This pandemic is revealing a lot about how well we are preparing our children for their future. We have to ask ourselves if they have the skills they need to handle life’s unexpected twists and turns. If not, let this be our wake-up call. Adaptability, critical thinking, collaboration, and compassion are vital to weathering these storms. Unfortunately, these are not skills they learn in our standardized school systems. In fact, they learn the opposite–compliance, dependence, and competitiveness.
Now we are hit in the face with the need to prioritize the critical life skills required to navigate the messiness of life. In order to prepare our children for adulthood in a rapidly changing world, we must empower them more, help them less. We need to encourage their ability to R.E.A.D. and I don’t mean the literacy kind. R.E.A.D. involves Responsibility, Exploration, Adaptability, and Discovery of Meaning.
Responsibility — Giving our children the freedom to make choices and experience the consequences of those decisions will encourage true learning and resilience. Making mistakes and struggling is how humans grow. It is also how they gain confidence in themselves, inspire others, and bolster mental wellness.
Exploration — Schools, in their current form, are not keeping up with this dramatically changing world. In order to help our children gain an understanding of who they are and how they fit into the new economy, they must be able to explore. Interest is the single most important factor in a fulfilling career. When they are young, we can encourage them to explore their interests (which may change as they grow). As they get into high school, we can encourage job shadowing, internships, volunteering, and part-time jobs. The main objective is for them to experience the real world–with its new technological advancement–in realtime.
Adaptability — As we have so painfully experienced, the world can change in an instant. Our children must know how to pivot when life demands this of them. Skills are more valuable than degrees in this new economy. Lifelong learning and continual upskilling are the new normal. We no longer live the three-part life of education, work, retirement. Our children must know how to navigate accessible training on their own as they move through life. New types of certifications, corporate training programs, online learning courses, networks and more are being introduced every day to respond to the needs of the workplace.
Discovery of Meaning — Underpinning all of this is the need for meaning in their lives. This cannot be given to them or created, it must be discovered based on what matters to them. According to renowned psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, our primary motivation for living is to find meaning in our lives. When we ignore this fundamental need, we end up with distress and despair–no matter how much money we make or how many material possessions we own.
We have placed our children in a gilded cage (standardized school systems) and promised them that a golden ticket (college) would ensure their lifelong security and happiness. For the vast majority, it has not worked out that way. In fact, the adult-directed help we continue to give them hinders their ability to acquire the very skills they need to thrive–personally and professionally–in the 21st century. We now have an opportunity to shift that paradigm and enable them to flourish on their own no matter the external circumstances.
Let’s teach them to R.E.A.D.