Why I Hate Asking Kids ‘What Will You Be When You Grow Up’

And what we should be asking instead

Thomas Smith
5 min readAug 21


Illustration by the author via Midjourney

We say a lot of stupid things to kids. But as a parent to three young kids, there’s one question I find especially lothesome.

It’s ubiquitous, and people ask it almost automatically. Often, it’s the second question an adult asks a kid, after “What’s your name?”

What’s this eminently annoying question?

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Here’s why I hate this question — and what questions you should ask instead.

We’re Really Asking About a Profession

My biggest gripe with this common question is that we’re not really asking kids “What do you want to be?”

Instead, we’re implicitly asking them “What profession would you like to choose?”

The question presupposes that people are defined by the job they do — that their place in society is based on their choice of work.

There are plenty of things that a person can “be” that have nothing to do with their job. Yet when people ask kids this question, they’re usually expecting a response like “a doctor” or “a football player.”

No one asks this question and expects to hear “I want to be a father,” or “I want to be a good Jew/Christian/Muslim/Hindu,” or simply, “I want to be a nice person with lots of friends, a hammock in the backyard, and an abundant supply of decent but not overly frou-frou coffee in my pantry.”

These things are just as important as what you do for work — indeed, far more important. But the question “What do you want to be?” rarely makes space for them.

Basically, by asking kids this question, we’re implicitly inviting them to a future world where their value to society will be judged by their job.

Who the hell wants that?

It’s Often Delibertly Limiting

If an adult asks the question and a kid responds “I’m not sure,” we’re often quick to jump in with some ‘helpful’ suggestions.