Celebrate who they are today

When a student shows a passion for the arts—acting, photography, painting, etc.—it’s natural for some parents to worry about that interest’s future practicality. Should you encourage their pottery or painting or songwriting? Or should you push them towards interests where the path to gainful employment is both more certain and more direct?

It’s not an unreasonable concern (as my dad says, “There’s a difference between having a hobby and having a job”), or one with an obvious answer.

I liked Madeline Levine’s advice shared in this 90-second video about how to parent artistic kids. She uses the analogy of a river and a rock. A kid who is truly creative is like a river. You can be a rock who tries to halt that flow if you want to be, but they can’t shut off who they are—they’ll just go around you. So the only thing you stand to accomplish by trying to stop that flow is damaging your own relationship with your child.

But there’s an important distinction, one that I’m guessing Levine herself would have made had the video been longer. Just because a high school student shows a creative passion doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll one day commit to making a career out of it. Very few kids—creative or not—seek careers at 26 in the exact areas that made them tick when they were 16. That creativity may be there to stay, but creativity can be expressed in as many avenues as it can mediums.

Maybe your student will grow up and use those acting chops to deliver polished sales presentations? Maybe they’ll use those photography skills to capture the best shots of your family holidays together? Maybe the art class they teach one day will be the most popular course on campus?

So parents, if your student expresses a creative passion, celebrate it. Be happy for them that they’ve found something they enjoy, something safe and productive that lights them up. Don’t rush ten steps (and ten years) ahead and evaluate their creative career potential.

Yes, you might have to have some of those conversations if that creative interest starts to drive their college selection. But even those choices don’t necessarily bind them to a future career choice.

Wait and see who they become tomorrow, and just celebrate who they are today.