Prepare Your Child for the Path, Not the Path for Your Child

Kateřina Novotná with Jan Mühlfeit

We live in the exponential age, which is, in essence, expressed by the Moore’s law. In 1965, the co-founder of the Intel company Gordon Moore predicted that approximately every 18 months the number of transistors would double, resulting in a doubled computing capacity. The doubled capacity goes hand in hand with a doubled number of information. And the increased number of information also exponentially increases the pressure on people. Regardless of the fact that the computing capacity grows in a bit slower pace than Moore expected − it doubles once in two years – today our brain has to process as much information in one week as it did during the whole life 100 years ago. However, it behaves in exactly the same way as 100 thousand years ago.

Our primary reaction to stress is an escape or a fight. In the old ages, people used to experience stress for example when they hunted mammoths once a month. Nowadays, we hunt a mammoth every 10 minutes. Every 10 minutes we are exposed to stress. Our body reacts to it by producing two chemical substances which are harmful on a regular and long-term basis − adrenaline and cortisol. The exposure to a lot of stress and the inability to relax lead to numerous physical difficulties, as well as depression, exhaustion and a burnout syndrome.

While in the old ages we used to fear mammoths and tigers, today we fear other people’s opinions and the society’s view on our behaviour, political correctness, etc. The brain, however, is not principally a device enabling us to succeed. It is rather a device that prevents us from failing, and it behaves accordingly. The more information pressure we face, the more stress we feel, which leads to the compression of time. This means that two years ago we had one hour to make a decision, whereas today we have only half an hour and in two years we will have only 15 minutes available. The compression of time also results in our inability to concentrate as much as in the past. We are constantly distracted by new information and we jump from one thing to another.

The Generation of Freaks

Unlike our children we entered the exponential growth of information and pressure gradually. Children are also exposed to more and more pressure, but as they grow up in such an environment, they consider it normal. They are thrown into it and we do not know exactly how it will influence them in 20 years, let alone what jobs they will carry out.

According to the important Czech psychologist Stanislav Grof, the generation of freaks is growing up nowadays. The German professor Manfred Spitzer, the author of the books Digital Dementia and Cyber Sick!, claims that in the future dozens of percent of people will be unable to learn because of the inability to keep attention. In order to learn, one needs to read, be able to search and identify context, which requires concentration.

At the moment, what is most important is to prepare children for this unclear path as well as possible. It is essential to make their inner environment ready to cope with the pressure and constant changes. Do not prepare them for a particular position, school or current situation. It is not stable and it will certainly not remain the same. To be able to adapt to novelties in the future, it is important for children to know themselves, their inner environment and talents, while being able to work with all of this.

Turning off the Timer and the Critic

Preparations start already at the pre-school age. Ideally, children should learn to concentrate on a single thing that they have chosen and are keen on at the moment. Do not disturb them, do not try to tell them to do it in a different way, in a better way, or at a different time. It is important to awaken interest in children, encourage them to use their talents, regardless of whether they learn with the help of wooden aids or computers.

If children are themselves and learn or do what they are talented at, they often achieve the flow state. These are the moments when they are keen on the activity, they have talents for it, the task is difficult for them and they have to concentrate on it. And it is exactly at these moments when a deep emotional connection with the activity is created. Often children fall in love with the activity so much that they keep doing it for the rest of their lives.

The flow state refers to the moments when your timer and the inner critic, which tells you whether something is possible or not, are turned off. At that moment you are neither in the past, nor in the future. You are in the present and no media, a mobile phone or a computer may distract you. Twenty years ago people were convinced that computers would eliminate books. But then came Harry Potter, with whom children built deep emotional connection, allowing the powerful story to surpass technologies once again.

It is important for children to learn in the flow as much as possible. Otherwise there is degeneration, which is referred to as over-informed but under focus, i.e. children are over-informed, but unable to concentrate. It is worth pointing out that nowadays roughly the same amount of money is spent on treating this inability as on the fight with obesity in the USA.

The way back to concentration leads through the emotional connection, which is created at that moment when children maximally use their talents to learn. This is the principle that for example Waldorf and Montessori schools work with. Also, it is the base of the method for learning Mathematics developed by professor Milan Hejný who in fact follows Jan Amos Komenský’s educational concept: If you tell students a new piece of information, they will forget it. If you show it to them, they may remember it. If you involve them in the learning process, they will understand it. The best way for children is to learn in the flow. According to the McKinsey company, if you are at the present moment, you are able to learn faster by up to 450 %.

Finding it out on Your Own

I often hear people argue that alternative methods of studying did not exist before and we grew up just fine. At those times, however, the pressure of technologies was not so strong. Every afternoon children could run out and play, while involving all their senses, which is very important for children’s development (helping them absorb and remember their surroundings). They cleaned their minds after mentally demanding classes, they created things and dealt with various situations on their own.

Nowadays parents make the path for their children too easy. To prevent them from getting hurt, parents fulfil tasks instead of their children, removing all obstacles and letting many children grow up in a bubble. Parents want their children to learn perfectly, not making any mistakes. This is, however, not the ideal way. Schools such as Montessori encourage students to find a solution on their own because this way they remember the new piece of information better, even though sometimes it may be more difficult and time-consuming than if done by an adult. This approach provides children with a much closer experience and because they do the task on their own, they also use their talents. Such an approach leads to independence and self-fulfilment, so children are more likely to do what they really like. And if there is a wide choice of aids for learning, they simply choose the one that suits them the best.

Co-creating Rules

Of course, this type of education does not leave everything on children; the whole process is supervised by teachers or parents. Every class has certain rules and clearly set borders. The rules, however, do not have to be determined solely by parents and teachers − children can co-create them, which is an important aspect. In the long term it does not work when children are told what to learn, when to learn it and for how long. They should have their space to learn in their own way. And when teachers or parents notice that children learn well and absorb new information, it is best to let children continue and support them.

Children have a natural desire to learn. Up to a certain age they are curious and interested in the world around them. However, adults often put them off. By contrast, if we support children’s curiosity, confirm that it is desirable, support them to ask questions, make mistakes and constantly learn about their environment, they will stay up to date with the trends of the age and technologies, not being so surprised by all the changes in the society.

At our seminars we give various picture puzzles to the children and each of them has the possibility to find the solution on its own. Some children proceed in a rather logical way, others prefer a visual way, etc. At the end, all children arrive at the right solution. If we claimed that only one of the ways is the right one, some children might not be able to solve the task at all.

General education is of course highly important. However, we tend to forget how important it is for our lives to be able to learn. Even though we live in the exponential age and our brain tries to adapt to the pressure, our education system based on memorizing is over 300 years old. It is not able to compete with technologies. The new education systems that work with children’s active involvement are able to do so.

Being Able to Quieten

For a long time we thought that the brain had to run at full speed to achieve the best performance. The opposite is true. In arts, sports or business we need our brain to quieten. The aim is to turn off the timer and the inner critic and to turn on the subconscious − the hard drive on which all our experience is recorded. Then the hard drive can record new pieces of information without any difficulty, as well as easily select the necessary ones. This takes place during the flow state. And the flow requires being in the present, as well as a full concentration.

What can we do, apart from discovering and encouraging children’s talents, to train children in being here and now? One of the possibilities is digital hygiene. It means that children stay offline, especially while working on a task. They cannot be at several channels at once. They disconnect from Facebook and their e-mail boxes, using only the one single application that helps them work on the task. The purpose is to let them fully concentrate on the task.

Another possibility is meditation. It is about nothing else than calming the mind, being at the present moment and quietening in order to slow down the brain frequency to the lowest degree possible. And how to meditate? Sit down, close your eyes and simply follow your breath or repeat a mantra. In the long term, meditation reduces emotional outbursts and strengthens the logical part of the brain (neocortex). It is said that monks who have meditated for 10 thousand hours do not get annoyed at all. Meditation is a confirmed way to resist the information overload and maintain the ability to concentrate.

Generation Gap

For the first time in our history, the growing young generation understands and uses technologies disproportionally better and more often than older generations. Thanks to that, firstly, young people enter politics and company managements faster. Secondly, they already have a substantial influence on the decision making of companies and households because they are very competent and experienced in evaluating products and services. Thirdly, the generation of those who grew up with mobile phones in their hands is much more experience-oriented. This may mean that companies that wish to attract and keep young talented people will need to come to terms with the fact that these employees will work only eight months a year, spending the four remaining months on the road.

The entry of young people who lack experience and the wisdom of older people into company managements may trigger even a larger generation gap. Older people tend to feel that young people steal their job positions, they are cheeky and earn high salaries. By contrast, young people sometimes think about older people that they are far behind. However, the success of companies may lie in the interconnection of these two groups, as they can learn from each other. According to the study conducted by the Shell company that investigated what it takes to be ranked among the world’s top five in their own field for at least 200 years, the only determinant is the ability of companies to learn new things.

In a company where people of various ages cooperate, the ability to learn quickly lies in people educating each other and learning new things together. I am convinced that as soon as the individual groups understand each other and exchange their experience, the convergence becomes a competitive advantage. In several cases it will be necessary to adopt it very quickly. Yet companies are not prepared for it.

Its aim is not to make people compete and rival each other, but to complement one another with their strong features. It will become more and more common for young and talented people to have older subordinates. In Microsoft I was about 40 years old when I managed people who were about 7 or 8 years older than me. Although this division was not caused by digital technologies, I certainly had to work very hard to persuade them about my capabilities and to make them take me seriously. It is important that both parts realize this problem.

The older generation does not need to fight against the rise of the young generation. It is, however, absolutely essential that young people approach older people and their experience with humbleness. At our seminars, we observe that children tend to consider us their peers more and more often. And this is exactly the essence of it. Every generation is different and communicates in a slightly different way. Understanding each other is important for all of us.

Are you wondering what is the best way to work with your children’s talents and to prepare your children for the future as best as you can? During the “Parent as a positive couch” workshop, parents and teachers find out how to effectively couch and mentor their children according to the latest findings in the field of positive psychology, in order to make their children not only successful, but also happy in their lives. The topics are also based on Jan Mühlfeit’s book − The Positive Leader, one of the bestsellers in the Czech Republic. Moreover, we organize workshops for children and their parents: “Unlock Children’s Potential” and “Unlock Your Potential for Secondary School Students”. Our workshops focus on discovering children’s individual talents and finding out how to work with them. This is one of the topics of the book for parents that is planned to be released in September 2018. Come to our website janmuhlfeit.com to find out more about our seminars and projects. You can also watch our “Unlock your Childrens’ Potential” seminar and the “Your Talent is Unique” series on www.flowee.cz.

By Kateřina Novotná, Jan Mühlfeit

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