Mothers and fathers can do a lot to ensure a safe landing in early adulthood for their kids. Even if a job's starting salary seems too meager to satisfy an emerging adult's need for rapid gratification, the transition from school to work can be less of a setback if the start-up adult is ready for the move. Here are a few measures, drawn from my book Ready or Not, Here Life Comes, that parents can take to prevent what I call "work-life unreadiness":
*HELP YOUR KIDS FIGURE OUT WHO THEY ARE. You can start this process when they are 11 or 12. Periodically review their emerging strengths and weaknesses with them and work together on any shortcomings, like difficulty in communicating well or collaborating. Also, identify the kinds of interests they keep coming back to, as these offer clues to the careers that will fit them best.
*TALK ABOUT THE FUTURE ON A REGULAR BASIS. Instead of obsessing about the need to be admitted to a good college (a grossly overrated priority), talk to them about life beyond the undergraduate years. Discuss the joys and downsides of your own career. Kids need a range of authentic role models--as opposed to members of their clique, rock idols and vaunted athletes. Have regular dinner-table discussions about people the family knows and how they got where they are. Encourage your kids to form some ideas about their own future. When asked what they want to do, they should be discouraged from saying "I have no idea." They can change their minds 200 times, but having only a foggy view of the future does not bode well for it.
*BUILD YOUR KIDS' WORK SKILLS. Teachers are responsible for teaching kids how to learn; mothers and fathers should be responsible for teaching them how to work. Assign responsibilities around the house and make sure homework deadlines are met. Encourage teenagers to take a part-time job. Kids need plenty of practice delaying gratification and deploying effective organizational skills, such as managing time and setting priorities.
*PLACE TIME LIMITS ON LEISURE ACTIVITIES. Playing video games encourages immediate gratification. And hours of watching TV shows with canned laughter only teaches kids to process information in a passive way. At the same time, listening through earphones to the same monotonous beats for long stretches encourages kids to stay inside their bubble instead of pursuing other endeavors. All these activities can stunt the growth of important communication and thinking skills and make it difficult for kids to develop the kind of sustained concentration they will need for most jobs.
*HELP KIDS DEVELOP COPING STRATEGIES. They should know how to deal with setbacks, stresses and feelings of inadequacy. They should also learn how to solve problems and resolve conflicts, ways to brainstorm and think critically. Discussions at home can help kids practice doing these things and help them apply these skills to everyday life situations.