Preparing the Kids:  A Non-American World

I flipped on my browser window and the Yahoo newspage appeared with the apocalyptic statement that America would be overtaken by China by 2016 and that the American age was finished.  Honestly, who’s surprised at this?  They’re a nation of more than 1 billion people with a state controlled capitalistic system with two goals – to provide employment for more people than I can ever possibly count before I die and to overtake the United States to become the dominant global power and redress centuries of political impotence.  Us?  Well, not so much.  The realization of this happening has colored my thinking for years and has had some bearing on dealing with the kids, who will be making a living in a far more competitive world than either my father or I.  What can I do so that they’re not surprised as many of their generation will be?

The reality is now clear after several years of a collapsing housing bubble and out-of-control public spending and debt.  The standard of living will decline and the competition for gainful, sustainable employment will only get harder.  What have I talked about and tried to inculcate with the kids?

  • First, make them aware of the evolving situation by sharing news and even some of what I’ve written with them.  They’re now conversant with the issue of college debt and are aware that it will follow them; they’re also aware that while we’ve saved for college, we aren’t going to render ourselves destitute to  educate them.  They’re not on their own, but a significant amount is up to them and their efforts.
  • Second, talk about current events with them.  Make sure that they’re aware of the outside world, even if you turn off their electronics to read something to them.  That also means that I have to take the time to answer their questions and explain things.  The questions might come later instead of at that moment, so I make it a point to discuss things when they raise them.
  • Third, hold them accountable for their grades.  Even if they don’t think that grades matter in the real world, grades are "the coin of the realm" for determining future paths and present activities.  Activities can be stopped if the grades aren’t maintained and truthfully, things have occasionally gotten nasty when grades have turned south for stupid reasons.
  • Fourth, be frank with them about their strengths and weaknesses as they get older. When they were younger, I praised them for attributes and traits – you’re really smart, etc. – but changed to praising them for their actions so that the reinforcement pertains to their good actions.  After practicing baseball with Youngest one evening, I complimented him on his drive to repeat something until he got it right instead of heaping blanket praise about being a good ballplayer.  Likewise, make certain that they know when they’ve screwed up.  Sometimes, things happen but sometimes things happen because of our own failures and screwups.
  • Fifth, help them to learn the difference between want and need.  This is purposefully blurred by the media and corporations but it will have to be relearned as money tightens.  For example, Youngest has his baseball pictures this weekend and while we’ll buy some shots, I refused to order a bobblehead with his face imprinted on it on the grounds that it was simply crap.  Son, in four years it will be sitting in the Goodwill bin and even they won’t take it because it’s got your face on it.  Assuming it even survives four years.
  • Sixth, help them to develop both moral and political beliefs.  We spend our time trying to teach morality, but the flip side of the issue is that our youngsters are largely illiterate about history and politics and that’s the death knell of a civic nation.  I don’t need them to vote or believe the same thing that I do, but I do challenge them with what do you think about this?  One is growing up to be fairly conservative while the younger sibling is a budding labor organizer and political radical.  More power to them, whatever they believe.
  • Seventh, be sure to take the time to talk with them.  Chat with them, explain things to them, challenge them.  Even if you think that they’ve tuned out, they’re still listening and you’ll recognize that in the oddest moments. 

There’s no question that our nation will take economic second place to China within the next number of years.  While bad news sells and our media tendency is to overstate things, there will be major economic and financial changes and no change occurs without pain.  The competition will be fierce and there’ll be real and significant adjustment to our way of life.  The best that we can do is to recognize it and pave the way beforehand so that they aren’t blindsided.

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