Monday, October 04, 2010

Preparing Our Kids for Life: Conclusion

Continued from Preparing Our Kids for Life: Part Two from September 28, 2010.


Too many people show up at college trying to find themselves and too many people leave without any experience beyond the classroom. Andrew and I have given a great deal of thought lately to the way the world is changing. Technology is speeding along so fast that it's difficult to predict--actually, impossible to predict--how the job market as a whole or how individual professions will be affected. If you'd told somebody 50 years ago that real estate agents, travel agents, insurance agents and stock brokers would be obsolete they'd have laughed but now it's not a matter of if it will happen, it's a matter of when it will happen.

It used to be that being a professional (i.e. doctor, lawyer, accountant, etc.) was as solid and reliable as anything you could choose but would doctors twenty years ago have been able to predict the massive changes hitting the country in the health care industry? And even now we haven't a clue as to how this party will end. Even in the legal industry, which is the most ancient of dinosaurs, Andrew has seen changes that make the future of lawyers everywhere less certain than they've been for hundreds of years.

If change is the only constant how do you prepare your children to face life? It used to be that you could save up your pennies, tell them to keep up their grades and send them off to college with a pat on the head and you'd done your part but the harsh reality is, that just isn't enough.

Work It out, Baby
Never has it been more important that we teach our kids how to work. Not just how to do chores but how to have a job interview, how to put together a resume, how to talk with adults and superiors, how to work with others on projects, how to finish nasty or tedious tasks and how to stick with something. They need to know how to work and they need to know how to work hard--but don't let that scare you. Hard work with successful results usually makes for a great deal of satisfaction in life, so while you're teaching them to work you're simultaneously teaching them how to be happy.

My suggestions? Encourage them with chores when they're young and give them more as they go along. Teach them how to deal with difficult teachers and coaches without jumping into fight their battles, teach them how to take on and complete difficult projects, how to market themselves for odd jobs around the neighborhood (we've had great success with passing out flyers for snow removal and mowing services or babysitting). Teach them that it's good to get honest work and encourage them as soon as possible to get that first "real" job.

Make it easier for them to work during the summer by placing jobs as a priority whenever possible. Yes, it's important to have family time together for vacations and things like this but if you're so scheduled every summer that your children don't have the time to work consider what they're losing out on.

Help them with contacting places and other adults as they network and look for jobs. It's easy to forget how hard it is to speak to an adult if you're only 13 or 15 so mentor them along in the process. Help them along and help them build their confidence so that when they're 18 or 21 they can look their interviewer in the eye and give them a firm handshake without going to pieces.

Put That Parental Influence to Good Use
As a parent it's easy to worry that you put too much pressure on your kids. What if you pressure them to follow in your footsteps professionally and they feel they can't compete or they end up hating their job or--worse--they end up hating you?

Relax. Yes, it's possible to overdo it in the pressure (or as I like to call it, "encouragement") department but remember that as parents we're here for gentle guidance. It's what we do. Your children's first exposure to your profession will come through you and if you show them around in it it might help them to make those critical decisions--either for or against--early on.

Tell them about your work--about what you like and what you don't like, what your own goals are (do you have them?) and what the future of your profession could be. Give them opportunities to grow and learn and while they may never be just like you (thank goodness!) it will help to steer them in the right direction.

Andrew and I have done so much with the internet and computers that it wasn't that odd when Spencer informed us that he wants to go into computer animation. Now it just so happens that our alma mater, BYU, has a great program, one that is recruited heavily by Pixar, and he's had a bit of experience in drawing and art and seems to like it. It doesn't take much for us to help him learn about the possibilities of the profession and what his opportunities would be but now is a great time (he's 14) to begin discussing this and helping him to think this out for himself. He may not end up at Pixar but I'm cheering the fact that at 14 he actually has a goal and a plan of attack.  How many adults have that much?

Goals Are the Key
Teach them how to set goals for themselves--what a goal is, how there are abstract and concrete goals, how you must plan and prepare and how to go about accomplishing things. Spencer, going on the plan for computer animation, decided that he would save up for a computer. He decided that if he wanted to work for Pixar some day that he needed to know the computer programs like Illustrator, Photoshop, etc (not to mention specialized and fancy software) so he began saving. He just got enough money and while I'm not about to let him have internet access in his bedroom I do think it's a great idea for him to get his feet wet this way. He's beginning drawing classes and has plans to enter any art contest he can (he came in second place in the statewide Duck Stamp competition this spring with his duck drawings).

This summer Andrew showed him books on web design and Spencer began reading and teaching himself HTML. For Father's Day he made a special web page as a tribute to his Dad (and the Chargers--he couldn't leave them out). Even if he never goes into web design or computer animation, at least he is learning at a young age how to accomplish things and set goals and work toward a difficult thing. Who knows? At the very least he's learning a marketable skill.

It's not so important that our kids are National Merit finalists or Rhoades scholars--I know plenty of those who haven't a clue where their lives are going--but goals and work and planning are what will ultimatley determine our children's success. Brains will only take you so far but goals will take you all the way.


Suzi Dow said...

The only thing I would add is developing work skills for the future must also include independent problem solving skills. In school, and at home, a child may be told do this or did that (write a five page page on snails or take out the trash) to complete the task. But in the real world no one tells you this subject needs requires more to develop it properly or complete the task at hand.

I remember my son telling me after he had his business up and running for awhile, "Mom in Business School, I could get a C and pass the class. In the real world there are only A's or you fail." And that wasn't a lesson he learned in school.

cndymkr / jean said...

This has been a great series. I've agreed with it all and I'm happy that I'm not alone. Too many parents stress getting into a "good" college and forget all about getting an education and skill set.

Jordan (MamaBlogga) said...

I really like the advice to help kids learn to deal with difficult teachers/coaches. It reminded me of this hilarious story from high school.

My senior English teacher did mock college interviews with us. She was interviewing one of my classmates and they came to the topic of teachers who've accommodated him.

"What if you had a teacher who wouldn't work with you?" the teacher asked.

"Well," he said without hesitation, "I have this gun . . ."

(Yes, he was joking. The whole class laughed. I think he did recover in the interview.)

Milehimama @ Mama Says said...

Hi there! Love this post and wanted to let you know I linked it on BlissReads kids today.

I know that when I was trying to hire office help a few years ago, my boss SPECIFICALLY told me to get a "mature woman" not a college kid because of the work ethic issue. He didn't want a whiner who would complain about having to the job they were paid for.

Patrick said...

Excellent post!!!