Ask any parent what they want for their children, and you will almost certainly hear the answer "I just want them to be happy -- to have a better life, with better opportunities than we had in our generation." It is indeed our instinct to give our children the very best we can afford.
On reflection, this parental instinct might just be misguided.
Despite the obvious benefits, development has its challenges. We are seeing increasing numbers of young people who have so much that their motivation is falling. How will this generation of young people -- who have been fortunate enough to experience a sustained period of exceptional post-war prosperity -- learn the essential characteristics of grit and perseverance if their material requirements are so readily attained and their lives so protected by modern parenting?
Could this be the reason behind the puzzle of the demotivated yet privileged youth of our growing middle classes? In giving them everything, are we in fact taking from them the very values we wish them to have?
It is especially stark where I come from, in the Gulf Cooperation Council states, a region endowed with tremendous natural wealth and opportunity. Some speak of the "curse of oil" -- the social and political challenges that arise from tremendous oil wealth. In a population rich with not only oil, but with youth -- over half of the Arab world is under the age of 25 -- we are breeding a culture of entitlement, and a society of unmet expectation. Our cradle-to-grave policies are not encouraging the intellectual hunger, innovative spirit and the entrepreneurial zeal that we want in our youth.
This is not just an Arab issue. Swedish psychiatrist, David Eberhard, talks about the Scandinavian trend towards soft, child-led parenting and the associated rise in truancy rates, anxiety disorders and declining educational performance. In America, Madeline Levine, author of The Price of Privilege, seeks solutions to the litany of problems afflicting the upper-middle classes, citing "25 percent of kids with symptoms of anxiety and depression; ... 31 percent of college students being alcohol abusers; ... and 17 percent of kids self-mutilating at the Ivy Leagues." China's one-child policy -- whilst addressing the demographic objective of population control in a context of tremendous economic growth -- raises fears of the rise of a generation of "little emperors," defined more by narcissism, risk-aversion and entitlement than by the traditional Confucian ethics that have sustained Chinese society over millennia.
These troubling trends put our young people at risk of becoming anxious, self-centered and passionless, dependent on state support and ill prepared for civic life. We should instead be teaching our children how to lead conscientiously -- by preparing them to responsibly run governments, manage global institutions and lead the innovative companies of tomorrow -- all of which are required to run the engine of sustainable growth for the future.
Through thoughtful policy and corporate action, public and private sector leaders can work together to create sufficient educational, training and employment opportunities for young people so that they can grow into their roles and responsibilities. But skills are not enough. We need to teach them the will to succeed and encourage their resiliency. We must also help them understand that if they want a better life, they need to work hard and earn the right to achieve these aspirations.
And so it goes back to the beginning of this universal story -- that for the lucky children of today who will grow up in unprecedented peace and prosperity, if they want to protect and grow the good fortune that they have inherited from their forefathers, they need to develop their own sense of identity, drive and purpose. As parents we have the utmost responsibility to stay involved in the education and social lives of our children, to set consistent parental boundaries so that children feel secure in their own development, and to foster self-confidence and grit -- not through entitlement, material goods, constant entertainment and an endless stream of praise for simply "showing up," but through actual achievement which is earned through the child's own efforts.
After all, in as much as we should celebrate genuine merit and achievement through a system that doesn't inflate grades, equally we should teach our young people how to lose gracefully, and above all, how to always try and try again.
It is our responsibility to try to leave the next generation more than we had ourselves. But we must resist the instinct to make life so easy for young people that they feel entitled. Instead, we should help them to keep alive the spirit of competition, the determination and drive, and always remind them that they can never take what they have today for granted. Without this, what we have worked so hard to give our children could be gone in a single generation.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and The World Economic Forum to mark the Forum's Annual Meeting 2014 (in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, Jan. 22-25). The Forum's Strategic Partner community comprises a select group of leading global companies representing diverse regions and industries that have been selected for their alignment with the Forum's commitment to improving the state of the world. Read all the posts in the series here.
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