Teach Your Children Well
By Alan Davis
How can we prepare our children for the world of work?
I was a teenager in the ‘60’s, and of course the music of the era is still my music of choice. I still find myself listening occasionally to Crosby Stills Nash & Young’s “Teach your Children Well”. As the father of four children (ages 16 to 8), the words have a different meaning to me now. When I first heard it, I was too young to think of having children of my own – let alone four of them!
This is the time of year when my senior staff and I find ourselves giving talks to students, from high school through university, on how to get a job and how to prepare for the dreaded job interview. It begs the question in my mind: “Am I teaching my children well to prepare them for the world of work?”
It’s a complex question, starting with: How do you define the world of work? Work is not what it used to be. At the risk of sounding ancient, I will stick my neck out and say that work was a lot simpler and a lot less hectic as recently as five years ago. What happened?
The answer is complex, but here are a few ideas. E-mail is a combination of blessing and curse. It facilitates communication, but expands the amount of work that we all have to do. We have to read them, and in many cases, respond. Copying all interested parties FYI is too easy – in a couple of extra clicks, more people have the message, and that invariably means much more work to do. Even worse, you can’t pretend you didn’t receive something!
Cell phones are equally efficient at finding you wherever you are, and can be equally annoying when you don’t want to be found because you’re actually trying to do something else. Combine the two and everything becomes more imminent (although not necessarily more urgent).
Add to this the fact that the principal focus in business is on the next quarter’s results, making operating efficiency the parameter by which our individual performance is measured (i.e. who can do the most with the fewest resources?) – ergo, we’re all expected to do more with less!
But there’s yet another level of complexity in our lives which is that the basic transactions like buy and sell have become partly blurred in of themselves. Who would have anticipated a free e-mail account? Of course, it’s not actually free because you are giving up information about yourself and allowing yourself to be the target of someone elses’ advertising message in exchange.
So how can we best prepare our children for their future careers, where they’ll be expected to employ the latest technologies to make them models of efficiency and to work at the speed of thought in a blurred business world – and lest I forget, where they will be expected to be empowered team players from day one? And I haven’t mentioned the actual subject matter knowledge that they will be expected to bring to their chosen profession.
There is, in my opinion, no definitive right answer.
As parents, probably our deepest desire is to see our children achieve success in life, of which work is one of the most significant components. Success at work will hopefully bring some level of happiness. But does success depend more on who we are, and not so much on what we do? We must help them to find the worthwhile, creative work for which they have a passion. The challenge for us as parents is to be the role model in following our own passions, and not just in mimicking others.
That is to remain unutterably ourselves in the midst of conforming pressures. But how do we translate these lofty goals into a concrete plan of action?
For me, balance is the key ingredient to a child’s future success at work.
The technology part is probably the easiest to solve: install a computer at home and they’ll figure out how to use it – and then, by the way, they’ll teach you!
The subject matter expertise is probably best covered by encouraging them to enter fields of study in which they truly excel, or have a passion, while helping them to keep in mind at the same time where the jobs of the future are likely to be.
Teamwork can be learned through participation, whether in sports, cultural activities, or any other group experience. Exposing them to a variety of work environments is also a good idea, as it serves the dual purpose of both demystifying the workplace, and helping them choose an appropriate career path.
Some say that if we can get them through high school with their self-esteem intact, they’ll be able to do well in adult life. That’s a challenge in itself when they are under-performing on the homework front. I think it’s wise to bear in mind that the time horizon that we have for them is measured in years, whereas their time horizon(depending on the child) runs from a day or at best, a day and a half. Planning the work schedule to complete a project which is due a month from now appears to be more than difficult than calculus. Of course, as a student, I never left anything till the night before!
Encourage them to perform well at school, but don’t make them feel like second-class citizens if all of their grades are not in the 90’s.
Another part of the balancing act is to keep them busy, at the same time avoiding cramming every minute of their time with one activity or another. Free time is good, as is the occasional bout of boredom. Let them enjoy it now, because when they get into the world of work, adulthood and parenting, they’ll have precious little.
We have found that family time is very precious. We have family dinners on as many nights of the week as possible when we’re all at home at dinnertime. We take turns describing the “best & worst” of the day – encouraging open and honest communication, compassion, caring and mutual support, values which will serve them well as adults, and as workers.
So how do we teach our children well and prepare them for what’s to come? Hug them, love them unconditionally, support and encourage them, and give them time to enjoy their childhood.
Alan Davis is founder and President of Alan Davis & Associates Inc., 450-458-3535 www.alandavis.com