Sunday, January 22, 2017

Generation iY and More!

I subscribe to a weekly newsletter from Tim Elmore and have found a number of articles that I have shared in this blog or used as a resource for other articles that I have written.  In addition, the teaching staff at NFVHS has read his work on a number of occasions.  Elmore resonates with me on a couple of different levels from the standpoint of both an educator and a parent.  His priority is to develop leaders with this generation of young people.  He also includes a lot of advice to help all of us do a better job in the development of young adults.  

Here’s a series of videos that you may find interesting and useful.  There is some really good information about our kids and what makes them tick.  Enjoy!

Tim Elmore Video Series --

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Must We Give Our Kids Everything They Want?

As I reflect on the 18 years I lived under my parent’s roof, as well as lessons they continue to teach me, I believe that one of the most important — if not the most important — lesson I learned was "you don’t need it even if you want it."  Now my wife may argue that I forget this from time to time, but if I put the whole list of my wants in front of her, it would take her quite a while to get through the list!  What I also recall, and still see today, is that many of those things that I wanted simply sit in a corner unused or have been stuck in a closet, forgotten until I am looking for something and run across them, or my wife has pulled them out and has them lying on a table at a garage sale.  I see the same thing with my kids in some respects, but due to the fact that my spouse strongly subscribes to the philosophy of "needs and moderation," there isn’t so much.  It is no surprise that one of her favorite songs is the Rolling Stones’ You Can’t Always Get What You Want.  You know the lyrics!

No, you can't always get what you want 
You can't always get what you want 
You can't always get what you want 
But if you try sometime you find 
You get what you need 

For a number of generations our society has become more materialistic, with each succeeding one identifying what were once “wants” as “needs.”  There have been various groups and subcultures pop up in the past sixty years that have disavowed materialism from time to time, and there are religious groups such as the Amish that have maintained that as a cornerstone of their faith.  But for the most part, we Americans have consistently sought to have more “things.”  Perhaps there is a coming shift with the increased popularity of tiny houses, but my guess is that this is just a fad as well.  

Back when I was growing up there were a number of years when my family struggled and things were pretty tight around the Wolverton house, but even as we solidified ourselves in the middle class, my parents were frugal and I can remember a number of times that my mom said, “We can’t afford it.”  The funny thing was that we accepted that and there was no shame in not being able to afford something.  My parents both grew up during the war years and for whatever reason learned to spend their money wisely, and when you purchased something, make sure you bought high quality.  So, when I was a kid, we did have quality things because they would last and there was no shame in that fact that we didn’t always have the latest fashion or latest gadget, nor did we have those coming of age things like a stereo when we went into middle school or a car when we turned 16.

But times have changed quite a bit from the 1970’s and for whatever reason many parents are concerned about how they appear to others.  It seems that for many they are constantly concerned as to whether or not they are “good parents” and whether their children have the same things or opportunities as the other kids.  If their child has less than other kids, how are they going to be treated?  Are they going to have friends?  Will kids make fun of them?  In essence, they don’t want their child to do without, whether they can afford it or not.  They have a very difficult time telling their kids “No” and some feel guilt or shame having to admit that they cannot afford something.  They are kind of backed into a corner, and because of that they seek other ways to make sure their child gets what they want.

This all brings into question the responsibility of being a parent.  In my opinion, the bottom line for parents is to provide a roof over their child's head, food, clothes, and basic supplies, in a loving and caring environment.  When it goes beyond that, the parent needs to be able to afford it, and more important, to teach their child to live within their means.  I know of a number of people, and have some very close friends, who take on a second job to provide their children with some of those extras, whether it be to play on a sports team or to have a few of their material wants met.  The parent sees that as their responsibility.  Some sacrifice being able to spend some time with their child to accomplish this.  But in the mind of the parent, it is worth it to them and they see it as their job as a parent.  I cannot argue with that.  I also have friends that have overextended themselves, charging up their credit cards to in order to get those “things” that their children so desperately want.

What does seem out of bounds, and something we see more of at school, is when some parents expect others to bear the responsibility of providing for their kids.  I am not talking about free or reduced lunches.  That’s a very important program to many families, and I do not care what anyone says, we can all pitch in to help out with a child’s fundamental needs.  No, what I am talking about is expecting the community to pay for some of those “extras” that come with a public school education.  What are those extras?  Perhaps the most obvious are various trips.  Many trips include fundraising activities that shift the burden of paying for the trip to the community.  A number of years ago I figured out how much a band trip to Florida cost and the amount of money that went into that trip from fundraising, and posed the question “Why are we sending thousands, in fact tens-of-thousands of dollars out of the community?”  We were asking individuals and businesses to pay for what was actually a vacation with the band marching once or twice at Disneyworld.  That bothered me at the time, and still bothers me now when groups have to rely on large amounts of money from other people to take kids on a trip.  While I have not seen it first-hand, I have heard about parents establishing sites to raise money so their child can go on a trip, or have enough money to play on a club team.  Really?  I am all for helping others, but there must come a time when parents are able to tell their kids “We can’t afford it” without shame or guilt.  Or, the parent can go to the bank and get a short-term loan so their child can participate.  Before his senior year in high school, my brother worked an average of twelve-hours a day so that he could pay for a trip to wrestle in Germany.  He didn’t go door to door asking for donations.

This really touched on a couple of topics, and perhaps I drifted a bit from the original intent.  The reality is that there are often legitimate reasons we are in the financial situation we find ourselves in, and it is unfortunate that we have to say “No” to our kids.  But the reality is that many times in life we bump into a “No.”  I have a close friend that ended up losing a job due to bounced checks and other financial problems because he was determined to make sure that his kids had all of the best things that other kids had.  Was that worth it?  What would have happened had he said to them, “We can’t afford that, and you’ll be fine.”  I think our kids will survive quite well when they have to go without, as long as it isn’t food, shelter, and clothing.  As parents we just need to quit worrying what other people think.  We need to teach those life lessons to our children that there are times when you have to live within your means.  We do not have to look very far to see horrible examples in this country where people “spent” what they didn’t have.  “No” seems like a pretty good lesson sometimes.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

What Do You Want To Do? I Don’t Know!

I have no idea how often this question is asked in the hallways, classrooms and offices in American high schools.  And, according to what is often reported, the response is very often the one in the title of this article — “I don’t know.”  “Where are you going to college?”  “I don’t know.”  “What are your plans after you graduate?”  “I don’t know.”  “What are you interested in doing?”  “I don’t know.”  I’m not talking about conversations with freshmen . . . these are the talks that we are having with juniors and seniors!  And who can blame them!  There is so much uncertainty out there right now, and the messages that are being given to them are not helpful at all.  Toss in the fact that things change at such a dramatic rate right now and we often find ourselves having a difficult time providing useful guidance.  Let’s take a look at some of those messages out there that are being received by 16, 17, and 18-year olds that are trying to figure out where they go once they graduate from high school.

First and most important, this is not unusual.  Even though it is very stressful for some students — and their parents — it is not unusual for graduating seniors to be undecided as to what they want to major in at college or pursue for a career.  And it isn’t just high school students.  According to various studies, somewhere between 50 and 80% of college students change their majors at least once!  The National Center for Education Statistics published a report that states 85% of college students in the United States end up changing their major at least once and on average, college students change their major three times in their college career.  A study out of Brigham Young University determined that an average of 85% of students change at least once.  A more conservative result was reported by the University of LaVerne out of California where they determined that about 50% of incoming freshmen come in without a declared major, and between 50 and 70% of students change their’s at least once.  

The most obvious reason for the uncertainty is the rapidly changing world that we live in, in most part due to constant changes in technology.  What makes this more confusing is that when one follows current job market trends, those are changing at a rapid rate as well.  In fact, some sources report that up to 60% of the jobs in the future do not even exist at this point!  How is an 18-year old supposed to prepare for a future career that doesn’t even exist?  In our history some types of jobs have disappeared.  There is not a huge demand for coopers or wheelwrights any more, and blacksmiths have for the most part gone by the wayside as well.  With this uncertain forecast, we also see about 50% of college graduates pursing careers that are not related to their majors.  This is a discussion that could lend itself to a couple of articles, but the reality is that this generation of young people is headed into a future with more questions than answers, and there is no reason to be surprised that many do not have a clue what they want to do!

Angela Duckworth and other researchers will point out that this generation suffers from over-involved parents and a lack of grit.  For many millennials their parents have paved their way by doing whatever needs to be done for them so that their have a smooth and easy life.  This has been a huge disservice because many of these kids have been living in somewhat of a bubble world and have not had to think or depend on themselves.  Then, at the age of 17, they are being asked, “What are you going to do with your life?”  The honest answer for many is “I haven’t had to think about that!”  A number of parents have made significant sacrifices so they could give their children whatever they want, and the result is that kids haven’t had to go without, or they have not had to sacrifice in order to obtain the “things” that are important to them.  There is not an appreciation of hard work or overcoming obstacles on their own.  Now they are faced with a decision and many of them realize that their parents cannot make if for them, even though some try!  

On the other side of this issue is increased pressure by the Iowa Department of Education to have students identify a career path while still in high school.  It is not fair to place this only on the their shoulders as they are responding to an immense amount of pressure from politicians who are reacting to pleas from business people in our state for skilled employees.   I get it.  For the economy and future of our state, we need a high quality work force.  We cannot afford to see our best young people leave the state for opportunities elsewhere.  And it is important that we look at opportunities through a clear lens rather than rose-colored glasses.  Thus, here is the paradox.  In Iowa right now there is a high demand for highly skilled workers in the manufacturing and tech world, as well as in the health care and service industry.  And, jobs in those fields are starting to pay better and often include good benefit packages.  At the same time, one cannot ignore the premise that people should follow their passion, whatever that may be, and if opportunity for that pursuit does not exist in Iowa, what is a person to do?  That is one more dilemma faced by graduates that adds to their confusion about their future.

I know what it is like to have a child say “I don’t know,” and I wake up in the middle of the night worrying about the future.  I appease my worries by telling myself that they are bright kids and they will do fine, but that does not absolve me of all of my worries.  When I switch from my parent mode to my educator mode I recognize that they are no different than the majority of their peers, and I stress that the value of education is to become an educated person.  That may sound kind of stupid, but an educated populace is what our economy is based on, and as long as our students learn how to learn, and develop skills like problem solving, collaboration, and grit, they will make it in this world.  It may not happen four years after they leave the halls of NFVHS, and most are going to have four or five careers over their lifetime.  They have to make good choices!  Following one’s passion is great, but they also have to be smart about this and recognize that there may not necessarily be a job that falls within that passion.  At that point, they need to figure out how they can pursue that passion and at the same time earn a comfortable living.  An educated individual will be able to do that.