Being a parent has never been easy throughout history. But today, it feels like an extraordinary challenge. For instance, the information at our fingertips frequently tells us that schools are failing to prepare children for the jobs of today. We are alternately told that kids need to be supported, or that they need tougher love.
In a world full of anxiety, the last thing we need is more uncertainty regarding what it takes to successfully raise our children. But it seems to come with the territory. So how do you approach the challenge of parenting and preparing your child for the future?
Anticipating future change
Changing how we raise our kids or teach them in schools is no small task. It takes serious, deliberate, and sustained effort on the family and institutional level. Thus, it’s imperative to begin by knowing what the change is for. What are the challenges our children will face in the 21st century?
You only have to look around and observe current events with an open mind to realize that many of today’s biggest issues are likely to persist far into the future. Global climate change and environmental sustainability have been critical problems for decades; we still don’t know how to resolve them collectively. Socio-economic inequality is a problem, both within American society and across the nations of the world.
Even in recent years, we’ve seen some issues rapidly rise to prominence. Social media is one example; many of the biggest platforms today are barely a decade old. Research into the possible negative effects of social media is still in its infancy; meanwhile, countless children have dealt with cyber-bullying and anxiety without definitive principles across the internet.
The pandemic is a further example of how suddenly things could change. A year ago, who would have prioritized teaching their children how to wear face masks, disinfect surfaces before touching, and observe physical distancing in public? Today, these things are deemed likely to prove essential for everyone’s future health and safety.
When you consider the issues our children must deal with, two things should become clear. First, we can’t strive to provide them with answers; we can’t even agree on how to solve these issues today. Second, we can’t anticipate future changes that could affect the urgency or scope of such challenges.
It would be absurd to give up on improving simply because we can’t predict the future or equip our children with all the answers they need. Rather, our focus has to shift.
Too often, parents and teachers equate education and learning with providing children with knowledge separated from its context. It has resulted in a growing disconnect between the things we learn in school and what we find useful or applicable as we grow up and enter the labor pool.
We need to teach children to develop the right mindset. It’s okay to celebrate their milestones with praise or commemorative coins if you wish. But choose carefully what you define as success. A mindset geared towards growth and curiosity values effort dedicated to improvement; failures are seen as opportunities to learn and become self-aware. Viewed this way, a child’s triumphs are as much about facing fears as the actual result.
More than ever, kids are growing up knowing more about technology than their parents. Even before the pandemic forced us to work remotely and call for a similar shift in the education system, most children have probably learned a lot from online tutorials. They are likely comfortable spending the whole day in front of a screen and communicating with others through online calls or chats.
But this doesn’t mean we have to reject traditional parenting and education out of hand. In fact, modern children can miss out on many vital benefits that children in traditional societies enjoy. Non-competitive, unstructured play, and the extensive involvement of non-parental adults in raising a child, all help to integrate kids into society. They help to develop better self-control, empathy, and intrinsic motivation.
We need to thoroughly assess long-held notions about how to raise children. Discard what doesn’t work, but keep those aspects that cultivate timeless qualities and values. Moving forward, what we need to incorporate are the tools of learning.
Teach your child to be an imaginative and critical thinker. Guide them in connecting their knowledge and skills with relationships and the needs of others. And emphasize the value of diversity, tolerance, empathy, and cooperation. These things will help them to make sense of the world, no matter what further changes await. And they will find ways to be part of the solution to the problems we bequeath, as well as others yet to come.