I wanted to re-post this blog essay originally posted 2 years ago. It is still relevant today.
This transition by our children to the self-agency and the independence of the “adult” needs to be developed even more broadly in light of the impacts of and reactionary tendency being so violently expressed to the apparent effects of globalization. That the world and its communities are becoming more intertwined and interdependent is obvious and inevitable. To teach our children to be exclusive, myopic, complaisant in their entitled “worlds”, and isolated to the commonality of the human experience, is profoundly destructive.
Americans more than any other national community has little excuse not to embrace this process and make it work well. We have the resources (far more than other countries) and the opportunities to be educated, liberal in our humanity, thoughtful, forward-thinking and resilient to significant changes ahead. This is how best we can serve ourselves and the global community as well.
Today’s students (young women and men/ high school and college students) are in the historical and developmentally normal process of experiencing the profound, exciting, intimidating and confusing transition from being the dependent child morphing into the increasingly more independent and self-sufficient adult. This transition is universal and essential in human development and as such in humanity’s success; however its length and particular form are variable and unique depending on not just the individual vagaries of each family’s circumstances and personalities, but also on the cultural, economic and social dynamics that play out in an individual’s immediate environment (e.g. where in the World one is raised). It is nonetheless the same – Passage from Childhood to Adulthood – chronicled extensively throughout human history.
The changes are obvious to most of us who have some perspective framed by the span of time of our acquaintance with anyone moving into, through or out of this developmental evolution. However, trying to skin out the particular and various influences and pressures that come into play which frame the experience, length of time it takes and results of the passage (transition), are never easy to distinguish except in the most overt traumatic forms. This is the phenomena that so frequently has parents scratching their heads, as they try to understand how their 2 children, raised ostensibly with the same set of values, models and influences, have unfolded and present themselves in dramatically different ways and notable differences. Certainly, all of us are born with different personalities (is this a function of the subtle different brewing and mixing of the parent’s DNA in each as they “cook” in utero?) and certainly there is much talk about the first 6 weeks of a newborn’s life with more or less nurturing, that can modify a range of foundational character traits. However, there also is no question that there are other more subtle characteristics that weave through an individual’s first 22 years (25 years?) of life that also make the difference in each individual’s evolution to adulthood.
The development of the individual is an outgrowth of millions of moments that are usually discrete but nonetheless imprint the neural pathways of the brain which like the rutted paths of the great western trails set the ingrained direction of the physical geography of the great migrations. And so then like those deep, distinct paths determine physical direction so do the increasingly deepening neural pathways that are grooved out through repeated practice determine which skills, behaviors, and thinking patterns are physically developed and integrated into the life of each individual. The grooved pathways then evolve into characteristics unique to each individual. These grooves are etched into the foundational personality of each individual and become the structures of each person’s abilities and capabilities to develop into balanced individuals or not.
When individual students are overly “protected” from the myriad small failures by over-parenting, the individual gets no chance to practice managing and learning from the failures. They have little opportunity of converting them into successes and so learning about how to manage the vagaries of life and becoming more confident with each “manageable” challenge. Without this practice, students are disabled when the more significant failures or difficulties present themselves, which inevitably they will.
Years ago, I overheard a disturbing story about the quarterback of a very successful high school football team in a very affluent Connecticut community. He was the “golden boy” who was always stretching the limits of civil and legal behavior, and each time he got into difficulties, his parents bailed him out. His parents had always shielded him from all difficulties and so he had no idea how to manage truly on his own. Eventually other, coaches, teachers, and “boosters” in the community also bailed him out or looked the other way; and so he had no chance to learn or develop a sense of what it was to take responsibility for his own actions. After graduating from high school, he headed off to college, full of hubris and a sense of deep entitlement. However, he had no enablers “protecting” him rom the difficulties and expectations of college. He lasted less than a semester and had a nervous breakdown. This maybe more extreme than what happens to most students who are shielded from life’s difficulties; nonetheless it is demonstrative of how over-weaning by parents can actually damage their children with the result the very opposite of what they hoped for their child.
For the parents who are brave enough to control the anxiety that comes with raising children but be available at critical moments, and who let them grow naturally through self-managed experiences and accompanying little failures, end up raising children to become competent individuals who have learned how to find their own self-agency independent of their parents. Their transition to adulthood will be far more successful and they will live their lives full of confidence in what can be done and with a surer sense of their own independence and abilities; they grow up passing through the small and large “rites of passage” as intact, healthy and capable humans.
The character traits of self-awareness, resilience, optimism, excitement for life’s opportunities, curiosity and courage to take risks and delve into new realms of innovation and interaction, and the social intelligence to connect and collaborate in the new employment environments of solo entrepreneurship and the self-assembled careers; these are all essential elements that schools, colleges and communities need to offer our children as elemental aspects of a good education blended into the traditional curricular disciplines.
In the complex disruptive environment of their near and distant future, an outgrowth of the inexorable, disruptive changes ahead; the Z-Generation will need to be capable, to be independent, to be brave and flexible creative adults.