Wednesday, July 25, 2012

When We Were Young

That phrase started a lot of sentences, yes, when I was young. When my parents were young, they were nice to their siblings. When they were young, they never talked back to their parents. They didn’t have that many toys nor did they complain about it. They didn’t….they didn’t….they didn’t.

I’m exaggerating, of course, but that’s the kind of sage advice you try dredging up from your memory when you’re expecting your own kids and wondering what important things you’ll need to teach them.

So imagine my surprise when my kids, and a lot of others their age, seem to have a lot of things already figured out. Wanna know how to download an app? Ask my then-5-year-old, who had to teach me. Because I’d been writing a mystery novel, my then 8-year-old decided to try her hand at it. A few weeks later, she had about a whole series written plus several more outlined. “Mommy, it looks like I’m going to get published before you!” (Smirk.)

More recently, we had an enlightening coincidence. I was at work one day, stumped over how to use algorithms to check a colleague’s math. When I picked up my kids from summer camp afterwards, it turned out they had learned algorithms to solve the Rubik’s cube. Yes, algorithms. They also learned about robotics at a couple camps this summer, and surprisingly, it’s not a unique concept. The instructors themselves are getting younger in some cases.

Stab in the gut? Not at all.Totally impressive. I wanna be like these girls!

“How about we just pretend we’re sisters?” I ask them once in a while when I need to draw from the wisdom of their confident outlook.

“Sure,” they answer. “Do you want to be the middle one this time?”

“No, make me the youngest. You guys can take care of me.”

“No problem, Mom. It’s done.” They exchange a furtive glance, as if to ask, is she for real?

I am. For certain, today’s youth are inheriting a lot of our big scary problems—in technology, health, civil rights, the environment, the business world, ethics, you name it. No doubt about it—our generation and the one before us—have done some serious damage to the world. And yet something tells me my daughters’ generation will be the one that gets it right. They have the world at their fingertips, and all the know-how and confidence we may have lacked. This is the generation that will tackle these challenges, be courageous and do the right thing, and smart enough to find real solutions.

Remember Angela Zhang, and her awesome story from earlier this year? It still gives me shivers. In January, Angela was a 17-year-old high school student who had decided to use her free time to study, what else, cancer. She’d been reading the advanced medical literature since she was a high school freshman, and about the time she was a junior, she got the hang of it and was able to start working the puzzle out on her own. This past January, she won a $100,000 award from the national Siemens science contest for her research paper on the topic, which scientists say just may hold the cure to cancer! Check out her amazing story here

Closer to home, one of my neighbor’s kids, a 12-year-old also tackling the world’s problems in his spare time, invented a car sensor that sets off an alarm when it detects the car leaking carbon monoxide. Car makers are seriously looking into this technology, which oddly enough, has no counterpart in the car industry. Yet this amazing invention didn’t even take the top contest prizes, because despite its innovative safety function, it turns out other kids in this age group are making advances in more critical life sciences, in the study of diseases and cures, for example. Go figure. When I was 12, working on the yearbook at my junior high school was a pretty big deal. 

I’ve blogged about this little anecdote before a couple years ago, but I can’t help thinking about it again now. I once walked in on my daughters rapidly pounding the little pink keys on their toy laptops and asked them what they were up to. “Just reading up on all the ways we’re making the world a better place, Mom,” the little one immediately answered, not even pausing to look up or think about my question.
And no doubt, we’ll all be reading about their successes soon. Quite possibly in a field you and I have never heard of. Maybe one not yet invented. I, for one, can’t wait.

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