The Skill Some Millennials Lack and How To Make Sure Your Child Has It

What’s Lacking In Millennials?

I recently read an article about millennials. The observations echo others I’ve read–these dang millennials aren’t problem-solvers! They aren’t hitting the benchmarks of adulthood when they should be! They are spoiled and entitled!

I don’t think any assessment of a whole generation is capital-T true.

This perspective about millennials has appeared many times in the past 5 years. While we all love a good rant, I am more interested in what we can learn for the next generation. (Generation Z if you are interested.) What are the lessons? How do these observations inform how we parent and what we teach in school?

From what I’ve experienced and read, it’s clear that the ability to solve problems is endangered. We tend to step in too early to save the day, before our kids have a chance to fail and learn.

As one distressed mom said to me years ago, “I solved all my kids problems. And now that’s the problem.” 

So, what can we teach kids to empower them? How can we instill a can-do attitude in them? What skills make problem-solvers?

The Next Generation Can Learn To Be Problem-Solvers  

As serendipity would have it, I found some answers in the children’s wing at a museum. In a description of the current installation was this statement:

Exploring the 3 preconditions for problem-solving: empathy, optimism, and courage.

How’s that for a power trio?! As a solutions person and a parent, I don’t want to despair about the next generation, fated to be lame because they weren’t born in the good old days. I accept that their world is different than mine was. I want to know how to meet them where they are and embrace what the world needs now–empathy, optimism, courage.

So how do we nurture that? Let’s explore how each of these character traits changes the course of a child’s sense of what is possible. Keep in mind that this is a recipe for problem-solving, which means that all three–empathy, optimism, and curiosity–combine to create a can-do attitude.  

Problem-Solvers Have Empathy

Empathy means that kids learn how to be a person who cares. Empathetic people can  identify their own feelings and are aware that other people have feelings too. They develop a moral code, a way to judge the world around them. Empathy is the way we know if something is right or wrong.  

How is empathy part of problem solving? When kids have empathy, they can identify problems because they butt up against their morals. Kids who are empathetic are sensitive to this friction. They understand that something is wrong and they want to fix it.

Nurturing empathy means prioritizing kindness. I know that this seems contrary to our notion of getting ahead, but studies show that empathetic people advance professionally, have happier marriages and report more well being generally. 

There are great books and articles about this topic. It’s a hot word right now–that’s how much things have changed that we actually talk about empathy here and here.

Problem-Solvers Have Optimism

I saw this play out recently in my own life. We were at a friend’s house and my daughter wanted to climb on some boulders in their yard. The homeowners are cautious, so my first instinct was to tell her it was unsafe. I realized this was ridiculous though. Instead I told her I thought she could do it because she knows how to climb.

I believed she could and she believed me.

She played on those rocks for an hour and her fun convinced her friend to join her. They both challenged themselves and enjoyed doing regular kid stuff that we now discourage.

Fear gets in the way of optimism. I don’t want to teach her that the world is unsafe. I want her to try things and take risks.

I want her to have hope about the outcome of something that hasn’t happened yet.

We are encouraged to find the path towards a positive when we see it as a possibility.

Problem-Solvers Have Courage

Which brings us to courage, the lynchpin that determines whether or not we try. Sometimes I forget how hard it is to be a courageous nowadays. Yes there was always a fear of rejection by peers and yes kids can be cruel. But now, everything is public. When you take a risk, there is a high chance that everyone knows about it.

Remember that courage is defined as the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty,danger, pain, without fear.

To do this well, a couple of things can guide the process: we must be optimistic about our children’s resilience. We must allow them to try and fail. We must celebrate their bravery, and we should acknowledge that taking risks and finding solutions is a commendable.

Nurturing courage in today’s world is a valuable gift to the next generation.

The Takeaway

Millennials have a lot more to offer than an over generalization about their character. As one expert put it: “I love millennials for their creativity and love of freedom.”  But if we are to hone in on one character trait that they can teach us about, it’s the ability to solve problems independently. Problem-solving is a skill we can teach our kids, and that’s good to know since it’s a trait that everyone needs. The recipe for problem-solving is empathy, optimism and courage. When these traits are combined they produce a different outcome than any single one on its own.

So test this recipe of developmental nutrients. Feed your children with it regularly. And please, share how it goes!

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