I've been writing for years about the shift in parent-styles that's taken place over the last few decades. Growing up today looks very different than it did when I was a kid. It began in the 1980s with the Tylenol scare, and photos of missing children on milk cartons. Since then we've watched reports of school accidents and shootings. This all led to fearful parents who changed policies and playground equipment to insure greater security for their kids. Later we made the decision to give trophies and ribbons to every little league baseball player and post bumper stickers about our offspring on our cars. Each has led to all sorts of related changes that scream to our children that they're the center of our world. Parents have become consumed with the safety and self-esteem of their kids. As a father, I adore my children. I too want my kids to be safe and to enjoy healthy self-esteem. Those are noble desires. Our problem is they make poor goals. They should be a means to an end, not the end.
Yet, we pursued them with a vengeance.
Today, the numbers are in. These kids who've become teens and 20-somethings are often narcissistic (thanks to our constant rewards) and risk-averse (thanks to our sheltering them). This has caused millions of them to stall as they enter adulthood, with 80 percent of them moving back home when they finish school. Some, frankly, never move out.
If you are a teacher, coach, youth worker or employer and watched this shift over the years, you've likely noticed changes in the young people you lead. Let me summarize what you'll find and suggest what you can do to make up for the lack of readiness you may find in your students. The primary adults in kids' lives have focused on now rather than later. In millions of cases, it's about their happiness today not their readiness tomorrow. I suspect it's a reaction. Many parents today had moms and dads who were all about getting ready for tomorrow: saving money, not spending it, and preparing for retirement. In response, many of us bought into the message: embrace the moment. You deserve it. Enjoy today. And we did. For many, it resulted in credit card debt, and the inability to delay gratification. This may be the crux of our challenge. The truth is, parents who are able to focus on tomorrow, not just today, produce better results. The columns below summarize this reality.
WHEN WE FOCUS ON TODAY:
1. We Protect: We make sure they are safe.
2. We Provide: We give them all they want and need.
3. We Promote: We offer them perks, praise and benefits.
4. We Program: We structure their lives for them.
WHEN WE FOCUS ON TOMORROW:
1. We Prepare: We get them ready for life later.
2. We Provoke: We foster ambition to become an adult.
3. We Position: We equip them to not need any perks.
4. We Pronounce: We're able to say: You have what it takes.
Parents who focus on tomorrow don't fail to prioritize safety or self-esteem. They simply put it in perspective. They know that our world really isn't any more unsafe than it was decades ago (i.e. playgrounds, schools, workplaces) and that self-esteem is more about helping our kids achieve than it is about affirming them.
What Can We Do?
Whether you're a parent, educator, coach or employer, begin interacting with kids in light of tomorrow. Care for them enough to train them, not merely treat them to a good life. If we really love them, we must coach more than coddle. Here's a start:
1. Talk over the issues you wish you would've known about adulthood.
2. Allow them to attempt things that stretch them and even let them fail.
3. Expose them to professionals and workplaces in their fields of interest.
4. Encourage them to work part-time jobs or internships while in school.
5. Discuss future consequences if they fail to master certain disciplines.
6. Aid them in matching their strengths to real-world problems.
7. Furnish projects that require patience, so they learn to delay gratification.
8. Teach them that life is about choices and trade-offs; they can't do everything.
9. Initiate (or simulate) adult tasks like paying bills or making business deals.
10. Introduce them to potential mentors, from your network.
11. Help them envision a fulfilling future, then discuss the steps to get there.
12. Celebrate progress they make toward autonomy and responsibility.
Besides their parents' love, when a child leaves home, what they need more than anything is to know they have what it takes to be a man or woman: they can earn the respect of their peers; they are desirable to a potential spouse; they can add value on a job that pays them for their talents. This usually comes from a parent whose focus is tomorrow not just today.
The further out I can see into the future, the better decisions I make for the kids.