Last week, I attended high school orientation with my 8th grade daughter. Let me repeat that. My oldest daughter is going to be in high school in eight months. Whew. The experience was exhilarating, overwhelming, and one big teachable moment. For me. With all of the external noise about the lack of preparedness for today’s youth to the impending doom of our world by the Zennial or whatever the hell generational stereotyping we are in at this time, and with some time to reflect, I realize it’s going to be ok. I just need to get out of the way.
Because my daughter had a basketball game, I attended a special session on the Science and Engineering Learning Community program offered at her future high school. I was all in. Science. Engineering. Daughter. She has to attend this program. That’s what we are all preaching. More women in STEM. For forty-five minutes, I was enamored by physics, chemical engineering, robots, and future employment opportunity for my 13-year-old. I pictured her diving right into this program because it was the path to a successful and lucrative career.
Later, I joined my wife and daughter in the auditorium to listen to all of wonderful opportunities and activities the students will have in their four years of high school. I was amazed at the depth and breadth of the curriculum that is offered at our public school and realized this is a long way from when I was in high school.
After the assembly, parents and students were invited to attend a career fair-like program for the various departments and clubs. Incoming freshmen had the chance to ask questions and get a feel for what they wanted to do. What a madhouse. Parents were trying to direct their kids to different booths. My instincts were pushing her to the STEM-related classes. She needed to go talk to the teachers I met with in the earlier presentation I attended. After all, that is what all my HR community can talk about.
I then saw the look in my 13-year-old’s eyes. It was a look of fear and nervousness. All she wanted was to find one of her friends. She didn’t need her parents hovering over her and forcing her to go where we wanted her to go.
Luckily, she found a couple of her friends. And something amazing happened. Left on their own, they navigated their way to the various departments. They explored the business education departments, music, debate, and engineering. They interacted with the older students and got a sense of what their lives would be in a few short months. And I didn’t see one cell phone.
I spent the next couple of days reflecting on this experience. I’m immersed in the never-ending chatter from my peers about the importance of this skill and the death of that skill. I watch them “adultsplain” all the bad things of our youth and their mobile habits. All of this through twitter posts, Instagram stories, and babbling Facebook posts. Funny.
I thought about my role as a father and not as the nerdy, loud-mouthed, know-it-all HR guy that I can be. How can I be the best father and complement all of the other skills she will be learning for the rest of her life?
I realized that it’s not my job to enroll her and push her into the next engineering and coding camp taking place on the weekends or the summers because this current-day workforce is demanding it. I witnessed the amount of learning and education she will get in high school and I’m very comfortable with that.
I realized that spending time on social media sites like Instagram and Snapchat in the name of helping her navigate the murky social waters isn’t helpful. Spending time determining what her intentions were in liking a certain post or monitoring her every move is not preparing her for a successful career.
We adults, parents, and “career experts” think we know what’s best for our kids. We have spent years in the workforce and have the so-called experience to see the ever-changing landscape. We are working in industries and developing skill sets with tools that never existed when we were in school. And somehow we adapted.
We adapted because we learned critical thinking skills. We spent time in our dreaded speech and debate classes to learn about dealing with conflict in a civil manner. We took foreign language classes and activities like “Yearbook” and “photo journalism.” We played sports and band and got in trouble and had fun. We also succeeded in our math, chemistry, and biology.
My generation, yes, I’m talking to you GenXers and Boomers, has lost touch with what it really takes to succeed and survive in the workplace. It’s not one’s technical ability or social media savviness. Have you seen how our political boomers and GenXers use social media? We are teaching kids that screaming and tweeting and putting each other down is the way to solve conflict. It’s such bullshit. (Sorry for the cussing, mom!)
We are so wrapped up in the race to code and program that we have lost our ability to teach and model healthy relationships. We’ve forgotten what we learned in school about how to win friends and influence people.
I’m not going to spend the next 8 years pushing my daughter into a skill or technology that won’t exist when she’s ready to work. I’m not going to rush her into a workplace where she’s already at a disadvantage just for being a woman. She has the rest of her life to do that. Sorry, bro.
I will spend my time talking with her about the importance of interpersonal communications. (I love the concept of FaceTime. I’ve seen her FaceTime friends instead of text. There is value in being able to see the person you’re trying to talk to.) Her love of music and theater is a beautiful complement to her success and love of math and science.
We will talk about dealing with conflict in a healthy way. She will keep encouraging me to read with her. She is learning to find her voice and it’s so great to see. She’s surrounded by strong and confident voices.
This whole experience has changed my perspective. My daughter and her peers have the opportunity to learn and be exposed to the skills they will need in the future. They’ll dive deep into STEM and the arts. They’ll be exposed to world cultures and history. They will sing and dance, play sports and learn about healthy living and nutrition.
It’s my job to model and display the importance of communication and personal interaction. Here’s to hoping I don’t screw that up.