No matter what end of the political spectrum you land on, it’s clear that our children will face challenges in the future — from trying to pull back the tide of climate change to soothing human divisions.
As parents, we might dwell on these potential crises, but our children have incredible opportunities awaiting them if we help them see their future through the right lens.
The Pessimism Problem
Our world has become increasingly pessimistic. This is especially true for mid-career business leaders: According to a recent survey by PwC, anxiety about the world can manifest in an increasingly negative outlook and a lack of confidence among CEOs.
The CEOs of the world know that the global economy is shifting again. Society has cycled through eras of fascism and communism, but democracy and capitalism are being challenged. The question today is whether they’re truly the only way forward. Whatever system the world will encounter next, change is certain — and leaders can respond reactively with hesitation or proactively after comprehensive thought and action.
This air of pessimism has an inevitable effect on our children. Treating their future world as a danger zone risks undermining their enthusiasm, energy, and conviction to address serious issues.
Why Children Deserve Our Optimism
In the book “Factfulness,” Hans Rosling suggests that the world is actually better off than we think and provides a new framework for looking at our progress (Bill Gates endorsed the book so strongly that he offered it to recent college graduates for free).
Rosling was onto something. Look at the statistics, and you’ll see that the human race has a lot to be excited about. For one thing, we’re living longer, fuller lives: Members of the next generation can expect to live longer than their predecessors and be in greater health. As of 2016, literacy rates surpassed 86 percent across the globe. We’re making strides toward gender equality.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t massive inequalities and devastating problems plaguing many countries. We must continue to address these issues. For a large portion of the new generation, though, individuals will experience greater levels of wealth, better educational opportunities, and heightened equality than their parents and grandparents did.
The demands of the unknown seem weighty. However, young people’s unique outlook on life will create incredible opportunities for them. Their value systems; their ability to learn, connect, and communicate at unprecedented levels; and their willingness to adopt new technologies all prepare them to face and solve global challenges with confidence and excitement.
Here are a few of the most poignant trends among members of the next generation:
1. They’re truly able to learn. Children are growing up during a time when their access to information is limitless. If you have a computer and internet connection, you’re limited only by your determination. Today, you can learn virtually any white-collar skill online for free!
As more of our youth grow up as lifelong learners, they also become more multidisciplinary and open to the potential of solutions. Their ability to tackle new problems continues to grow. As they begin learning new things, we must also develop curricula focused on these skills for students of all ages.
2. They’re connected to each other. Not surprisingly, members of Generation Z communicate in an entirely different way than previous generations. They have access to innumerable channels and mediums. And though the noise is clamoring, the opportunities are staggering. Anyone can have a voice and an audience, and as a result, young people such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez can abandon old systems and shift entire landscapes.
These new virtual connections are best supported by personal, real-time video dialogues — and even more so by in-person meetings. Creating tribes of people with common interests makes this possible. For example, I belong to a nonprofit organization of influencers and “people of action” called Rotary International. Rotary boasts more than a million members across the globe, so when it hosts its annual convention, tens of thousands of people converge to discuss common values. These kinds of opportunities are extraordinary.
3. They understand the transformative power of technology. Studies on Millennial attitudes clearly show that younger generations believe in the power of technology to solve problems.
Our children’s capacity to adopt, use, and advance technology is unprecedented, and it’s difficult to predict what they’ll do with that power. In fact, many of today’s grade school children will end up in jobs that don’t yet exist. My two children are now in their mid-20s, but they also happen to fall into this group. Both are already successful founders — they launched a health tech company and a nonprofit, respectively — and address some important world challenges.
If we can maintain an environment where we cherish and develop proper attitudes, ethics, and leadership, future generations will use their unique perspectives and evolving technology skills to lead us out of danger — and into a better world.
So Where Do We Come In?
It might seem that the youth of today don’t need us. But consider this: Young adults are moving away from the institutions that raised previous generations. They are less likely to claim a religious affiliation, for example. Yet their appreciation of values and ethics is only growing.
A March 2018 University of Maryland study found that although youth volunteer rates have grown stagnant since the early 2000s, the desire of first-time college students to help their communities is at a 51-year high. Parents, educational institutions, and other organizations, the study notes, can provide more opportunities for them to give back.
As parents, mentors, and business leaders, it’s our job to help transform the old institutions and organizations into ones that empower subsequent generations. They have unique gifts and abilities that will change and improve the world. We can — and must — nurture their motivation to do so. And as today’s leaders, we should demonstrate our values and ethics through our words and actions. They’ll follow our lead if they believe in us. Let’s show that we believe in them.