By Mel Levine, M.D.
by Jane Gerloff, Ph.D.
Ready or Not, Here Life Comes
Dr. Mel Levine is an alarming book. It's also a must-read
for parents of children younger than 20, educators, and
anyone who cares about young people. It explains in depth
a current societal phenomenon, which the author claims has
reached epidemic proportions worldwide: young people adrift
about what they want to do in life, clueless about the rigors
of work life, and unable to negotiate the complex personal
relationships needed in the workplace. For anyone concerned
about the economic life and personal development of young
people, the book offers enormous insight.
Psychiatrist Levine is a professor of pediatrics
at the University of North Carolina Medical School and director
of its Clinical Center for the Study of Development and
Learning. His work has focused on diagnosing and helping
children compensate for neurodevelopmental dysfunctions
(such as difficulty finding words, forming friendships,
and writing legibly). The crux of the "worklife unreadiness"
problem, says Levine, is that "an alarming number of emerging
adults are unable to find a good fit between [the working
of ] their minds and their career directions" (p. 4).
The causes of worklife unreadiness are legion.
They include the existence of new types of jobs that are
unfamiliar to older family mentors; economic uncertainty
in the job market; a culture that stresses instant rewards
(as opposed to such qualities as tenacity and the sustained
mental effort needed in the workplace); and, perhaps most
importantly, the fact that so many modern-day children have
not been "students of adulthood." That is, today's children
have identified almost exclusively with and modeled themselves
after peers of their own age group; the only adults many
have admired are entertainers and athletic idols.
The initial two-thirds of the book examines
the problem in detail, providing a careful analysis of the
types of skills needed in the workplace and identifying
where people are apt to fall short. Levine's analyses are
amply illustrated with often depressing stories of unsuccessful
It's not until the last third of the book
that the author gives us some real hope by telling us what
can be done to address the problem. Though he offers some
tips specifically for young adults, most of Levine's suggestions
are for parents and educators, whom he recommends take action
while children are still in adolescence. Levine acknowledges
of his recommendations will be
practical only "in the best of all possible worlds." Some
examples (p. 212):
should be a minimum of several occasions per month when
a child is collaborating or playing with kids and/or adults
very different in their backgrounds from his [or her]
should be a maximum total of 90 minutes a day of computer
game immersion, TV viewing, and headphone time."
kids should spend several hours a week engaged in activities
few or none of their peers tend to embrace, pursuits that
interest them and affirm their uniqueness."
should ensure that kids are friends of some adult friends
of the family and, at least twice a month, have extended
conversations with adults who are not their teachers or
a parent feeling overwhelmed by the tasks Levine has set
before you, don't worry, you're not alone. Levine gives
recommendations for educators, too, stating that there is
a "vast gulf between what is taught in school and what is
essential to learn for a gratifying adult work life" (pp.
there is a very useful adjunct to the book: the website
of All Kinds of Minds Institute, co-founded by Levine (www.allkindsofminds.org).
It provides tips, articles, and additional resources, with
sections for families, educators, and clinicians. The Institute
also offers a training program for educators.
the first part of the book may seem discouraging or depressing,
by the end you will likely feel better because you will
have concrete suggestions for increasing worklife readiness.
Whatever your role in a young person's life, you can probably
find an idea to put into practice. Reading this book, you
can't help but think that it's time for all of us to help
a new generation of young people launch themselves into
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