Ready or Not, Here Life Comes, by Dr. Mel Levine (Simon & Schuster, @2005 by Learning Ways, Inc., 2005).
I wish I had read this book eight or ten years ago when my child was a preteen. Ready or Not, Here Life Comes, by Dr. Mel Levine, makes the point that many of today’s teens are not ready to transition to being adults largely because “teen life has been saturated with pleasures that the banality of the workplace cannot match.” He claims that we are in an ‘epidemic of work-life unreadiness because an alarming number of emerging adults are unable to find a good fit between their minds and their career directions.’ While agreeing that there are other pathways to happiness such as family, friends, hobbies and spirituality, his focus is on how to help young people find and succeed at a career that is right for them. The book achieves complexity because it is not just about one type of kid – he claims that a majority of our kids are having trouble with the transition to adulthood whether it is the overachiever or the slacker or the one in-between. He gives many examples of young adults failing or stalling out in college or in their new jobs, whom he calls ‘victims of an educational system and a culture that has failed to help them come to know themselves and figure out how to choose a productive pathway as a startup adult’ (p.48).
Levine outlines twelve ‘vital growth processes,’ which he places under four headings:
§ Inner direction—insight into one’s own character, goal-setting and self-motivation;
§ Interpretation—real comprehension (not just rote learning) of ideas, issues, expectations and processes, ability to interpret and integrate new knowledge and the development of good judgment and evaluative skills;
§ Instrumentation—organizational skills, mental efficiency, brainstorming, creativity and academic skills;
§ Interaction: communication, relationships and political behavior (knowing how to work with influential people who have power over your future, such as a boss or even a co-worker).
A lack of essential growth in these areas can lead to the person who is stuck in adolescence, never looking to the future or to adult role models; the wonder boy or girl who can’t handle the inevitable setbacks and disappointments of adult life; the ones who are so lacking in self-knowledge or who don’t know enough about different career paths to make good choices and get stuck on the wrong road; and those with ‘mind debts’ either from undiagnosed learning disabilities or real abilities that get neglected or overshadowed by academic problems. Labels such as ADD, ADHD, LD and the like, along with their accompanying medications, never address the underlying problem and may lead the child away from direct confrontation with his or her issues. For instance, difficulty with verbal communication may lead to poor academic performance, inattention and other behaviors that could be called ADD; however, if the underlying cause is exposed, than the child can better understand himself. In the future, he might take a special class or read books on improving that area or he might choose a career where that type of skill is not the most important thing. Instead of covering up a problem, it becomes a reality that can be dealt with.
When describing the growth processes in depth, which takes up the bulk of the book, Levine provides concrete ways that parents and teachers can help children along the right path. For instance, increased inside insight can be gained either through recognizing patterns in behavior, understanding how moods and feelings color actions or through active self-assessment (what do I do well, what am I not good at, etc.). It’s not rocket science, but for the confused, rebellious teen or the bewildered parent of one, these techniques could solve many problems before they get out of control.
The teen years are tough, as a decade or more of what seemed like good parenting is called into question through rebellious, anti-social, self-defeating and even self-destructive behavior on the part of the young person. Much of parenting is reduced to fighting, negotiating, lecturing and nagging until the greater goal of the future happiness and productivity of the child is forgotten. This also occurs in school where learning is often reduced to rote memorization or regurgitating facts through formulaic and uninspiring writing models. Dr. Levine’s book could help parents and educators keep their ‘eyes on the prize,’ constantly aiming for the big transition to adulthood that teens will have to undergo and be alert for red flags that might signal a lack in one of one of the essential growth areas, a lack that could be exposed and possibly corrected before too much damage is done.