Jessica Margolin, a colleague who I run into once a month or so over at the Institute for the Future, has written a succinct post that begins “The real harm of helicopter parenting: correcting the problems we encounter in OUR generation and forgetting that our children will encounter entirely different ones…”
Jessica does a lot of thinking about young people – and her focus is quite good.
Her post suggests to me that the important thing is that we should always be teaching hyper-skills (meta-skills and meta-learning) – skills that allow kids (any age!) to organize and reorganize their thinking and their actions when the environment changes.
For me this is totally, totally key to what I’m doing these days. As a PhD Computer Scientist, I have skills that are generalizable. But, in case you hadn’t noticed it, VERY small numbers of programmers are now creating applications that millions and millions of people will use. A couple hundred engineers at Google can create online products that are used by hundreds of millions. A small group at Apple creates an operating system (based on FreeBSD) that supports fabulous software on devices undreamed of even twenty years ago.
So when I first started writing software in the 1960s, we were anticipating a global need for millions of programmers. But today, even though there may be lots of programmers, there are some very small groups who are responsible for the majority of today’s software. And consequently, what I have been doing recently is “re-treading” myself so that rather than concentrating on software-creation, which is a less-in-demand skill, I’ve been focusing more on visual, audio and written journalism. And on online strategies for my customers.
What’s that have to do with helicopter parents? Well, as parents you should be ensuring that your kids have the skills to step up above what they do day-to-day, and rather than beat their heads against the wall trying to get mundane things done. Ensure that they have the ability to pop their head “up above the surface of the water” look around and see the environment, and then retool what they’re doing in order to achieve long-term goals.