Supporting your teenager to figure out what they want to do

This is an article I originally wrote for ReachOut Australia. The edited version can be found on their website here.

“Family life is a work in progress. You only get in trouble if you have to be right and you have to show them who’s boss.  If you are human, it goes much better.” Raising Boys, Steve Biddulph, Published September 1st 1998 by Celestial Arts and revised several times since.

I am a father of five children, four boys and one girl. Three of my boys have left school already, the fourth is currently in year eleven and my daughter is in year eight. I was running an IT business when the Internet was a newborn, Netscape was still a browser and Windows was only 95, and the changes I have experienced in that short space of time have been phenomenal.

What the future of work looks like for our children will be way more complex. This isn’t a bad thing because it means that our children will have a wider variety of experiences throughout their working lives than perhaps we had. It does create added stress for our children though and that is where we can really help.

Tip 1: Listen.

This is probably the best tip I can share with you. My wife and I are both University graduates, so naturally we expected our children to follow in our footsteps. Our first born finished year twelve with excellent results and we began pushing for him to choose a degree. I still remember our conversations,

“But mum, I don’t want to….”

“Of course you do son. Medical research will enable you to work anywhere in the world.”

“But dad, I don’t really like…”

“Computerisation is the future of the workplace mate. With a degree in computer science you will have a career for life.”

He was doing a double degree in computers and biomedical science and hated every single second of it. What he did love though was the weekend electrical work he was doing with the company that looked after the apartment complex where we lived. When they offered him an apprenticeship he came to us to talk about dropping out of Uni. His reasons and his arguments were very good, so we drew up a list of pros and cons with him and asked him to promise us that he would take a gap year to see how it all worked out. He is an Electrical Engineer now, with his own business.

Tip 2: Let your child direct the conversation.

As parents we are all very good at spotting when our child has a problem. Getting them to talk about it though is not always an easy task. I had spent several months trying to figure out why my son was having such a hard time in year ten. Up until that point he was an outgoing child with a wicked sense of humour, yet almost overnight he had become withdrawn and quite sullen in nature. His mother had broached the subject of moving him to a trade college. This thought had brightened his mood a little so I decided to let him direct the conversation about his future. It began with me sharing something about my experience as a teenager…

“I wish I had done a trade instead of going to Uni.”

“Really dad?”

“Yeah. I mean, my degree has been awesome for my career, but it would be so cool to be able to build a house or repair a car don’t you think?”

“Yeah, I guess.”

“If you could be any kind of tradesman you wanted, what would you pick?”

I listened intently that night as my son talked about carpentry, Rugby League, plumbing, girls, electrical wiring, the beach, engineering, his group of friends… and although the topic didn’t always stay on track, it ended up circling back to his future, but on his terms. He is currently in year eleven studying construction, electrical engineering and auto mechanics, and he is happy.

Tip 3: Remain calm and don’t simply give in.

We all can agree that shouting, screaming and losing your cool will never result in a positive outcome. Neither will throwing your arms in the air and walking away. However, facial expressions such as rolling your eyes or a slow shake of your head can also produce a similar result. Whilst they may happen by accident these actions can have the same devastating impact and send your teenager back into his / her shell. Breathe deeply, relax your muscles, focus your thoughts and deliver your responses in a calm way. That will keep the conversation going and hopefully lead to a satisfactory conclusion.

Tip 4: Back their decisions.

When the negotiations have finished, and the decision has been made, get behind it one hundred percent. No second guessing, no revisiting old arguments. You have empowered your child to be critical thinkers and problem solvers. You have taught them negotiation skills and how to organise their reasoning. Regardless of what happens next, just be there for them.

“You invest a lot in your kids, from the sleepless nights early on and the frightening trips to the emergency room, to homework assignments and a million miles of taxi driving. The great thing is that everything you put in counts, and with a bit of luck, one day they will realize it. Love adds up to something. It’s indestructible and immortal and carries long on after your own life is over. Who could ask for more?” ― “The Secret of Happy Children”, Steve Biddulph. Published June 15th 2002 by Marlowe and Company, New York.

Further resources.

  • Australian author and Child Psychologist, Steve Biddulph, has written many books on raising children. I have read, “Raising Boys”, “Manhood”, and “The Secret to Happy Children”, which I can thoroughly recommend. He has written books on girls as well and with my daughter entering her teenage years it won’t be long until Mr Biddulph once again makes his way onto my Kindle. His books are readily available through Amazon and his web address is
  • Sir Ken Robinson, best selling author, number one TED speaker, education and creativity expert. His website is here: and the number one TED Talk of all time can be viewed here:
  • Your school counsellor or pastoral care provider.

Lessons to teach your teen about the future of work.

This article was originally written for ReachOut Australia. You can read an edited version on their website here. It was also picked up by rural newspaper The Land. You can read their edited version here.

I am a father of five children, four boys and one girl. Three of my boys have left school already, the fourth is currently in year 11 and my daughter is in year 8. I was running an IT business when the internet was a newborn, Netscape was still a browser and Windows was only 95, and the changes I have experienced in that short space of time have been phenomenal.

What the future of work looks like for our children will be even more complex. This isn’t a bad thing because it means they’ll  have a wider variety of experiences during their working lives than perhaps we had. It does create added stress for our children though and that is where we can really help.

School is great for teaching our kids ‘hard skills’ such as English, math, and science. But, if we want our children to thrive after school there are plenty of other life skills we can teach them. Skills that revolve around communication, self-discipline, problem-solving, resilience and work ethic, can be taught at home from a very early age and will help your child to handle an uncertain future in the world of work.

Communication is key.

Teenagers grunt a lot. As a father of five I have become quite an expert on speaking caveman with my kids. Teaching communication skills that go beyond text messaging is important. The jobs of the future will require strong communication skills so here are some simple tips I used to teach my children:

  • From when they were young, I let them answer the phone and the door, and taught them how to take a proper message.
  • I always make eye contact when talking to my children. As a result they do the same when talking to me and to others.
  • I let them answer for themselves when they visit a dentist or doctor. I fill in the blanks but my child is the one having the conversation.
  • I make sure that basketball caps and headphones are off at the dinner table so that our family can engage with each other at

Balance the budget.

Teaching our children how to manage money from an early age will help them to develop self-discipline and problem-solving skills that are important for the jobs of the future. In terms of them earning money…

  • Instead of providing pocket money, give them money for helping with the household chores.
  • Encourage them to get a weekend job.

Once they have an income you can teach them how to manage it. Scott Pape, ‘The Barefoot Investor’, talks about separating your income into three ‘buckets’ – called ‘Blow’, ‘Mojo’ and ‘Grow’. I tweaked his method a bit and followed it with my kids using jars.

  • Jar 1: Around 70% of their income was used to pay for their ‘daily’ expenses such as after-school snacks, or a trip to the movies with friends.
  • Jar 2: Around 20% of their income was used in case of an emergency, such as a birthday present or a last-minute invitation during the school holidays.
  • Jar 3: The remainder went into this jar and was used to save for long-term goals such as a new video game.

However you wish to arrange the ‘jars’ is up to you, but teaching your children the value of money will help them to develop a strong work ethic and financial intelligence. It also means that you will eventually be able to shut down the Mum and Dad ATM!

There have many options

As a parent we want the best for our children, so it can be very tempting to push them towards certain paths. I have been guilty of this, and my oldest boy ended up hating his time at uni. Here are a few things to talk to your teenager about:

  • Their ATAR does not define them and they can always change their min A lower than expected ATAR score does not mean they can’t change courses mid-stream.
  • Consider vocational studies. According to a 2018 report from the Mitchell Institute, almost 44% of the projected one million jobs expected to be created in Australia between 2016 and 2020 will require a VET qualification.
  • What about an apprenticeship? Apprenticeships can provide a solid foundation for further employment in many different fields of study.

Discussing the option of completing their high school course work in a vocational education setting could help reduce the stress your child is feeling and give them a broader range of career opportunities moving forwards.

And when year 12 is complete…

Take a gap year!

I wish I had done that. Instead I went from school to TAFE and then to uni. It cost me an extra eight years of my life, during which time I got married, had children and went grey. Taking a break from full-time study is not a sign of giving in. My three older boys spent time in retail, labouring, landscaping, bar work, cooking sausages and waiting tables. They travelled (paid for from the funds in Jar 3), immersing themselves in different cultures and broadening their horizons. The people they met and the experiences they had, both at home and abroad, helped them to align their values with their careers. As a result of taking a gap year, one boy is doing a degree in sustainable development, another is studying to be a paramedic and the oldest is running a successful business as an electrical engineer.

Tips for a successful gap year.

  • Make sure that your child funds their own gap year.
    • Working multiple jobs will help prepare them for life within the ‘gig’ economy.
    • Funding their own fun will improve their financial intelligence.
  • Don’t be discouraged if they start off a little slow. One of my boys sat on the couch for a month before he got going, whereas another one was labouring straight after Christmas.
  • Relish their experiences. Hearing about their plans and discussing what they’ll do can be a great bonding moment.

Variety is the spice of life

One thing to remember is that we won’t be the only ones teaching life skills to our children. As they grow and mature they will meet many different people along the way that will have an influence on their lives –  teachers, colleagues, friends, even their boss at work. Mentoring is important for your child. It will build upon the communication skills you have already taught them and will help them to improve their networking skills.

Don’t be disheartened if they find mentors with opinions different to your own. Your teenagers are becoming young adults and will invariably develop their own views on politics, the economy, the environment and so on. Being exposed to a diversity of views will give them the best shot at finding their way in an uncertain future.

No one knows our children better than we do. With the information above, and our own personal experiences, we have the knowledge and resources to teach them about the future of work.

Admissions, Bah Humbug

Abacus image from the Slide Rule Museum

Article originally published in the International Admissions Bulletin – issue 4, and on the OpenApply website.

I am a Business Manager, a title that conjures up the stereotype of the bespectacled Ebenezer Scrooge, hunched over his abacus, counting the sheckles, and sardonically berating anyone who dares to suggests an expense that lies outside the approved budget. Sometimes this is true, but more often than not nowadays the miserly behaviour of old Mr Scrooge has become a relic of the Dickensian era. The new and improved version of the Business Manager has a thorough understanding of all the school systems such as HR, IT, Operations, Marketing, Finance and Admissions. We actively engage with all the different department heads and in smaller schools we perform many of these tasks ourselves. We do a bit of everything except teach, and some of us have done that as well.

The other stereotypical comment I hear a lot is that ‘anyone can do admissions’. Well I can honestly tell you that this perspective is a load of hogwash. It is a generalisation held by people who have never had to do the job, or worse, have forgotten how hard it was.

What I have learned during my thirty-something years as a senior manager is to keep an open mind and listen to people. I am not just referring to the CEO or the Board of Directors, who are obviously very important and need your undivided attention, but you need to listen to your colleagues, and in an International School setting the Admissions Officer is key.

The Admissions Officer is the face of the school, a responsibility that carries a very heavy weight. To do so effectively the Admissions Officer needs to know the intricate workings of the school. Cafeteria menus, uniforms, bus timetables and after school activities are items that frequently come up for discussion during the enrollment process. A level of understanding of the curriculum is important too when it comes to presentations and school tours. Then there is the wider school community where influential groups such as the PTA (Parent Teacher Association) need to be taken into consideration when it comes to supporting a new family.

The Admissions Officer has to have faith in the Head of School, the teaching staff and the academic quality of the education provided. Any member of the Admissions team that is not prepared to send their own children to the school speaks volumes to a prospective parent. Many schools offer free or reduced tuition fees for their Academic staff. It is my considered opinion that Admissions staff should receive the same cost benefits, otherwise it becomes very difficult to explain to prospective parents why their children are not at the school.

An Admissions Officer not only needs to be empathetic towards the concerns of the enrolling family, but must balance that empathy with courage to suggest alternative solutions if the school does not have the right facilities for their child. They will deal with happiness, sadness, confusion, anger, trepidation and delight, often all within the first meeting, which quite often requires them to be able to read between the lines. Management of such varied and diverse personalities is a difficult task that the Admissions Officer will perform with courtesy and respect.

For new families, factors such as visa restrictions, political ideals and the economic climate lie outside the sphere of influence of many schools, but local rules and regulations will have a significant impact on the enrollment process, and a good Admissions Officer will be across many of the issues that face these families. For example: many international schools in Vietnam have a cap on the amount of Vietnamese Nationals that can be enrolled. Breaching this cap can lead to fines and problems with the Ministry of Education and Training. With such a high demand for an international education it is not uncommon for families to exert whatever influence they might have in order to secure a place at the school. When this happens the propensity to begin enrolling students who are not ‘mission appropriate’ increases, which has a long-term negative impact upon the wider school community.

In Oman the Ministry of Education has strict guidelines on the content of Arabic that must be taught in their schools. It is also mandatory for Omani students to be taught Arabic as a first language, regardless of whether it is spoken at home. My school is an International Baccalaureate PYP School catering for expatriate children and Omanis alike. We are in the process of incorporating the local Arabic curriculum with the IB, which is no easy task. The aim of our Admissions team is to maintain a ratio of 50% Omani students and 50% expatriate students. This makes timetabling easier to manage and assists in staff recruitment. Our team also try to ensure a healthy mix of boys and girls. It is a convoluted process, aided by OpenApply, but still requiring a significant amount of human interaction. This is where a good Admissions team can really shine.

Last April I attended a training course in Doha, Qatar. The theme of the course was ‘Bringing Admissions to the Leadership Table’ and I was dismayed to learn that the Admissions Officer was still not considered to be part of the Senior Leadership Team within many schools. As a Business Manager my main responsibility is to ensure the financial stability of the school. There are many stakeholders involved in this process and I have always considered the Admissions team to be an integral part of the group. Whether you work in a non-profit or a proprietary school the pressure is on to fill places and cover costs. The Admissions team provide the Finance department with up-to-date student numbers and enrollment trends. I rely on their knowledge and expertise every year when setting the budget and without this support many of the key financial decisions that I make would become much more difficult.

In my experience Admissions is a very personal task requiring compassion, courage, empathy, strength of character and a high degree of intelligence. The admissions process cannot be templated or streamlined as it requires the right person, with an appropriate skill set, in order to be done correctly. I encourage you dear reader not to ‘Bah, humbug’ Admissions. Bring them to the leadership table of your school.

Please Support The NeuRA Big Run

Several years ago my mum had a stroke, which scared the hell out of us I can assure you. None of us had had any experience with stroke and the prospect was daunting. Fortunately mum recovered well, thank goodness, and got on with her life.

A few weeks ago mum had another minor episode and although I was just as worried, my knowledge of the disease, its symptoms and treatments had been greatly enhanced by my employment at Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA), an independent not-for-profit research institute, based in Sydney.

I look after twordbrainhe Digital Strategy and Online Marketing for NeuRA. They are leading the field in brain and nervous system research, and their goal is to prevent, treat and cure brain and nervous system diseases, disorders and injuries through medical research. They cover a myriad of health areas including dementia, motor neurone disease (ALS), Alzheimer’sParkinson’s disease, schizophrenia and stroke, to name but a few.

Sitting with my mum in hospital I was able to better comprehend the information the neurosurgeon and physicians were telling her. I understood the path to recovery and the processes mum had to follow. I have received advice from some of the doctors and professors here at NeuRA and mum has once again recovered well and is now enrolled in one of NeuRA’s many study programs.

It has been enlightening to work with so many brilliant researchers and PhD students, and it has been an absolute pleasure supporting these amazing people by promoting their work through online channels such as FaceBook, LinkedIn, YouTube and Wikipedia.

And that’s what this post is about, supporting effective health research.

Australia is a big country, with big health issues. It is estimated that nearly 1,000,000 Australian’s will suffer a form of dementia by 2050, and even today 1 in 5 Australians – that’s 20% – suffer with a disease or injury of the brain or nervous system.

This is why I have volunteered to be part of the crew supporting the participants taking part in The NeuRA Big Run.

In May a team of eight intrepid fitness fanatics, comprised of doctors, professors, researchers and employees of NeuRA, will pound the pavement from Canberra to Sydney to raise over $50K for neuroscience research. Departing the nation’s capital early on May 3, this 28 hour relay will cover almost 300km and have the team finishing absolutely stuffed at NeuRA Randwick in the afternoon of May 4.

As well as raising vital funds, the team aims to increase awareness of disorders like those listed above, and draw attention to the dedicated researchers who give their life to finding new and innovative cures and treatments.

You can follow their progress via the hashtag #NeuRAChallenge or, more importantly, you can support these brave, and slightly crazy, individuals by donating here. And if you mention Matt’s Notes in the Donor Message section I’ll give you a special shout out on my blog 🙂