The Future We Are Preparing Our Children For Does Not Exist Yet
Whatever future our children enter, it will not be the present.
When parents prepare their children for the world, they often make the mistake of preparing for the world that was, rather than the world that is coming. Our children will not grow up in the world we did. That world is gone, and we can never go back. Even the world that exists now is not the world we must prepare them for. We have to prepare them to thrive in the world that exists twenty years from now, and raise their own families in the world ten years beyond that.
As a millennial, I’m familiar with this problem. Everyone in my generation was told: ‘get a good degree and you’ll get a good job’ because that is what worked for the boomers. Millennials were prepared for the world of the 1970s, and then dropped into the financial crash and technological change of the 2000s. Everyone in my generation who did what they were “supposed” to do got destroyed by the system. Those who thrived did something they weren’t supposed to do or blazed new paths previous generations didn’t even know existed.
If one were to honestly look at the world children were entering in the early 2000s without any preconceived ideas (what Zen teachers call “beginners mind”), they would have seen that massive technological change was coming, and with it inevitable social change. Likewise, if we look honestly at the world now, the changes coming are just as apparent. The reason parents do not honestly look at the world is because they are not prepared to change themselves. The past is safe. The future is unknown. Yet for the sake of our kids, we must change.
You can see parents’ resistance in the objections they raise to new technologies. “How will kids learn to do their homework if ChatGPT can do it for them” is the modern equivalent to “you won’t just carry a calculator around in your pocket all the time, will you?” Actually, I will. My kids will probably also have AIs that handle various daily aspects of their life. Welcome to the future. “But, I need my kids to get a good job.” Will jobs even exist twenty years from now in their current form?
This doesn’t even include the massive social changes that might exist twenty years from now. If you were advising someone in the early 2000s, you might tell them it would be prudent to conceal any aspect of their sexuality or gender identity that didn’t conform to the norm. Now, people share aspects of their gender identity when they first introduce themselves by stating their preferred pronouns. The way we talk about many social issues today would be incomprehensible to someone twenty years ago. What will the world look like twenty more years from now?
I ask these as genuine questions, not rhetorical ones. I don’t know exactly what will happen. Today, some predict global disasters due to AI, climate change, or world war. Others predict Star Trek levels of technological ease, acceptance of diversity, and global unified cooperation. Either future is possible.
What I do know is that we cannot prepare our children for the world as it exists now. Whatever future they step into, it will be the future, not the present. Thankfully, there are timeless values that will benefit a child in any situation. Children will always benefit from the deep sense of confidence, love, and safety that comes from being raised in a family with a secure attachment. That base will provide a firm foundation for whatever direction the winds of change blow.
When people talk about survival of the fittest, they forget that the “fittest” is not defined as the strongest, but the most adaptive to a particular environment. Our environment is changing constantly. Our children will require flexibility more than adherence to any rigid system. Children learn more from their parents’ example than their words. We must first be willing to grow, learn, and change ourselves, so our children can do the same in the future.