We’re living in unprecedented times. Sure, five years ago the experts probably could have told you that we were due for a global pandemic, or that Russia was likely to make a big political move. But the average American had no idea to expect any of that. Before the 2020 election, you wouldn’t have guessed that Donald Trump would run for President — and win. Looking towards the future, it’s likely your kids will have jobs that don’t even exist yet. Technology is developing at a rapid rate: Humans are racing to Mars, drones are becoming the centerpiece of war, and artificial intelligence is reaching sci-fi levels of sophistication. And who knows how climate change will affect our childrens’ lives?
What comes next is sure to be nothing we expected. So, how can you prepare kids to thrive in the future when you have no idea what lies ahead?
It starts with raising kids who know how to talk about all of these polarizing topics — and whatever ones pop up in the future that we can’t even fathom right now. “A child’s moral compass needs to include how to deal with people whom they disagree with,” says Yong Zhao, Ph.D., an education professor at the University of Kansas and a professor in educational leadership at the Melbourne Graduate School of Education in Australia and co-author of the book Learning for Uncertainty: Teaching Students How to Thrive in a Rapidly Evolving World. “Teach kids to rationally engage in debates, discussions and conversations.”
But it doesn’t stop there. Fatherly spoke with Zhao about how parents can prepare kids with the necessary skills to face an uncertain future. This is his advice.
Resilience is important in our uncertain world because it teaches kids to prepare for the unexpected, good and bad. How can parents cultivate resilience in their kids?
Kids need the autonomy to experience failures. Understanding that failure is necessary for improvement. Resilience is also built on confidence, so parents should help their children not to shy away from challenges that help cultivate self-confidence. It often happens that children don’t want to explore new possibilities because they’re afraid of possible failures, and building confidence can help.
Also, don’t do everything for your kids. It isn’t your responsibility to wake your child up each morning for school. Have them set their own alarm and make their own breakfast. They need to feel the repercussions when they sleep in and don’t make it to school on time.
Your book mentions other skills that are important to teach kids, especially those that might not be emphasized in schools. Can you discuss?
Right now, our schools are still largely focused on the teaching of content: math, history, reading, etc. Standardized testing emphasizes these subjects. But in our new world, we should be focused on other skills. For example, passion. What do your kids care about? Schools never ask kids what they care about and what they want to do with their life.
When you look at the mass resignations of people during the pandemic, people have all kinds of reasons why they quit. But if you’re passionate about your work, you’re not going to quit. Kids need to be supported in a way that allows them to find out what they truly care about. In our uncertain world, it’s about finding out what you’re good at, what you’re passionate about, and how you can create value in society using these skills.
What aspects of parenting could stunt our kids’ ability to thrive in this changing world?
Over-parenting can really harm your child. They need to learn to do things for themselves, and they also need to learn to manage themselves. We tell kids how long they can watch television and play video games. Instead, manage them with broader rules so they can make some of their own decisions. Instead of saying they can watch for 30 minutes a day, try three hours per school week. This way they can choose to watch when they want to use their screen time rather than having you dictate everything. Try providing broader freedoms instead of micromanaging everything.
Additionally, how a child does in school shouldn’t be the be-all and end-all. Schools can do a lot to deplete a child’s confidence because they highlight very few skills.
What have educators emphasized in the past that might not be as relevant in the future?
General knowledge will not be as important in the future. If you’re really interested in learning something later on in life, you can teach yourself. You can teach yourself history or math once you grow up. Instead, schools should work on helping each and every child to find and develop their own strengths and passions. Children should be the owners of their learning. If children own their learning, they can develop unique capabilities, whatever they may be, and translate their capabilities into solutions to problems of the world.
Schools also have too narrow of an understanding of what makes a strong student — just a few subjects and standardized testing on those subjects. The focus shouldn’t be so pinpointed that kids don’t feel like they can do what they really want to career-wise, just because their educational system doesn’t value it.