Interactions with grown-ups will not only provide valuable learning opportunities but also give them friends/mentors for life
Being comfortable with, and even enjoying adult company, is a critical life skill for the young. Interactions with adults not only provide valuable learning and growth opportunities but also prepare them for the inescapable reality – that they will, for a significant part of their lives, need to deal with adults at home, school, social gatherings and eventually at work. But youngsters can often be a bit awkward around adults, and therefore minimise adult interactions. We, as parents, often perpetuate this behaviour and this is a significant lost opportunity.
Our parental instincts lead us to shield our kids from potential boredom in adult situations. We leave our children at home or arm them with personal devices at adult outings. At home gatherings, we keep them occupied with video games or movies, or force them to mingle with other children (sometimes against their wishes). In doing so, we are doing a huge disservice to our kids.
A 20-year study recently published in the American Journal of Public Health tracked more than 700 children in the US between those studying in kindergarten and age 25 and found a direct correlation between their social skills as kindergartners and their success as adults 20 years later[i]. On a subliminal level, we want our children to behave like grownups and value adult-like social skills in our children. So why not allow our children to capitalise on every opportunity to learn from other adults by encouraging these interactions? Why limit the job to just the parents and a few teachers?
A side benefit of placing children in adult company is that children stop being intimidated by adult authority. They quickly understand that adults are not to be feared and are not always boring. If anything, they may find great friends and mentors in adults, making the transition to a grown-up world simpler, better and enriching.
The process of making kids comfortable around adults becomes easier with some coaching. Give them ideas on ice-breakers, or make introductions on common interests; perhaps someone has taken to baking or is considering learning a new language that your child already knows. What should your kids ask? Teach them to listen carefully, which automatically leads to probing questions. Besides building intellectual curiosity, this also cultivates vital listening skills. Adults enjoy talking about their work, their experiences and most parents love a conversation involving their children. A small nudge by your kid and s/he will be deluged with knowledge from adults, opening a whole world of new education and understanding that parents and educators don’t have the time for and simply don’t have the competency to provide.
My journey on making my kids comfortable around adults started close to their kindergarten years. While my wife and I cherish the compliments on our parental skills (parents love it when other children talk to them), the biggest payback for us is the broad and diverse personal network our kids created for themselves. From amazing costume designers to great choreographers, well-connected people in the acting/drama scene to fabulous fixers of iPhone screens, my children knew who to reach out to and how to get help. We were not their only source, and we are so glad for it.
Today, a serial entrepreneur has regular conversations with my 20-year-old daughter. My daughter hasn’t changed the world yet, but her confidence in solving big audacious problems of the world is indeed growing. And who knows, with enough luck, and help, she might one day make a global scale social impact, a thing that is dear to her heart.