The Disconnect Between Childhood and Adulthood

October 26, 2011 / Opinion, Philosophy / 6 Comments

I just came back from an panel discussion organized by the Creators of Tomorrow. Their aim is to inspire more kids to become engineers. I can’t comment on the profession, since I’m no engineer. But what struck me at the event was the disconnect between the panel of professionals and the audience of high school kids.

The professionals shared the ins and outs of business of engineering — how to climb the ladder, how much money can be made, and what are the viable career paths. On the other side, the audience is made up of 16 year olds whose most immediate concern is getting an A+ in next week’s Calculus class, and who see work as a distant reality. And because they see work as a distant reality, they still have big hopes and dreams about changing the world.

This is a good example of how our mentalities evolve (or devolve?) to cope with our surroundings. I’m at a point in my life where I’m clumsily stumbling into adulthood, while I reluctantly shed the husk of childhood. So I can understand both sides of the story. A part of me hopes I can make an impact on the world — no matter how big or small. At the same time, I’m also fully aware of the harsh demands of real life, and can appreciate the guidance the panel is trying to give.

This disconnect between the kids and the adults is something that we as a society really need to reflect upon. Why do we make it so difficult to change the world with unnecessary impediments like bureaucracy and implicit social rules? If we truly want to create a better tomorrow, we need to create the right environment and conditions for it today.

On the other hand, if we are happy with the status quo, then we need to manage our kids’ expectations — that work is not really about building a future, but surviving through a stagnating present that we as adults are unwilling or unable to let go. In this case, we should expose our kids to the harshness of real life at a much younger age, so they can be better prepared for the “future” that awaits them, lest they become soon-to-be-disillusioned 25 year olds like me.

And if there’s something I learned over my 3.5 years in real life, it’s that all resources — time, money, psychic energy — are finite. You only have enough to dedicate to preserving the present or funding the future. You can’t have both. So we as adults need to seriously consider what we want to dedicate ourselves to before we start talking to kids.

  • As a person who was kind of pushed into adulthood rather early, sometimes the results aren’t always good. I’m 27 years old and I feel tied down constantly with responsibility and I feel like I haven’t quite lived yet. It’s a depressing feeling to be completely honest. My mother was rather strict, she’d made me get a job when I was old enough to get one. I had to buy my own things, help with the bills and help her with my younger siblings. I considered that to truly be real life and now that I’m 27, I feel rather “old”, not in the age sense but mentally and sometimes physically. I think that giving children/teenagers something to consider (or the choice to consider) is the best idea we could possibly have. I think for the most part, a lot of older people tend to push kids toward the dreams they had themselves, rather than seeing what the kids really want, and that can be a big problem and cause a lot of confusion, which could ultimately leave them to be just like we are as adults. We’re generally confused most of the time and we tend to cling to our childhoods because of the stress of making career choices that we never got the opportunity to truly think about because we were pressured at such young ages.

    • Ivy

      Thanks for sharing, Shannon. I’m kinda the opposite of you. I wasn’t pushed to adulthood until I reached it — and it came as a rude shock to me. I think I’ve grown up exponentially in the last 3 years. I’ve coped well but I would’ve coped better if I knew what to expect. I was always put under the impression that if one studies hard in school and do what’s expected that adulthood would sort itself out. But it didn’t and school was terrible preparation for real life soft skills like negotiation, communication etc. So yeah, a lot of disillusionments to deal with.

  • I really wish when I was a kid someone would have told me that being an adult wasn’t so bad. All I ever heard was, you’re so lucky, this is the best time of your life, etc, etc, but I was so miserable in grade school and college. I thought, if this is really as good as it gets, what the hell do I have to look forward to? I feel like I was told that life ends after college.

    I think before we start talking to kids about the future, we should get our stuff together. People who are bored with their work or people who are so into their work they don’t have a life shouldn’t be talking to kids. We should emphasize work-life balance so they don’t start expecting to work 12 hour days and thinking that’s the only way they’ll make it. Emphasize being creative, thinking outside the box, networking, organization, time management, public speaking. Those things are a vital in the real world no matter what your job is.

    • Ivy

      Emphasize being creative, thinking outside the box, networking, organization, time management, public speaking. Those things are a vital in the real world no matter what your job is.

      Right on the money!

  • Jing


    • Ivy

      Wise words, my dear neighbour. I finally, finally what C is all about.