Kids today struggle with some of the same issues that young people have had to deal with for generations. Navigating through relationships with parents, siblings, teachers, and peers is still a major part of growing up. Getting through school and trying to choose out a career path are also concerns that have been around for a few generations. So, what is new about THIS generation's struggle? Ridiculously busy schedules? Yes. Busier parents? Yes. More peer pressure and bullying? Yes, although that too has been around for awhile. Fear of not succeeding? Bingo - and that's a big one. But deep down, these kids, some of whom have not even left diapers yet, are struggling and will struggle with identity.
How do we discover our own identity? - our likes and dislikes, the things that ignite our curiosities and passions, the places that fascinate us, the people with whom we connect? We explore, we try, we ask questions, we get lost, we fall, we make mistakes, we cry, we start over, and when we get through the struggles on our own, another piece of our identity puzzle falls into place. Unfortunately, the prevalence of helicopter parenting has eliminated some of the ways in which we find our identities as children and adolescents. Kids lives are also more scheduled than they've ever been, leaving less time for leisure and unscripted, free exploration.
Post-Millennial kids are also the most labeled of any generation thus far. ADD/ADHD. Gluten-free. Speech-delayed. High-Ability. Gifted. Spirited. The list goes on and on. These labels are in addition to the "normal" labels adults give kids throughout childhood - those based on birth order (oldest, youngest) and ability (the musician, the athlete). Labels are not bad in and of themselves; in fact, many of today's labels and diagnoses make it possible for kids to get proper developmental therapies or keep them away from foods that could be dangerous to their health. But kids pick up on labels very quickly, and if they are learning that labels = who I am, then they will struggle with their identity later in life.
Our true, deeper identities have nothing to do with degrees, careers, appearance, medical diagnoses, physical abilities, hobbies, who we are related to, or where we live. It is more about figuring out how we see ourselves, what qualities and character traits we value and try to emulate, and how we choose to interact with what life hands us.
Can we, the genealogists, help this youngest generation find out just who they are AND become confident in who they are? Yes. We are the caretakers of dozens and dozens of unique family identities, each of which can help our young people discover themselves.
A few years ago, I attended a seminar by genealogist Thomas W. Jones. During his discussion, he spoke something along the lines of, "Your ancestor was unique in the history of the world. You are unique in the history of the world." He was speaking more in terms of time and place and documented histories, but those are powerful words on a whole other level as well.
Though their DNA runs through our cells, our ancestors do not define our identity, but from their stories we can find inspiration, aspire to the good qualities they exhibited, and learn from their mistakes, struggles, and how they bounced back from what life threw at them. We should use family stories to teach our children and grandchildren about the character traits listed below, but not by lecturing them with, "This is how you should act." No, we should be saying, "This is who you can be. You have the power within you to add great and unique stories to our family history."
Value of Education
Strong Work Ethic
So, make it a point to tell family stories to the youngest members in your family. Even if they don't seem interested, they are listening. Search out documents or stories that demonstrate positive character traits in their ancestors, and give the kids a copy of it as a reminder. We, as genealogists, know how inspirational our ancestors' lives can be. Please don't wait until children are grown to share those stories. Children will benefit from them now and for the rest of their lives.
I will be thinking more about this subject in the new year, and hope to come up with an activity or two to help you put all of this into practice!
©2015 Emily Kowalski Schroeder