The next 20 years are going to be completely unlike the last 20 years.
~ Chris Martenson
We are heading into a future that does not follow the rules and expectations that the past few generations have been raised to expect. Parents and caregivers, relatives, friends, mentors – it makes no difference; we are raising the current generation together. We are all newcomers to this changing landscape. How can we teach young people to thrive in a future we do not yet fully understand ourselves?
Not only are things moving, changing, and growing faster than ever in the realms of technology, communication, news media, and the international business landscape, but environmental resources, available energy, and multiple facets of the economy are slowing down. These forces oppose each other in a way that is both difficult to follow and difficult to navigate. The mainstream news media has a vested interest in damping public awareness of these changes, making it very hard to know what to expect in the near and long-term future. Our children’s adulthoods will be completely unlike our own. So where do we start?
We need to begin with ourselves. In a shifting cultural and economic landscape, which values and priorities will remain steadfast? Which ones can we confidently impart to the young people in our lives? Many people have a hard time digging deep inside themselves to really uncover the roots of their beliefs, but this is the most important step we can take to lay the foundation for the next generation. (If you haven’t already taken the Self-Assessment, please take a moment now to consider it.) We must first revisit our own values and priorities, making sure they reflect a resilient and sustainable approach. Only then can we be sure that we’re offering sound guidance to the next generation.
There is no doubt that the future we are headed into will be very unlike the one we’ve been primed to expect. As fiat currencies worldwide expand beyond the point of return and natural resources are depleted, energy costs rises while incomes shrink, consumer culture contracts and social supports crumble, we need to let go of our hopes, dreams, and expectations and allow new ones to replace the old. We may need to spend time grieving our fond memories or nostalgic wishes that our kids will get to have some of the experiences that we may have had as youth or young adults. Blissful consumerism. College partying. Automobile joyrides. Instant gratification. Pop culture. Lavish holidays. 24-hour-a-day Internet connectivity. Disposable income. All-you-can-eat food. Surplus everything.
Unfortunately for this up-and-coming generation of children and youth, most of them have spent their lives awash in the cultural promise of bigger, better, faster, more. Their expectations have been shaped accordingly. Yours and mine have, as well. But one of the most wonderful traits of humans is that we are adaptable, though easily stressed. We generally prefer to adapt slowly and gently, rather than in abrupt response to crisis conditions. And we can choose this slower pace if we want to, which will allow us to retain control and relax in the knowledge that we are steering our own course to the best of our ability.
We must lead by example, and we must begin now. Know your own values and actively explore your own expectations and how they are shifting as you help the children in your life to develop new perspectives on preparing for what will likely be a different kind of future.
- A smaller/moderate/slower/less kind of future.
- A future in which community cooperation and connection carry a higher value than consumer acquisition.
- A future in which resources – including food, water, energy, and belongings – are stewarded and maintained, rather than being disposed of and replaced.
- A future in which reduce/reuse/recycle goes without saying and goods are valued for their longevity and reparability.
- A future in which people who can make or fix useful and necessary things are valued more highly in the workforce than people whose businesses and/or skills relate only to luxury living.
As we cling to what is familiar, we must make resilience familiar. Families and communities in which kids experience a higher level of self-sufficiency as the norm will have an easier time adjusting to changes that limit their consumer power. If your kids have grown up thinking that vegetables come from the backyard and the best presents are handmade, they’ve been given a gift of perspective. If they grow up in a vitally supportive community, they will be likely to cultivate community wherever they land. If they’ve spent their lives eagerly awaiting hand-me-downs from others and taking care of their clothing so it can be handed down, they will innately understand the chain of giving and receiving that operates outside of the fiat economy. If they grow up taking energy and resource conservation for granted, those habits will carry them through an adulthood of potential scarcity. If your family uses many modes of transportation – walking and biking, in addition to or instead of driving or public transportation – your children are already thinking out of the ‘oil’ box. If you and your friends are in the regular habit of cultivating gratitude and finding the good in your situations, the young people in your life will follow suit. They’re going to have an easier time accepting that their needs will be met in creative ways, they are likely to feel less deprived than their peers might under the same circumstances, and their outlook and positivity will remain higher.
Think carefully about the primary adults/mentors in your life and your kids’ lives, and build relationships with people who will be good sources of guidance, information, and mentorship as the years go by. Emotional resilience is a very important part of preparing for a future of potential scarcity. Our children – and we – need to have connections with emotionally healthy people who have relevant wisdom, skills, and tools to share. Many of us grew up with a dearth of that kind of relationship, but it’s not too late to start building community and learning from others. If we help our children experience the benefit of such connections, they will grow into adults who turn around and do the same for others, and the cycle will go on and on.
Personal resilience will be an extremely powerful tool in the future that we face, and we must begin cultivating it now. Honestly assess what you are modeling for the children in your life, and make sure that everything you teach – through both your words and actions – is fully aligned with your beliefs about the future. The example of adults is an extremely powerful force in the lives of children and youth, and so we must start with ourselves in raising kids for a resilient future.
In what ways are you guiding the children in your life toward a resilient adulthood? How has your awareness of our changing economic-environmental-energy (3Es) trajectory influenced the way you are raising your own children or interacting with others? What ideas can you share for parents, grandparents, friends, and caregivers of the latest generation, as today's children grow into tomorrow's adults? Please share your thoughts, ideas, and experiences in the comments section below so that we can all gain from each others' insights.