Just a few months ago, the 21st Century turned 13! In other words, the 21st century just became a teenager.

When we grew up as teenagers, there was no Internet or mobile phones. Our primary source of information were parents, friends, school libraries and so on. Ignorance was bliss.

In today’s generation, “ignorance” has been redefined. With mobile phones and google, information about any place is available anytime, anywhere.

In today’s world, the biggest change is the velocity of change itself.

One of the greatest inventions of the 20th century was the spinning mule (first invented in 1790), it lasted more than a century (till 1900). The speed of change was very slow and it took 100 years to bring a new innovation.

Compared with what took place 150 years ago, the velocity of change has increased multifold in these last 30 years. Who could have imagined that 90% of world’s current data was produced in just last 2 years? And by 2020, there will be 31 billion connected devices (4 times the size of world population, which is about 7 billion).

In our society, financial income is valued more than what you do, degree is valued more than what you learn, parents happiness is counted more than what the child wants. While options for professions and jobs have greatly increased over the last two decades, some premier institutes are made overly important and it is of immense importance to parents to have their kids reach for them.

In this backdrop of extreme focus on academic success, qualities like team work and leadership are forgotten. The kids become adults, yet they have not learnt how to make important choices or believe in themselves. They have not learnt to think beyond the contours of their family, friends and immediate society. The choice of college and the subject they pursue, are more often decided by their parents, or friends or someone besides themselves. Imagine you do something for your whole life depending on the image that career holds in your peer group, and not how passionate you are about it. This is an important source breeding mediocrity and un-happiness.

Given the above changes and constraints, parenting needs to be transformed. The challenge before parents today is to prepare kids for tomorrow — a tomorrow which is going through turbulence at a velocity not seen before.

We want to protect children from making mistakes at every nook and cranny (by making things easy for them, we are actually making it difficult for them to become independent adults).

Today’s pressure to excel academically and be repeatedly told what one is not good at diminishes self-belief. Parents are so keen on building perfect children that they focus on kids’ weaknesses and aspire for their kids to overcome them.

We do not realise the consequence of this on their self-belief. To build that, we will need to treat kids like adults — we need to respect their beliefs, listen to them, learn from it, applaud what they are doing, and appreciate an opinion different than ours.

Parents need to allow kids to make mistakes and use them as a stepping stone to important lessons in life. Real world involves learning from mistakes and flourishing in spite of mistakes, not in their absence. By creating a supportive, safe and nurturing environment to make mistakes — Parents can help develop self-belief.

As I grew up, academic success was far more important than extra-curricular activity. If I was capable, the best demonstration of that was academic excellence. All other things had to be contained or eliminated in light of academic pursuit. This has not changed even today. But while academic success gets you in the top institutions and jobs, most careers and jobs need skills far different from just academic.

In an era where change is the only constant, encouraging kids to always succeed and seek advice for decision makes them weaker. In an era where paradigms are changing by the minute, deciding for our kids is a disservice we unconsciously do.

Instead, we need to nurture kids, who

•believe in themselves, and have a right value system

•know how to choose

•Can think out of the box (not just academically)

And can fend for themselves better. Western countries nurture kids well and by the age of 18, let them be on their own. I think there is an important learning from there. Can we let them be who they are by 18 — and teach them to take care of their own lives.

(The writer’s email: lal.ankur@gmail.com)


Upright, yet forgivingSeptember 8, 2013

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