Kids Who Have Everything Lack for Something By Ruben Navarrette Jr. for Jewish World Review February 15, 2005 I recently asked a handful of community college instructors if they could identify the No. 1 problem they encounter with the students they teach. I've asked this question of other college and university professors before, and the answers I get back are usually academic: not enough preparation in high school, too much reliance on remedial courses, poor writing skills or a tendency to avoid classes that require lots of reading. Not this time. Academic concerns have been replaced by personal ones, the kind that can't be fixed with private tutors and more homework. Without hesitation, the professors agreed, the biggest problem with young people today is that they lack a sense of purpose. And, the professors insisted, this might have something to do with the fact that these kids don't lack for much else. You see, the community college is in an affluent suburb of Dallas. Many of these kids have everything, one professor said. They live in 4,000-square-foot homes, and they drive to school in Hummers and BMWs. They spend spring break in Cancun or Aspen. Their parents have given them every advantage in life. And so these kids can't seem to get excited about the future, their career path, or their place in the world. I relayed that story to Dr. Mel Levine, nationally renowned pediatrician, learning specialist and best-selling author. He wasn't the least bit surprised. In fact, he has just written a book on the subject of young people struggling with what he calls "work-life unreadiness." According to Levine, that's when a young person can't decide what to do with his life, what career path to follow, or whether the path he's already on is worth pursuing. He gets stuck between the stages of adolescence and adulthood. Often, he returns home to live with his parents and relies on them to support him. These kids have no sense of responsibility and they feel no sense of urgency about the demands of life. They just wander aimlessly. This is the audience at whom Levine's book is aimed, and he gave it a title that doubles as a warning for these late starters: "Ready or Not, Here Life Comes." Best known as the founder of the North Carolina-based institute All Kinds of Minds, which advances the study of learning differences in children, Levine says he got the idea from watching parents and teachers who come to him for help. There are, he says, questions they all seem to have but are afraid to ask. Such as: Is this child going to make it in life? What will their futures hold? What will they be like in their 20s? Looking for answers, Levine went out and interviewed twenty-somethings. He found that many of them seemed quite happy spinning their wheels, that they often have trouble grasping the concept of long-term planning or paying one's dues, and that they are hooked on instant gratification. They are marrying later, changing jobs more often and putting off being a grown-up as long as possible. Of course, try as they might, they can't put it off forever. These young people are headed for a rude awakening. I know what you're thinking that there have always been young people who fit that profile. In my generation of Xers, they were called "late bloomers." In my parents' day, it was said that these kids were just taking a few years to "find themselves." Don't kid yourself, says Levine. He insists that what our society is facing today is a whole new ballgame. The stage of school-to-career unreadiness lasts longer that it used to, he says, and it affects a larger percentage of the population. "It's much more common than it was in the past," Levine told me. "It's always been there, but it's really an epidemic at this point." So what's a parent to do? Levine offers these tips: Talk to your kids about the future, before they reach adolescence; teach them about goals and how to work toward them; promote delayed gratification; give them tasks to manage; teach them about responsibility, and help them identify what they feel passionate about as early as possible. Instead of overscheduling them with soccer matches and ballet recitals, keep an eye out for the one thing they seem to be especially good at and have a desire to do. And then, with all your might, encourage them to do it. Sounds like good advice. After all, what good does it do to give your kids everything except the tools to become an adult?