By Christopher O'Malley
Watching my children growing up has assaulted my senses on just how much “growing up” has changed in my lifetime. I’m amazed at the proficiency level children are achieving in athletics, academia, music and dance. Even more amazing is the large numbers actively competing at such an incredible level. I recently attended a piano concerto competition of fifteen students. The margin from best to worst was nearly imperceptible to anyone other than the most trained professional and, from my perspective, they were all good enough to be professionals in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
When I was growing up, there were always a very few exceptional children in any given activity, but always with an obvious difference from one to the next. Today, our Internet connected world has opened a vast array of educational and coaching resources available to everyone with the financial means and desire. This has resulted in a broader base of highly skilled children that are well versed in what it takes to be among the elite in their chosen area of focus and are dedicated to the practice required to excel.
At first thought, this would appear to be healthy progress. Strongly skilled children make for strongly skilled adults. Once an individual has achieved a certain level of mastery, the Internet connected job market becomes a highly efficient means for matching their skills with opportunities. One can envision a world of meritocracy where each young adult will fairly gain the opportunities in life they have earned.
Forget the theoretical and get with the reality. As a parent, this is scary. Anyone reading about the financial markets knows that there is a real and present danger that the US will not be able to produce enough jobs to employ those entering the workforce. The hard truth is slow economic growth means fewer new jobs. In a scenario of too few jobs for too many graduating students within an increasingly meritocracy based system, parents will not be able to find a “quick fix” or depend on the “luck” that can come from an expanding economy.
I have often heard stories of college graduates unable to find opportunities related to degrees. More recently, these stories are about 27 and 28 year olds that are still finding themselves in an endless state of waiting. I can’t imagine the frustration and concern a college graduate holds when approaching 30 without having started a clear path to a successful lifetime career. I’m worried that we will start seeing a dramatic rise of 29+ year olds entering the military not by a noble choice to serve, but by the basic need to survive.
This harsh reality demands that parents become far more engaged in helping their children in making thoughtful choices at a very young age. Parents must be fully invested in day-to-day lessons with a loving passion and long-term dedication to their children’s future. They must ensure that their children are receiving the appropriate education and building disciplined practice/study habits that foster continuous improvement. I’ve witnessed parents living by such beliefs and they’ve begun this quest with their children at 4 years of age and lovingly sustained the effort through early adulthood.
Being a good parent is one of the most important responsibilities in life. That responsibility has always been true, but certainly what makes for a good parent has change significantly over the years. Given the complexity of our lives already, what is an average parent to do? How are we going to ensure that our children achieve a competitive advantage that provides for a promising future?
When 4, you are in the game. When 22, the die has been cast.
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