Educational leaders across the country stress the importance of teaching our children 21st century skills. In order for our children to be competitive in a global economy they will not only need a strong, core curriculum, but also other essential skills like communication, collaboration and creativity. There is an emphasis on connecting classroom learning with the real world. `
While I strongly support this effort, I would suggest an even more important skill that our children will need in order to compete and succeed in any 21st century scenario. That is the ability to “thrive.” As I mentioned previously, “thriving” is a verb pointing to energy of life that leads to growth, competency and self-fulfillment. The dictionary defines thrive as “to grow vigorously … flourish … prosper … progress toward a goal.”
If children know how to thrive, if they possess the internal qualities that enable them to thrive, then whether the future turns out as projected, or whether circumstances change dramatically, children will be capable of facing any scenario the future holds and to meet any challenge with confidence, self-assurance and the expectation of success. Being so trained, they will find personal success in any field they choose and they will have a positive impact upon the world.
Children who are thriving are marked by three characteristics. First of all, they are happy. Their happiness is general and dispositional. It is independent of the sort of specific happiness which comes from receiving a birthday gift or going to an amusement park. They are happy because they are growing and achieving. They are happy because they are developing their competencies. They are happy because through their achievements they have a strong sense of self-efficacy and self-worth. For them, life has a smile. They sparkle because they are thriving.
Second, they are marked by engagement and achievement. They invest their time in activities that nurture growth. You will find them cultivating personal interests, or honing skills in music and sports, or they are beginning new hobbies, or even grasping new learning opportunities in order to equip themselves for their future prospects. Take one look at these young people and you know immediately that they going somewhere; they are getting things done.
Finally, thriving children have meaningful relationships with others, and those relationships are mutually beneficial. On the one hand, the thriving child needs love and support in order to prosper. But at the same time he or she is a source of encouragement and help to others. The thriving child is a team player who builds significant and functional relationships with others. When thriving children are in social groups they look for ways to make the group better or to help someone in the group. They are seeking ways to contribute and be a player. History and research teach us that no matter what kind of environment or situation our children might face, if they possess these personal, inner qualities then they will find a way to thrive. If they do not possess these inner qualities, then no matter what kind of environment they are placed in, no matter what kind of economic or social advantages they might begin with, they will flounder and wither.
Thriving comes from within, not from without. Although environments might help, when thriving depends solely upon advantageous circumstances, any semblance of thriving lasts only as long as the environment remains. But the thriving child who possesses the inner “tools” of life will flourish in both good times and bad.