With the release of John Marsden's book, 'The Art of Growing Up,' there has been a lot of comment about today's parenting in comparison to trends and tenets of the past. If we put the controversy aside, we are left with the fact that our world is very different from the future we were prepared for when we were young; our children are growing up in a very different milieu. The workforce of the future is predicted to be vastly different from that of today and while this is an exciting time for our children, it requires a very different skill set to be successful.
According to the World Economic Forum, the skills needed to build resilience in the workforce (and reduce the anxiety of becoming irrelevant) include things like empathy, people skills, complex problem solving, coordinating with others, and creativity. As educators and parents, we need to thoughtfully consider how we engender these qualities in our children. Building more dangerous playgrounds would be a good start. In Denmark, playgrounds are full of natural elements like water and rough-hewn branches; trampolines and high peaks with no safety nets; and even mini bike lanes with traffic lights so children can practise their future pedal-powered commute. In this environment, children are expected to take risks, negotiate with and help one another, talk to strangers, and come home with raw knees.
So, as parents and educators, how can we provide this environment of choice and risk, when we are also expected to protect and support our children?
I was fortunate enough to attend the Toowoomba Hospital Foundation's Women of Strength Luncheon last term and listened to guest speaker Gill Hicks, a survivor of the London terrorist attacks in 2005. Of the many things she said that resonated with me, one has stuck in my mind and applies to this raising and educating our children for the 'new' future. Gill described the physiotherapy sessions she undertook while learning to walk on her prosthetic legs. Just as she was becoming stable and feeling confident about moving around unassisted, her physiotherapist pushed her over. Understandably upset and confused, she asked, "Why did you push me over?" and he replied, "You have to learn to get back up again." Gill took this as a metaphor for life and I think it would be valuable for us to apply this to educating and raising our young people. If our children are feeling too comfortable, then they are not experiencing the imperative challenge required for them to grow and develop the skills mentioned above. Sometimes, that challenge will lead to failure and they will 'fall'. It is a natural reaction for parents and teachers to reach down and pick them up but we must resist the urge to do so. Falling needs to become part of the education. External support will not always be there and children must learn to get back up by themselves. Children may struggle to ‘get back up again’ in the beginning and providing advice on how to do so may be required to start, but we must not ‘fix’ problems for them, we must explain how they do this independently by negotiating, cooperating and creatively thinking about a possible solution. It is through this process of failure and falling that the ability to creatively solve problems and resilience grows. These skills will hold our young people in good stead for their future, no matter how complex the challenge.
Acknowledgement: What I learned from a year of working Danishly by Simona Maschi and Christian Bason, 19 March 2019, in Quartz Ideas
Mrs Jo Matherson