Laura Jana: 5 Connections That Will Change Children’s Lives (Transcript)

Here is the full transcript of educator and health communicator Dr. Laura Jana’s TEDx Talk on 5 Connections That Will Change Children’s Lives at TEDxOmaha conference. To learn more about the speaker, read the full bio of the speaker here.

 

Book(s) by the speaker:

The Toddler Brain: Nurture the Skills Today that Will Shape Your Child’s Tomorrow

Food Fights: Winning the Nutritional Challenges of Parenthood Armed With Insight, Humor, and a Bottle of Ketchup

 

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Dr. Laura Jana – Educator and health communicator

What if despite the back of our intentions, despite all of our business savvy, data-driven technology informed know-how and all that the information age has put at our fingertips, we are nevertheless raising our children to succeed in a world that simply no longer exists.

So this is the question that has led me to conclude that we’ve got some fundamentally important connections to make. But first, let me explain what it was that after 20 years in pediatrics and parenting led me to connect the dots.

It was a couple years ago. I was attending a national conference and I had the chance to chat with a very highly accomplished fellow attendee who graciously offered me a signed copy of his book and casually added, “I’d love to know what you think of it.” So I took him seriously and I read his book and I shared my thoughts, that it read like an insightful parenting book and that it particularly resonated with my own approach to the complicated task of raising productive children in the 21st century.

Now I realize that would be somewhat boring if it weren’t for the part of the story that I left out — that the book’s author was Silicon Valley visionary and LinkedIn co-founder Reed Hoffman. In his book The Start-Up of You, it’s pretty safe to assume has never and will never end up in the parenting section of any bookstore. But the connection between his convictions and mine were striking, so much so that it’s left me with this idea that perhaps what we need is more of a start-up of your baby approach, because while we and many others in the worlds of business, leadership, and innovation are actively identifying the 21st century toolkit of skills that we need to succeed, those of us in the business of raising children to be ready for life adults are the ones responsible for assembling this very same toolkit. We just work further upstream, and in some cases much further, as soon as young as ages 0 to 5 .

Now for those of you unaccustomed to thinking of ready for life 18 year-olds as the most important product our economy produces, or for that matter, those responsible for raising them as part of a defined sector of the economy, the youth human capital sector in the United States, all told, has now been estimated to be as large as 10.5% of GDP. That would make it 25% larger than the financial sector.

As for conception to age five, an estimated 3% of GDP, that makes it twice the size of the auto industry. And as any critical sector in our economy, the youth human capital sector must adapt our thinking from local and linear to global and exponential, from industrial age to information age. The question, of course, is how. And the answer I believe is in five strategic connections.

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First connection: connecting what we do now with what we want later. Now as simple a concept as that may seem, I worry the two have become disconnected in such a pervasive way that we all but systematically had children in one direction and then wonder years later why they didn’t end up headed in the other.

Let me give you an example. The 5 Whys is an executive training program meant to help businesses better identify the root causes of problems by using an iterative question-asking technique that involves asking why five times. As a business owner, this makes good sense.

But it always leaves me with another question. When is the last time you spent any time with a two-year-old? Because if it’s asking lots of questions that we’re going to ultimately value, then perhaps we should spend less time in early childhood training the why out of them.

Creativity serves as another good example. In a global survey of over 1,500 CEOs, creativity was identified as the most crucial factor for future success. Shifting from business to one of the most robust findings in social science, we know that intrinsic motivation is essential for creativity. And in contrast, extrinsic rewards all but kill it.

Now explain to me will pee for eminence, because this and all of the many other — if you do this and I will reward you approaches to raising children has become so commonplace that the mere suggestion of not offering rewards for everything from peeing in the potty to going to sleep, runs the risk of being perceived as the Grinch who stole Christmas. And more importantly, it makes clear that our approach to raising children continues to be more transactional than transformational.

The other thing we know about creativity, by the way, is that by definition it requires out-of-the-box thinking. If it’s out-of-the-box thinking that we want, then perhaps we should spend less time and money marketing to children what’s inside the box and place more real value on open-ended creative play with a box.

Consult any parenting magazine, book, or blog and you’ll find that what we also do a lot of in the earliest years has a whole lot to do with the day to day — all of the crying, clothing, car seats and diapers. And while they are all very important, I fear that as a whole they cause us to lose sight of our parenting big picture, to get lost in the short-term and stuck in the parenting equivalent of living by quarterly earnings.

Every time we bolon the fact that babies don’t come with an owner’s manual, we’re allowing the how and the what of parenthood to overshadow our why. Instead what I suggest the parenting world and the youth human capital sector needs is a strategic plan, because with a thousand issues clamoring for precious hours in the day, committing time to planning for the future is admittedly not easy, but operating without a plan is harder.

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And this last stop by the way comes almost word for word from another highly unlikely parenting book. It’s called Business Plans For Dummies. So that’s the case for more strategically connecting what we do with what we want.

Connection number two: Connecting the playroom to the boardroom involves clarifying what it is we actually want for our children. To raise them to be happy, healthy, successful adults is as universal a mission statement as any. But from research that Gallup has given us we can now identify more clearly five essential elements of well-being: career; financial; social; physical; and community, all important but for now let’s just focus in on career success and the 21st century boardroom skills needed to achieve it.

Now I am aware that asking you to work backwards and make any sort of direct connection between, say, workforce development and preschool play is a bit like asking you to recite the alphabet backwards. But by applying new insights, it actually becomes very easy to work our way all the way back to the foundational ABCs of 21st century success and skill building.

So let’s start with Zig Ziglar’s assertion that you don’t build businesses, you build people who build businesses, should lead us to ask what kind of people do we want to build and what sort of skills do we want them to have: communication, collaboration, curiosity, critical thinking, questioning, adaptability, the ability to fail. Those of you in business will clearly recognize these critical skills as the key competencies needed in today’s knowledge-based economy. But do you know who else is equally committed to fostering these critical skills?

If you’re thinking to yourself, middle school STEM education teachers you would be correct but not thinking back far enough, think about it. Use your words, put your listening ears on, take turns, don’t give up, learn to play nice with others and in the same sandbox. These social-emotional skills are preschool skills.

And from my somewhat unique vantage point, straddling the worlds of business in early childhood, something particularly striking is happening. With calls to action like engage don’t pamper and playing to win, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish between the latest literature from Harvard Business Review, Google, or Gallup and now from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Association for the Education of Young Children.

If we truly want to strategically build our human capital pipeline, then we need to focus on foundational early skill building, because we know that young children don’t just pick up these essential skills, they need to be fostered. And when it comes to how best to foster them, it’s not rocket science but it most certainly is brain science, which brings us to the purposeful connecting of neurons in the developing brain.

Babies are born with about a hundred million neurons that connected a mind expanding rate of a thousand new neural connections per second. The result is that about 85% of brain growth is thought to occur in the first five years, with the basic circuitry for vision and hearing forming right after birth, and followed later in the first year by language.