
As your kids write to these organizations, though, remind them that letters asking ''for any information you have'' often make a quick trip from the ''in'' basket to the wastebasket. Have them formulate specific questions instead; or it might be a good idea to ask for a list of publications.
Other observers offer these tips:
* If you live in a big city, it might be worth surveying magnet schools or other specialized districtwide schools to see what they offer in the way of career specialization.
* The course catalog from your local community college or post-secondary technical school may be a good index to the jobs that are available in your area.
* Encourage your kids to make the most of whatever is offered by local businesses through ''adopt a school'' programs whereby firms offer summer or part-time jobs.
Paul Plawin, associate editor of Changing Times magazine, which has surveyed major employers on their plans to hire new college graduates for 11 years, says, ''The survey has always come down strong on engineering and computer science. Accounting and business administration are important fields now, too, as businesses become more cost-conscious.''
Some young people with specific career ideas are prepared to knock themselves out to fulfill their dreams. But if your kids are basically looking for careers that will afford stability and a comfortable standard of living, Mr. Plawin suggests, it would be well to try to aim them toward these in-demand occupations.
Corporations also like young people who are willing to move for the company, Mr. Plawin adds. So it would be good for parents to talk up the idea of mobility.
He is skeptical of ''aptitude tests.'' ''You've got to be realistic about job markets, not just 'aptitude.' You may have an 'aptitude' for a field where there aren't any jobs. But if you really apply yourself, you can be anything.
''And starting your own business may be a realistic thing - much more so than , say, 20 years ago.'' Particularly in their own hometowns, where they know the community and have established contacts, young people with a new idea for a product or service, plus a few thousand dollars saved while working at a ''regular'' job, may be able to parlay this into a successful business.