Teen Talk

Teen Talk: Parents frown on choosing art as college major

Kelly Richardson
Kelly Richardson Sacramento Bee Staff Photo

DEAR KELLY: My parents are second-generation Americans, so education is totally important to them and all my relatives. My older brother is in college at UC San Diego and going to med school and my younger sister is crazy smart in math.

Me? Well, I’m not very good at science, I hate math but I get semi-good grades in both. My favorite classes? Art and sculpting and AP studio drawing. I go into the art room at lunch, after school and do things like glass art, ceramics and art metals. I’m really good at different art and art mediums. It’s the only thing I can do all the time and never be bored. Other kids at home are on their phones or laptops, I’m on my sketch pad. It might sounds weird, but it’s honest.

The problem is my parents. When people say what an amazing artist I am, they quickly jump in with how I’m going to be an architect or work at some kind of design firm, neither of which I have ever mentioned as something that might interest me. When I looked up being an architect and what they do, I had no desire to do that. I like to create things with my hands, not make plans on what a building looks like.

When I told my parents I would rather be an artist, they told me no one goes to college to be an artist. They also told me I needed a better job that makes more money. I’m a junior and we’re talking about going to look at schools this summer. I want to go look at schools with good art programs, and my parents are insisting I go look at schools with good architecture and design programs. So clearly they aren’t listening to me and what I want doesn’t matter at all.

My GPA is pretty decent, so I don’t think I’ll have any problems getting into some the schools they like, but I don’t want to go there. I’m dreading this summer and all the plans they are making “for me.” Do you have any advice for my situation?


DEAR HEARTBROKEN: Congratulations. You found a passion. You are ahead of the game. Many people spend their whole life searching for their passion and some never find it. You found it, and even better is that you are good at it. Two questions come to mind: Can your passion sustain your lifestyle, and how do you get your parents on board?

You have your own interests, passions, thoughts, emotions and behaviors. You are you and your own person. Unfortunately, this is hard for some parents to understand. They develop their own path or plan for your life that fits their personal life goals and may not take into consideration your life goals. Some parents also project what they felt they missed out on in their life, like the opportunity to go to college or pursue a higher degree in something like medicine, on their children. It’s unfair but it happens.

When the kids follow the plan, all is good (aka your brother). But when someone takes a detour and paves their own path, some parents can’t accept that their children don’t share the same plan and have goals and dreams of their own. Parents in these situations get angry, others may reject their children’s ideas or refuse to support them in their pursuit. Some parents guilt or try and sway their children, and some accept and get on board. You should hope for the last, but expect and prepare for the other reactions.

Sit down with your parents. Begin by showing appreciation and gratitude for the opportunities they are providing you. Explain your love for art and but agree to explore different classes in college that might open your eyes to different professions that connect to your love of art. Maybe you agree to take a class in basic architecture just so you can make an educated decision on whether or not that is for you. See if you can work with them. Maybe look into majoring in art but minoring in something that connects to art and would vocationally open up your options. If your dad wants you to have a “safe career,” maybe you pursue a minor in something like business or graphic design so you can be employable on different levels. Offer to talk to people who majored in art and get an idea as to what different vocations they had available after obtaining their degrees.

Approach this more with the intent to come to a solution than to stand in opposition to them. The more information you have, the more informed you are about what you say you want the greater your chances of being able to persuade them to support you. Suggest that when you go look at schools, maybe they pick four schools and you pick four schools. Work with them so they feel like you are listening to their concerns. If they refuse to pay for your college, perhaps you offer to go in undeclared and keep your options open. Once they learn more about the college you pick and its art program, perhaps they will warm up to the idea.

What is most important is that you follow the path that is right for you. Dealing with their disappointment now may be far better than denying yourself a chance to find out what you are truly passionate about. Get your degree, then see what direction you want to go.

Whatever you choose, be good at it. If you do what you love, you will never “work” a day in your life. Success doesn’t come with a job title or a particular profession. Success comes with finding what makes you happy and being able to sustain yourself and your future life goals.