For millennia, those we now term “adolescents” transitioned into an adult working culture in a fairly natural way. Boys in hunting cultures would begin hunting small game, girls would begin working in the kitchen or managing the household, and shepherds would begin tending the smaller animals. The idea that “the world is their oyster” was not a consideration. Now, however, young children are told that they could be anything they want to be. Think about the difference in the stress level between, “son, today you are going to go hunting for rabbit with your friends and one day you will get to hunt the big buffalo with the rest of the tribe.” and “You better work really hard in all six of your classes. Also, don’t forget that ________ (football, chess, student government) is your ticket to a scholarship.” The transition into adult culture for those in the past would have been gradual and predictable to most in society, while today it is more mysterious and ominous.
These questions about the future have an impact on our young people. As individualistic Americans we tend to hold the value of choice up as a civic virtue, but today the choices that young people will have are relatively ephemeral. Sure, some traditional occupations will continue in the future, but many of the high-level business and technological positions are changing quicker than our educational systems, or our psyches, can handle. We, as adults, should keep this reality in mind as we coach our children in the adolescent years—the questions about the future are great and nebulous for them. Perhaps we need to avoid the age-old question of, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” and replace it with, “What kind of person are you becoming?” helping adolescents move more gracefully into a character-driven life. Our focus, then, is to train them in how to think, analyze and synthesize ideas rather than how to do tasks.