The more and more time I spend with young people (having just graduated from that class when I turned 26 last year), the more and more I realise how big a fight there is that they face – and they don’t even know it yet.
Since when I got into working with youth in 2003 when I started the Feedback youth charity, to today when I have youth interns working with me all the time (as per the photo to the left), I have noticed how directionless our young people have become. The irony is that the blessings of our knowledge economy have created an abundance of choice and open treasure chest full of opportunity, travel and exploration to these young people, which in turn has paralyzed them. Let me explain:
Because we are in a knowledge economy, fewer and fewer people are learning trades and instead studying soft subjects. We focus on gap years, sandwich years, extended studying at college (or high school if you are American) even up to the age of 21 – studying without obtaining any Higher Education accreditation – and then facing, whether they take an undergraduate course or not, the problem of a considerable lack of experience.
Cue my 18 year old brother, Todd. He has just finished two years of Further Education media studies, which he now regrets and is considering taking another two years of FE study. Whilst the opportunity and diversity of subjects available is a good thing, the amount of choice that he faces paralysis him. It’s good that our young people have so much more to engage with and formally learn, yet the plethora of choice has two major problems:
- It delays decision making
- It does not identify transferable skills
These are two of the fights our young people face – let’s look and them, as well as add another.
1. Delayed Decision Making
It’s a lot of pressure to force a 16 year old to make decisions about the rest of their life – yes – but it is equally detrimental to not teach decision making techniques and remove as many decisions as possible, therefore denying the essential lessons of discipline and responsibility.
My brother has no need to make a decision. He can go to University with a loan of thousand of pounds (more money than he has ever handled) that basically feels like free money to him, because the repayment date is in the distinct future, where he tells himself “I’ll be rich then.” There’s also no consequence and little responsibility here.
I want to see young people taught how to make quality decisions. I want to see them learning decision making at a younger age by having to make smaller, more incremental decisions. It is ludicris to drop the weight we do on 16 and 18/19 year olds out of nowhere, expecting them to make life changing decisions, without prior training.
2. Not Identifying Transferable Skills
I spent a good deal of time with my brother the other day helping him see the core transferable skills that he has learnt over these last two years – otherwise he was of the mind that they had been a waste of time.
I want to see all teenage activity clearly communicate at the end of the day what transferable skills and lessons are being taught – because most young people I know lack the fundamental self insight that is needed to be a success in the knowledge economy.
Here is the crux: whilst the knowledge economy affords incredible opportunity that the average person has never seen before, as far as history is concerned, it also requires greater knowledge (because after all, that is the currency, right?).
3. Realising They Have More, and Need More, Than Money
Social giving is changing. The world is changing. When I talk about young people giving towards a cause, they immediately say to me that they have no money. My response is always the same: is money the only thing you have to give?
I teach every intern who works with me that we have four things that we can give: Our Time, Talent, Treasure and Tongue.
Time is your effort and energy, your hours in the day. Talent is your gifting and resources. Treasure is your money. Tongue is your influence and word of mouth.
Our default mode is to give our treasure – often because it really requires the least of us. But I often find that charities could value more from someone’s Time or Talent or Tongue, than they could their Treasure. Again, this is knowledge economy thinking – but we haven’t passed it through to our youth.
We have to get our youth to understand that money isn’t everything. Because currently, many of them do.
Your Leading Thoughts
This post represents a new angle that I’ll be exploring on this blog about real empowerment and investment in people. It might be a rough ride at times, and there will be some hard questions, but we need to ask them if we want to be agents of change. I’ve got a lot more to say, but today I’d like to get some feedback and hear your leading thoughts:
- Are you a young person, or do you know / have a young person who faces these situations? What is your counsel to them?
- If play the “what if” game – then what if we don’t get this right with this next upcoming generation? What will happen to our economy?