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Are the Kids (Going to Be) Alright?

The brave new world is here.

Our kids are at a crossroads of societal change and employment preparedness. This article explores upcoming challenges and new educational paradigms to best prepare the next generation for what's ahead.

*This article is about a seven minute read. If you're interested in a quick infographic summary, click here.

When it comes to the future well-being of our kiddos, the path of success seems simple and straightforward. Right?

First, they get good grades in grammar school and are propelled into advanced placement classes in high school. During high school, their noteworthy GPA, extracurricular engagement, and volunteer hours create the building blocks of stellar college applications that propel them into higher education. Finally, through choice of major in college, they find the focus and alignment for their eventual career practice and industry. And they live happily ever after.

...not so fast.

Part I: Are Our Kids Prepared for the Brave New World?

Jobs and careers are evolving rapidly. Anecdotally, recruiters and career counselors are presenting the need to be prepared for the jobs of tomorrow, even if they don’t currently exist today. Underlying this job evolution are the cold hard facts that tomorrow’s world is becoming increasing automated, both in manual labor and intelligence. Research shows that up to 36% of jobs could transition to automated labor in the near future,1 and these jobs aren’t just limited to manual labor. A Forbes article discusses the potential of insurance, advertising, finance, research, and sales jobs that could transition to automation over the next ten years.2

As I connect the dots between today’s students and tomorrow’s brave new world, it’s clear that the secret ingredient to success will be their characteristics that are intrinsically “human.”

Indeed, the future is here. But surely schools are adapting to this brave new world, right?

In my decade of working with youth, I consistently found that schools seemed to be missing an ingredient when it came to child development. Sure, the basic education was present, but beyond the facts and figures, there was something deeper missing. As I connect the dots between today’s students and tomorrow’s brave new world, it’s clear that the secret ingredient to success will be their characteristics that are intrinsically “human.” To future proof the next generation, we need to understand that their individual value will come from their emotional intelligence, cognitive skills, and social connection; these are traits that only the human mind currently possesses.3 But it is this very piece of necessary human development that seems to be missing from our education system. Our indoctrination of the simple and straightforward path has fixated our gaze on a traditional schooling recipe rooted in facts and figures but lacking the self-development needed to evolve our kids for the future. A New York Times article states, “the ever-growing emphasis on academic performance and test scores means many children aren’t developing life skills… which are far better predictors of long-term success than high grades.”

So then we bifurcate our kids' development through life itself?

Well, typically this is how it’s been done for generations. Parents curate the social circles, experiences, and environment of the kid to create the safe space for them to grow on their own. But, yet again, brave new world folks. The advent of the interconnectivity, influence, and ubiquitous consumption that has come with web 2.0 has shattered our previous notions of a controlled growth environment. While parents, teachers, and friends will always have a critically important role to play in student growth, there is now an omnipresent fourth influence: the internet. Here’s some statistical comparison: the national average for hours in a school day is 6.64 hours; that’s 6.64 hours of influence from teachers, coaches, and peers.4 In comparison, these same kids will spend an average of 9 hours online, with a third of that being on social media.5 Let’s ponder that ratio for a minute. Let’s think through how much of an influence social media is having on our kids. Let’s also consider that fact that our control mechanisms of this influence are far from ideal. Finally, and most importantly, let’s acknowledge the fact that this fourth influence is harmful to individuals who are highly susceptible to influence. I am not using this article to debate the merits of social media, instead I am merely pointing out that the influence of social media is magnifying the complexity of child development, and in many cases, this influence has negative detriments. I always get a kick out of this article that talks about how one of the factors in millennial depression comes from our constant comparison to the self-image that others are projecting through social media. But, the reality of statistical data shows that there is positive correlation between social media consumption and depression.6

The advent of the interconnectivity, influence, and ubiquitous consumption that has come with web 2.0 has shattered our previous notions of a controlled growth environment.

So, case presented: traditional schooling is not equipping our kiddos with the emotional, cognitive, and social skills that they need to thrive in the future, and we’re losing control over the environment that was meant to provide the life lessons for that very development. Even worse, the influence of web 2.0 is creating depression among those without a strong internal and external foundation. But the purpose of this article is not to lament the realities of current schooling deficiencies, nor the pervasive depression affecting a generation.

Interested in seeing this article in infographic format? Click here.

Part II: Building “Bravery” for the Brave New World

The development gap can be addressed, so let’s start at the core. Sure, we want our kids to live with confidence in decision making, but confidence is not a core element that can just be manifested. Instead, it’s a derivative of something else. By the same equation, emotional intelligence in social relationships does not appear out of thin air, but instead this is also derivative.

So what’s at the core?

Identity, community, and integrity are the priority core elements that we should consider when seeking to build a strong internal and external foundation for the next generation:

Identity: The way that we define ourselves, inclusive of our history, lineage, culture, and most importantly, our value system.

Community: The support network around us, our awareness of the network, and our reciprocity back to the network.

Integrity: Living by the code that has been determined by our identity, inclusive of value system, and helpful to community.

These skills and assets serve as the cognitive foundation in an increasingly complicated world. They provide a reciprocal support network that grows and evolves with the times, and they ensure that growth and success are done ethically and are in the best interests of the whole, rather than the individual.

Let’s take a reframed look at our brave new world.

Studies show that a strong understanding of culture and racial identity has positive correlation to learning and academic performance.7 8 In other words, beyond the facts and figures of traditional learning, identity matters. Now, let’s go back to that environment that we were talking about in the doom-and-gloom section, but this time, let’s re-imagine it. In our new scenario, their environment includes a community where these kiddos are sharing and reinforcing their identity with others, they’re being supported emotionally and developmentally by mentors, and they’re even getting additional community reinforcement through social media where algorithms are feeding them related content. With all this reinforcement, there is now an increased intentionality in the way our kids do relationship building, decision making, and planning; it’s a game changer.

With all this reinforcement, there is now an increased intentionality in the way our kids do relationship building, decision making, and planning; it’s a game changer.

And here’s the best news: your kids want this.

Countless generational studies show that millennials and Gen Z want to make a difference. Corporate studies show that millennial employees want to work for a cause.9 Philanthropy studies show that millennials are giving at rates comparable and higher to previous generations.10 Sure, these altruistic motivations may be buried underneath layers upon layers of teenage sarcasm, pop culture references, and parental defiance… but all studies point to a generation that wants to help people.

Part III: Okay I’m Sold. Where Do I Look?

Let’s start with programs.

Community-based programs like heritage camps, leadership camps, and cultural exchanges build understanding and experiences in all three competencies. Awareness of heritage fortifies cultural identity, and leadership development builds emotional intelligence & integrity. Also note this is not a one-and-done thing. True human development needs year-on-year reinforcement to truly take hold. You'll need to enroll your kids in these programs annually.

Within the Japanese American community there are a number of community-based programs for consideration. In Southern California, there’s of course my former life, Kizuna, which offers an entire continuum of programs for K-12, higher education, and even adults. The Rising Stars Youth Leadership Program has perfected its formula for high school leadership development with two decades of graduates to prove it.

Additional local heritage camps are available at community centers like the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center, the Gardena Japanese Cultural Institute and the East San Gabriel Valley Japanese Community Center. Outside of Southern California, programs at the Japanese Community Youth Council in San Francisco, Sakura Foundation in Denver, Japanese Cultural Community Center of Washington, Japanese American Service Committee in Chicago, and Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii (abbreviated list) offer similar programming.

Next up, exhibits and online resources.

Museums and educational foundations have the expressed mission of educating the public. Whether through exhibits, documentaries, testimonials, or online activities, these resources provide an immediate outlet for exploration of culture and history. However, again, it’s important to remember that this is not a one-and-done opportunity, as regular interaction and learning are necessary for deeper identity development. So make it a habit to organize family outings.

It’s important to remember, this is not a one-and-done opportunity, regular interaction and learning is necessary for deeper identity development.

In the Japanese American community, three national organizations immediately come to mind. The Go For Broke National Education Center has collected countless stories from Japanese American WWII veterans and families. Their exhibit and online resources tell the story of those who fought for their belief in America’s promise. The Japanese American National Museum presents a comprehensive history of Japanese living in America, and Densho provides a massive library of oral histories and online resources that capture multigenerational stories.

For existing activities, add the “why” to the “what.”

I find we often sign up the kids for extracurriculars without explicitly stating what we hope they learn. I suppose we think they’ll just implicitly know. Let’s take youth sports as an example. Beyond shooting the perfect free throw, we want our kids to learn the value of teamwork, sportsmanship, and practice, but we need to be explicit in stating this. Additionally, most organizations have a history and legacy. Sharing the organization's background helps the next generation to contextualize their individual place within a much larger historical continuum.

Specifically for Japanese Americans, I find that we spend more time coaching the perfect taiko melody and critiquing our basketball layup rather than giving any context of history or intention. In fact, for most kids entering our Kizuna programs, I found that this was the first instance where they heard that taiko was a distinctly Japanese American cultural art, or that Japanese American basketball was borne from racism and discrimination. These are easy opportunities where parents and coaches can present a little context that goes a long way.

It’s easy to fall in the trap of the grind. Sure we want our kids to educationally succeed, but we need to be careful not to apply the blinders and create tunnel vision toward a singular goal.

Finally, there’s more to life than the grind.

It’s easy to fall in the trap of the grind. Sure, we want our kids to educationally succeed, but we need to be careful not to apply the blinders and create tunnel vision toward a singular goal. If our kids are solely taught to get ahead, will they seek advancement at any cost, including their own values? If they are achieving their advancement on the shoulders of their community support network, will they reciprocate to the ecosystem and provide that same support to others?

I find that, in the rat race to get into the right college and get the right job, these questions are often placed in a backseat role to the primary goal of achievement. By letting our kids know that life is community, and success is never independent to the individual, but instead, interdependent to others, we reinforce the development of the very core competencies they need to succeed.

-------------------------

References
1"Automation threatening 25% of jobs in the US, especially the 'boring and repetitive' ones: Brookings study" cnbc.com. 2019-01-19. Retrieved 2020-08-12.
2"Tech Experts Predict 13 Jobs That Will Be Automated By 2030" Forbes.com. 2019-03-01. Retrieved 2020-08-12.
3"Preparing Students for the Uncertain Future: Why America’s Educators Are Ready to Innovate — but Their Education Systems Are Not". the74million.org. 2019-03-26. Retrieved 2020-08-12.
4Schools and Staffing Survey. The National Center for Education Statistics. 2007-08. Retrieved 2020-08-12.
5"How Much Time Do People Spend on Social Media?." review42.com. 2020-07-04. Retrieved 2020-08-12.
6"Seeing Everyone Else's Highlight Reels: How Facebook Usage is Linked to Depressive Symptoms." guilfordjournals.com. Retrieved 2020-08-12.
7Bonvillain, J. Honora, D, "Racial Identity Attitudes, Self-Esteem, and Academic Achievement among African American Adolescents."
8"The Relationship Between Cultural Identity and Learning." sciencedirect.com. 2015-05-13. Retrieved 2020-08-12.
9"Why Millennials Want More Than Just Work: The Importance Of Your 'Double Bottom Line'." forbes.com. 2017-07-19. Retrieved 2020-08-12.
9"How Millennials Are Changing Philanthropy." forbes.com. 2018-08-15. Retrieved 2020-08-12.

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Article featured in this issue:
Back to School
August 20, 2020

With uncertainty abound, one certainty exists: kids are going back to school. In this issue we present stories, tips, and tricks for the online reality of the fall semester. We also take a deep dive into identity and community-based education and present its critical importance to the growth and development of the next generation.

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