For lots of teens—not to mention parents—those last years of high school are one long blitz. Courses get harder; friendships more complicated; and then there’s that looming question: what happens next? College? Work? What?

Whatever path your kid chooses, say counselors, you’re looking toward Real Life, and that’s not a bad thing. In fact, it’s a great time for focusing hopes and dreams for the future. A great time, in other words, for thinking about careers.

This is not to say, however, that you should push your teen to choose just one specialty. As the American School Counselor Association warns, “Career development is a lifelong process…skills needed for employment are constantly changing.”

Still, you can be an invaluable resource in helping your teen get ready for the future. After more than two decades in the field, Brandis Bernard, M.A., Career Counselor at the University of Nevada, Reno, and prominent member of the American College Counseling Association, offers this advice:

  • Instill Curiosity. When your ninth grade biology student comes home raving about dissection, it may be tempting to jump to planning for pre-med studies. But while this may be one pathway, challenge yourself, and your child, to expand the list. Encourage your teen, says Bernard, “to be an investigative journalist and anthropologist. Find out about a wide range of jobs. Find out how you prepare and what the day to day activities are.”
  • Encourage Self-Knowledge. Your budding anthropologist may learn all the tribal customs of science, research, and data analysis, but none of it will help without a crucial piece: how does it fit with me? Throughout the teen years, talk with your teen: what are her deepest values? What does he most love doing and what drives him totally nuts?
  • Test the waters. An idea of a preference is one thing, cautions Bernard, but there’s really no substitute for real experience. Special internships or fancy programs can be great, she says, “but never discount the value of entry-level jobs. So you worked at McDonald’s? You had to deal with customers, you had pressure, you had to be on a team. What have you learned? What have you developed? And how can you apply it?”

Above all, says Bernard, “Don’t hesitate to be a parent resource.” Sure, your teen may look like he’s rolling his eyes. But make no mistake: he’s watching and listening. Whatever your field, you have had many more years of life experience, and your stories are uniquely valuable. Chances are, you’ve also got connections, too. Bring your kid along to work, and encourage your friends in other jobs to talk about them if your kid shows an interest. Even acquaintances can help, whether it’s a car mechanic you visit often or a doctor you see every other year. Whenever you help your teen make contact, you’re making a bridge and sharing a crucial lifelong message: your child can and will grow up. He canbecome a happy, productive adult, doing work he’s proud of. And you will be proud, too.