U.S. Teens Fear Risk-Taking STEM Careers

Feb. 11, 2013
Kelton Global Survey Shows Parents Put Pressure on Their Children to Succeed
Risk-Taking CareersAccording to students surveyed, STEM-related jobs require risk-taking to solve problems.

Though nearly all U.S. teens agree that risk-taking is required for innovation in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers, almost half say they're afraid to fail or are uncomfortable taking risks to solve problems. This pressure to succeed is likely driven by parents, according to an ASQ survey of teens and parents conducted by Kelton Global.

Asked their perspectives on failure, an overwhelming number of parents indicated that they feel uncomfortable when their children do not perform well. More than 80% of the parents said they're uncomfortable if their child does not perform well in sports, extracurricular activities or social situations. Of those parents, 73% said they feel uncomfortable when their child gets bad grades.

But failure — and trying again — is a pivotal skill in problem solving, notes Cheryl Birdsong-Dyer, a professional process engineer. "If one does not take risks, they risk not solving the problem," she said. "As educators, professionals and leaders, we need to reinforce to teens that every failure is an opportunity to learn and grow."

Birdsong-Dyer is one of 14,000 engineers who are members of ASQ (, an international organization focused on quality. "Teaching teens that it is OK to take risks and sometimes fail will build their confidence and ultimately their knowledge base of science, technology, engineering and math," she said.

Only 11% of students enjoy being tasked with solving a difficult problem. This is true for girls more than boys: 58% of girls say they feel uncomfortable or afraid when facing a difficult problem in school compared with 34% of boys.

Engineers and other quality professionals are uniquely positioned to mentor students, contends Paul Borawski, ASQ's CEO. "We need to teach today's students how to take risks and fail so they feel comfortable when faced with challenging work," he said.

Being afraid to take risks may steer teens away from choosing a STEM career. Of the teens surveyed, 95% agree that risk-taking is imperative to solve problems for jobs, especially in STEM-related jobs like a scientist, doctor or engineer.