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.