My grandpa Henry Turck used to say, “you gotta learn to forethink” or plan ahead. This meant you had to problem solve and make good decisions by thinking through things ahead of time rather than just “flying by the seat of your pants”. This skill came from hard work, failure, frustration, diligence, perseverance, learning from mistakes, and bouncing back.
I recently saw a Facebook post that was somewhat challenging of youth culture and focused on a sense of entitlement and a lack of the above mentioned skills as a generalization. Someone else remarked that there are many youth who do not fit this stereotype and challenged the author of the post to not throw all youth into this category. I understand both points of view and I seem them both as having validity.
Growing up today is filled with different challenges than we had growing up for sure but I’d like to offer a unique perspective about the above assertions. Since at least the mid 20th century we have made significant advancements in efficiency to make our lives “easier” and so we could spend less time “surviving” and more time “living”. The idea that efficiencies would allow us to spend more time with family and friends–because we could get our work done more quickly and that extra time could help us increase the quality of our relationship with others. As each generation passed, parents tried, with every good intention, to give their children a life/childhood that they hadn’t had and want to create opportunities so our kids would have a greater chance for success. In this process we removed obstacles, disappointment, barriers, failure, and frustration with the idea that we didn’t want our children to have to struggle like we did. As decades passed, the erosion began ever so slowly and continued to undermine important developmental protective factors such as social competencies including problem solving and good decision making skills which traditionally had been fostered through “hand on” or experiential learning–or learning by doing. Learning to connect the dots and navigate life successfully through this way of learning was replaced by machines that connected the dots for us so that we didn’t need to learn to problem solve and connect the dots on our own. These opportunities, although great efforts at efficiency, have limited the necessary varied brain stimuli we need as humans to successfully wire our brains. To effectively problem solve, make good decisions, accomplish necessary life tasks, persevere, deal with frustration, delay gratification, develop self-discipline, demonstrate resilience, become autonomous…we need different ingredients in our marinade.
We have done a great job of failing to provide important hands on learning opportunities in favor of another electronic medium rather than fostering learning through creativity and innovation. Learning how to learn, and learning how to think takes practice and lived experience in order to really master something. We’re not behind the rest of the world in math, science, and engineering because our kids aren’t smart…our kids aren’t interested in going into these fields of study because it’s hard work and nothing they’ve experienced in their lives to this point has demonstrated or appreciated the value of hard work. If I’ve never learned how to work hard, to persevere, to bounce back–how does one develop the neuro-pathways necessary to learn, practice, and master these necessary life, social, and work skills if they don’t ever have to do it? (Neuropathways develop in our brains from redundant activities or thought processes. Have you ever seen a dirt road with tire tracks where the vehicles pass and grass in the center? These tracks or “dirt road” form from repeated (redundant) driving over. This is how neuropathways develop in our brain as well and how we learn, practice, and master important life, social, and work skills–it is through repeated/redundant practice/thinking/behaviors/learning process).
Due to advancements in technologies many of our schools now utilized tablets of some sort (Chromebook, MacBook Air, etc.) for all assignments, homework, etc. Many classes which were “hands on” learning (experiential learning theory) have become more limited and seemingly not valued at the same level as those courses provided through electronic learning. Although I am a huge fan of technology and use it everyday–we are shorting our youth by limiting opportunities for experiential learning. We are wiring our kids to believe that anything we need we can get quickly and if it doesn’t come easy, fast, fun, or now–we place little value on it. The “American Dream” has been sold as, “you’ll never have to work another day in your life”, “everything will be easy, fast, fun, now!” Efficiency has been oversold and it’s this lie that has become an insidious grip eroding the most basic, foundational ingredients of competency that bring real satisfaction through diligence, perseverance, achievement, gratitude, and service. Our kids need to learn perseverance and resiliency and without having to practice either in hands on learning opportunities–they will never develop necessary neuropathways to develop emotional intelligence/self-discipline. If I never have to bounce back from something because everyone removes the disappointment, frustration, failure, and the need to demonstrate patience, and delay gratification–how then when struggles present themselves will I be able to navigate them successfully?
Kenneth S. Turck MSW, LICSW
Chief Creative Officer/Co-Owner
Crow River Family Services, LLC