Are helicopter parents and expectations of instant gratification hurting today's students?

CBC Radio returns to Winnipeg high school after 13 years to ask if students they're ready for the real world.
Kelsey Noakes, a human resources manager in the financial services sector, worries many of today’s young adults aren’t prepared for the workforce. (Duncan McCue/CBC)

by Duncan McCue

When Kelsey Noakes was wrapping up Grade 12 in Winnipeg, Paul Martin was prime minister, Twitter didn't exist and Gwen Stefani topped the pop charts. Noakes already had her eye on university and beyond.

"When you're 18, you want to be a grown up and you want to have all those responsibilities. You think that's kind of the next best thing," says Noakes. 

Noakes remembers being a "studious" and "very involved" student in March 2005, when CBC Radio's Cross CountryCheckup visited her high school — Glenlawn Collegiate — asking whether schools were preparing students for life in the real world

Noakes was in Grade 12 when CBC Radio's Cross Country Checkup visited her high school — Glenlawn Collegiate — asking whether schools were preparing students for life in the real world. (Duncan McCue/CBC)

Her answer then was a qualified 'yes.' She couldn't point to anything negative about her school, yet she worried her peers weren't adept at "dealing with consequences."

Schools need to do a better job of teaching students to accept constructive criticism, she argued.

"Students have to be told stuff they're doing wrong so they can improve," she told a live audience gathered in her school's cafeteria. "The only way you can grow is if you're told what you can improve on."

Now, 13 years later, CBC Radio has returned to the school to ask students, teachers and alumni what has changed.

Today Noakes is a human resources manager in the financial services sector who worries many of today's young adults aren't prepared for the workforce. She blames "helicopter parenting," not educators.

"I've received phone calls from parents asking if their child can get a job. Showing up to interviews with them. I really don't think that's setting them up to be successful in life or the working world."

Then grade 12 student Kelsey Noakes said that students should be better equipped with study skills but was happy with the education she received at Glenlawn Collegiate. 1:54

Optimism for the future?

Back in 2005, the vast majority of Canadian teens were looking ahead with youthful optimism, bullish about job opportunities and their role in Canada's future according to a poll released then by the Dominion Institute.

A decisive 97 per cent of teens said they were confident about their prospects once they leave school. Over half were "very or extremely" confident.

Arpena Babaian, vice-principal of Glenlawn in 2005, told a live audience on Cross Country Checkup that educators found it difficult to battle attitudes students picked up in popular media. (CBC Archives)

However, Arpena Babaian, who was then vice-principal of Glenlawn, suggested educators were finding it increasingly difficult to battle attitudes students picked up in popular media.

"They see violence, materialism, lack of respect for authority and selfishness being held up as things to aim for. We want them to be respectful of themselves and others. We want them to be trusting and tolerant and compassionate. We want them to be optimistic and adaptable. Yet they see the exact opposite everywhere around them," Babaian told the Checkup audience in 2005.

At that time, iPhones were still two years from being unleashed on the world and Facebook was in its infancy.

Now, smartphones are ubiquitous with many researchers asking questions about the devices' negative impacts on teens.

In particular, mental health issues among Canadian teenagers have become a growing concern for educators. Studies suggest one in three high school students experience depression and anxiety, with stress over school performance and pressure from constant social media use pointed to as factors.

Arpena Babaian, former vice-principal at Glenlawn, says educators find it tough to conceive what employment students will be engaged in because workplaces are changing so rapidly. (Duncan McCue/CBC)

Babaian believes educators today have no choice but to incorporate technology into the classroom. She suggests teachers must get more creative in the ways they teach this "media-savvy and media-dependent" generation.

"Standing at the front of the room and blabbing does not equal teaching. Learning is an interactive thing and the best teachers understand that. Kids have less patience. Plus the fact they all have phones," says Babaian, who retired in 2014.

Babaian adds that educators today find it challenging to even conceive what employment students will be engaged in because workplaces are changing so rapidly, which is why it's important schools focus on "employability skills" such as problem-solving and teamwork.

Finding success in failure

In 2005, Kelsey Noakes was dying to get out in the real world and felt she had the skills to do it. In addition to her studies and extra-curriculars, she worked part-time in a grocery store deli.

She now says one of the most powerful lessons she learned was getting cut from the varsity volleyball team. She channeled her frustration into participating on student council and the school band.

"There are school divisions across this country where a student is not allowed to fail. If you don't hand in a report, you still don't fail. Well, if you show up at work, and don't complete a project you're supposed to do, that's not going to end well for you."

Noakes looking back at her high school graduation photo. The HR manager says many young job applicants today have the technical skills from school, but lack resilience. (Duncan McCue/CBC)

Noakes went on to study commerce at the University of Manitoba, landing a job immediately upon graduation. She says young job applicants often have the technical skills from school, but lack resilience.

"Individuals coming out of high school now require instant gratification," suggests Noakes. "You should not be in a position where you need every day, every hour, 'That was a fabulous job you did.'"

"That's just not feasible in a work environment."

Looking back, Noakes admits she was probably in a rush to get out of high school and be a grown up.

"Enjoy the moment would be the advice I would give to my 18-year-old self. And don't take life so seriously," laughs Noakes.