I can still see their faces, vividly clear in my mind. The bright, glowing smiles. The youthful energy and excitement. Their yearning for a better future. The children I’ve interacted with in the various rural villages of Ghana all exude the same positiveness and ambition. They want to be educated in what they know to be “good schools.” It appears that throughout their entire lives, they’ve been told that the schools they attend are subpar. They’ve heard stories of other kids who went to “good schools” and how the higher quality education led to markedly improved life outcomes. Yet the abject poverty that surrounds them relegates these children to realities far from their dreams.
The mindset of the youth in Ghana starkly contrasts what I’ve observed from American youth living in the poorest communities. These children are afforded opportunities to receive free education, typically including free transportation and in some cases subsidized or free meals. They are essentially “privileged” in comparison to youth in developing nations. Surprisingly, in my conversations with American youth, I’ve observed a lack focus on a vision for the future. I guess this could be considered a basic dilemma of the “haves” and “have nots.” Will things ever change? Only time will tell.
“What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up?” This is a common question posed to youth across the globe. The popular career paths are always given as a response…doctor, lawyer, teacher, police officer, fire fighter, etc. At a young age, can children really answer this question? Many of use choose our career paths based on the influences in our lives. If there is a particular family member we admired along the way, then we tend to follow in their footsteps. Sometimes career choices are driven by the parent’s desire for their children to have a stable job and make a decent living. The career choices we make end up being a good fit for some and a not so good fit for others. To help ensure that youth pursue the optimal career paths, here are several things adults can do: 1) Determine the child’s interests, 2) Expose them to various things, 3) Understand their personality types and behavioral characteristics, 4) Know or find out what it takes to be successful in various careers, and 5) Ensure the child has the prerequisites to compete and achieve.
When I was a child, my parents noticed that I was very curious by nature. I wanted to know anything about everything and asked a million questions. For a parent, I’m sure a constantly inquisitive child could become very annoying. My mother, being formally trained as a social worker, had the brilliant idea of giving me various sources of information to digest. I remember this green box she ordered from some magazine. It was shaped like a lunch box and contained over 1000 different animal fact cards. Each card had a picture of an animal with the scientific name and other facts on the back. I would spend hours reading each fact card and even carried the green box to school to share with friends. Along the way the box became a distant memory, but at the time it was one of my prized possessions. A few years later my parents ordered a set of World Book encyclopedias for my siblings and me. I was astonished at the wealth of information contained in each book and was determined to read them cover to cover. I never achieved that goal but became a walking, talking knowledge bank in the process. What I didn’t realize as a child was that my parents were trying to understand what interested me. This would help guide them in the various things they would expose me to.
It has been often said that people are products of their environment. I’m sure somewhere science has proven this statement to be true. If you look across America, there are endless examples of this. Take the kid who grows up in the crime-ridden, drug-infested neighborhood and sees the criminal living a lavish lifestyle. In some cases the kid observes the criminal’s lifestyle and aspires to peddle drugs as well. What about the kid who observed their parents running a family-owned business as a child that grows up to become a successful entrepreneur? These stories are common across the country and further confirm the previously mentioned statement. It is known that for many, perception determines reality. In regards to youth, what they are exposed to helps them develop a vision of what they can become as adults. So when parents ask their children the question about who they want to become as adults, they must also consider what they are exposing their children to and how environmental factors will influence their child’s decision.