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7 Non-Academic Skills 21st Century Children Need to Succeed

7 Non-Academic Skills 21st Century Children Need to Succeed

The face of education is changing more in current times than perhaps it ever has before. Children need not only to learn information and academics, but also need to learn the skills that will help them grow into successful adults in the 21st century.According to Martin West from the Harvard Graduate School for Education there is a certain type of skill that all future employees need, “Basically we’re trying to explain student success educationally or in the labor market with skills not directly measured by standardized tests.”

Whether you’re a parent or a teacher, you need to ensure that the children you’re charged with are fostering each of these non-academic skills in their daily lives if you want to see them succeed.

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1. Character

Building character is definitely nothing new to the 21st century. However, it’s still an incredibly important non-academic skill to focus on as children grow up in modern day society. They must be taught self-control, especially in an age in which so many stimuli are at their fingertips. We also must foster in our children a sense of curiosity about the world around them; and not in a superficial, “Let’s Google it” manner. Children must yearn to explore the world, and find answers for themselves rather than relying on a machine to give them everything. We should also build up our children’s confidence, so they are optimistic about their lives as they grow into young adults, so they can face the world knowing they can improve it in some way.

2. Social and Emotional Skills

In a world in which we’re increasingly isolated by computers, cell phones, and television, children need to learn how to interact with one another. They need to know how to treat each other, and how to address each other’s needs. Really, the only way they can do this is by being placed into social situations and monitored by a knowing and caring adult to help guide them when situations turn ugly. If a child’s social behavior is left unchecked, it could lead to multiple problems down the road.

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3. Growth Mindset

Children should know they are constantly growing and learning. Yes, it  is okay for kids to be kids, but they also should be constantly conscious of the fact that each experience they go through is a chance to learn something even in a non-academic setting. This will help them make the most out of bad situations, because they’ll always be looking at what they learned, rather than the fact that they messed up. They’ll also learn to be okay with messing up, as they’ll understand that life is a process of learning from one’s mistakes. When we stop learning, that’s when trouble starts to pile up. As Noah Webster (of Webster’s dictionary) once said, “The virtues of men are of more consequence to society than their abilities…for this reason, the heart should be cultivated.”

4. Non-cognitive Traits and Habits

Researchers are on the fence about the name of this characteristic, but in essence they are describing metacognitive skills. In other words, these are the non-academic skills that we use in order to know which other skills to use. For example, a child may know the multiplication tables by heart, but after reading a word problem, he might not know that he should be using multiplication to solve the problem. It’s important to focus not just on what skills to learn, but how to use them as well. Sometimes the development of these traits occurs in the typical problem-solving that goes along in regular life.

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5. Grit

Life isn’t easy. The sooner children figure that out, the better off they’ll be. They need to learn that it’s totally okay to fail, as long as they pick themselves up and keep pushing until they succeed. They also need to understand the difference between passing by the skin of their teeth and passing with flying colors. One will earn them just enough to get by in life, but the other will allow them to truly get ahead. Being rigorous in all activities, and putting their all into everything they set out to do, is of utmost importance if children want to live their life to the fullest. Even something simple like asking your child, “What did you fail at today?” shows them that failure happens everyday but can be overcome with persistence or through another avenue.

6. 21st Century Skills

The Information Age has brought about a time in which we must become specialized in one area, while also exhibiting a variety of other skills as well. From an early age, children now learn how to collaborate and communicate with others, both physically and through the use of technology. They also need to think critically and be creative in finding solutions to problems that didn’t even exist twenty years ago. In doing so, the children of today will ensure that society continues to move forward tomorrow.

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7. Soft Skills

This last set of non-academic skills is a bit of a misnomer. Any skill you can learn is important, so calling these skills “soft” makes them seem less so. However, now more than ever it is important that children learn the basics of professionalism. They need to know it’s important to be punctual, and to dress properly. They need to exhibit good manners and obey social conventions, not just during their working hours, but at all times. It’s increasingly important that children understand that their online persona will allow others to judge their real-life personality, so it’s important to be prudent both on and offline. If they don’t pay attention to these social conventions, all other skills they learn will ultimately be null and void.

Featured photo credit: Flickr via farm5.staticflickr.com

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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