More Than Money
Issue #40

Money and Relationships

Table of Contents

“Books: Ready or Not, Here Life Comes”

By Mel Levine, M.D.

Reviewed by Jane Gerloff, Ph.D.

Ready or Not, Here Life Comes by 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 young adults.

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 that following all of his recommendations will be practical only "in the best of all possible worlds." Some examples (p. 212):

  • "There 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] own."
  • ".there should be a maximum total of 90 minutes a day of computer game immersion, TV viewing, and headphone time."
  • "All 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."
  • "Parents 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 close relatives...."

If you're 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. 10-11).

Fortunately, 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.

Although 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 satisfying lives.


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