Balancing Wants And Needs

January 16, 2012 § 1 Comment

Kids these days!

That phrase that every generation uses came to mind when my friend Rita remarked on Facebook that, “Nine-year-olds have a Blackberry, an iPad, a laptop, and a Facebook account. When I was nine, I felt cool with my new markers.”

In fact, I have heard people in their 20s utter the opening remark I did in reference to their teenager counterparts. We have a tendency to compare ourselves to previous cohorts.

My friend’s statement was amusing on one hand but also provided pause for thought.

It sounded a lot like the age-old adage from my parents’ generation. You know the one. “We had to walk 10 miles to school uphill both ways in bare feet at 40 below.”

On the other, it’s very true we have increasingly changed kids’ expectations as to what they have, what they want and what they need – and at what age. Many children now think it’s a must they will have all the above-mentioned gadgetry and more.

I certainly can see the merits of nine-year-olds having a simple cell phone for safety sake and a computer relevant to their capacity to use one. As for the rest of the “stuff” most kids have now, the more we heap on them, the more they expect.

There’s a general tendency to feel entitled and, therefore, largely ungrateful.

One of the other commenters on my friend’s post mentioned that when she was age nine she “went outside and did stuff.”

Another remarked that she amused herself doing wheelies with her roller blades.

Rita chimed back in with this ditty: I used to tape my favourite songs from the top 30 countdown each week by putting my tape recorder right up to my radio speaker and shushing everyone around me to shut up and not make any noise cuz they would ruin my recording of “Hurts so Good” by John Cougar!!! Good times, people! Let’s hold onto those memories no matter how digital our world gets!!

Times were simpler when I grew up, too, and we certainly learned how to entertain ourselves, often outside. In my own case, it was at a time when there was only one television channel and only a handful of radio stations from which to choose.

The first cassette and record players I used belonged to my parents. At age nine, I was collecting hockey cards as a hobby. I have a stamp collection somewhere in storage. In this age of electronic age, there are likely kids who have no idea what the postal system does.

The once-popular Etch-a-Sketch would be considered an antique. It’s the latest version of Xbox that’s a must.

As my son, Peter, was growing up, we tried to find a balance. Every year, he received the latest NHL game for our desktop computer, a far departure from the tabletop game we had as kids, though we also bought one of these “old fashioned” devices for he and I to use.

We learned early on that after Christmas, a lot of the things he’d received became clutter as he concentrated on the few favourite gifts. We also determined that there would be no point of buying the fanciest compact disc player because he had a penchant for dropping them on the swimming pool deck during swim meets.

We still have his dinosaur collection, his Harry Potter books and plastic tubs of Lego.

I don’t want to come across as a curmudgeon. In today’s workplace, mastering technology is a must so young people need to arrive confident and adept with the latest electronic bells and whistles.

However, it’s incumbent on parents to recognize there’s a balance to be reached at Christmas and other gift-giving occasions.

While the job site will expect you can handle the technological side of the work, your employer will also expect you will be able to work collaboratively with others, to communicate effectively verbally and in written form, to deal with people from a variety of backgrounds, and to be able to work independently and as part of a team.

This means the most adaptable people are still those who can think for themselves, the ones who know how to deal with people face-to-face and individuals who can appreciate the simpler things in life, even if that’s enjoying a book on the latest electronic reading device.

I would encourage parents to consider just how much their kids need and whether what they’re purchasing is age appropriate. Consider taking them to live theatre at an early age so they gain an appreciation of entertainment that doesn’t require multi-million dollar budgets and computer-generated imagery.

Look for opportunities for them to learn without them realize they are doing so.

As always, it’s about seeking balance between wants, needs and what is desirable.

Connecting Opportunity With Reality

February 2, 2010 § 8 Comments

Young people have more opportunities than ever before.

Some people will suggest I’m certifiably nuts for that statement. What about the economy? What about the global uncertainty caused by terrorism? What about financial barriers to post-secondary education?

The fact is there have always been challenges to achieving success. There always will be.

In my own realm in the communications field, the possibilities have grown exponentially over the years.

I have moved from being a newspaper reporter with stops in St. Paul and Grande Prairie, Alberta and Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario to corporate writing and editing for a Crown corporation to operating my own communications firm to communications in the education sector to my current position as Manager of Marketing and Communications at the City of Grande Prairie.

Thanks to technology, someone in the communications field here in Grande Prairie could be producing copy for a company in Warsaw, Poland and never set foot in the country. For that matter, an entire website can be produced for a client in Walla Walla, Washington and no actual direct conversation needs to take place.

When I graduated from college, you could be a print, television or radio reporter. Now, you can have a job reporting completely online. There are companies specializing in advising companies and governments on how to maximize social media opportunities.

At the time I left college, Public Relations practitioners were not nearly as widespread as today. Back then, Marshall McLuhan stating, “The medium is the message” still resonated readily with people. Now, there are a myriad of mediums and there is a general recognition in the importance of communications – and the consequences of it being done poorly.

By merely mentioning Grande Prairie, Sault Ste. Marie and Walla Walla, Washington in this Blog, people who have these place names in their Google alerts will be notified about it.

As far as barriers go, I left college at a time when bumper stickers in Alberta read: “God, grant me another oil boom and I won’t piss it away this time.” This may be the first economic crunch of the generation, but it is nothing new for anyone who’s been in the workforce any length of time.

I grew up listening to news of every morning of political strife in Northern Ireland. I remember watching the American troops pull out of Viet Nam.

A similar explosion of career possibilities has occurred in other professions. A whole industry has sprung up around the green movement – my close friends, Cecilia Lu and Sofia Ribeiro, at Kiwano Marketing have found a niche in green marketing.

So, how does all this relate to young people in 2010?

There needs to be a far better connection to the opportunities and the realities.

Many parents and the education system, to a large degree, still have the mindset that little Johnny and Mary, starting out in Grade 1, will go to university because, after all, they need a high level of education to get a good job.

It really is much more complicated than that – and there are enough taxi drivers with degrees to debunk that notion.

In 2002, 58 per cent of Albertans aged 25-34 reported having completed post-secondary education. The rest? Well some would have started into college or university and dropped out while others went directly into the workforce from high school. A significantly high number of students still do not complete high school – in the 30 per cent range in some areas.

It is clear that the vision many of us as parents have when our children begin Kindergarten and the reality is not at all connected in many cases. Nor should it be.

How can we know what skills and aptitudes our children will have at age 5? In my own case, I didn’t even like school until I was in Grade 12.

My son graduated from high school and has attended college, but has decided to take a break until he determines what direction the schooling is taking him.

I support his decision. No education is lost, but when there is not an unlimited source of funds, there needs to be some focus.

Given there is no end of choices, I want my son to find something he is passionate about – unless, as parenting expert Barbara Coloroso would say, that choice is life-threatening, morally-threatening or illegal.

He might be best suited to travel for while and maybe work overseas. Unlike when I was his age, people backpacked in other countries and had to scrape up jobs to continue their travels, there are now actual programs that will help people line up opportunities and help them make arrangements for living abroad.

Far too many people are bored or stuck in a rut before age 30, despite the opportunities.

Sometimes that is because parents or the students themselves rushed a decision about a career choice. In other situations, people’s likes or circumstances change.

I believe a big improvement in the success rate would be made if co-operative education was mandatory for all high school students, even the ones who are adamant they know their career path. Maybe some time in the workforce in their chosen occupation would save thousands of dollars by students realizing a career path is not for them before it is too late.

There also needs to be more flexibility in the system. We can’t always pigeon-hole students and must allow for diverse interests.

A hands-on student may also have an academic side. In a world that emphasizes entrepreneurism, it would be handy if a young person who’s gifted in electronics could also take business courses. From first-hand experience, I know it is easier to operate a company if you have both practical experience and some courses to help you understand the ins and outs of business.

Although the education system has evolved in recent years, more needs to be done to ensure students are prepared for the realities of the real world, particularly given so many don’t actually attend post-secondary.

I am pleased there is more recognition that students acquire knowledge in a variety of ways and teachers are being instructed in how to address differentiated learning.

More parents need to realize they need to have a significant role in their children’s education. We shouldn’t criticize the education system if we’ve invested little in knowing how it works or supporting the people in it.

Our children’s teachers spend more waking hours with our kids than we do during the week, yet far too many educators get little support. In fact, a lot of people seem to think they could do a better job.

Society needs to do more, too. It was enough that schools were expected to teaching Reading, Writing and Arithmetic. Then it was sex education and drug education. As families became more dysfunctional and social problems became more prevalent, they have had to become part-time psychologists and counsellors.

Now, in many schools, kids are being fed at the school before classes get under way in recognition that children learn better with a full stomach.

There is an old African proverb that it takes an entire village to educate a child.

If we expect little Johnny and Mary to capitalize on the opportunities, then all of us must do more to make it happen. We need to be willing to change our thinking about how reality and opportunities can better connect.
As author and motivational speaker Tony Robbins notes, “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.”

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