Future-proof: To design software, a computer, etc. so that it can still be used in the future, even when technology changes. – Cambridge Dictionary
In terms of our kids, future-proofing means making them flexible, resourceful and resilient enough so that when jobs -- industries -- empires! -- change or even disappear, they can land on their feet.
When kids get some practice dealing with disappointment, risk, and frustration, they get stronger. We're not talking about Dickensian childhoods. Just ones where kids are allowed to figure some things out on their own, make some mistakes, maybe even fight some battles.
Treating them as physically and emotionally fragile is the opposite of "future-proofing."
For example: Kids who climb trees "dose" themselves with a little bit more fear each time. They are acclimating to risk. Ground those kids and they're safer from falling. But they're less safe from a future that's going to be, at times, scarier than any tree top.
Trying to prevent all disappointment and discomfort means these inevitabilities loom larger later on, too.
So, while future-proofing is an idea that comes from the engineering world and is used more to describe infrastructure than young people, here are some of the future-proofing principles that apply to kids.
By future-proofing, the goal is to:
Learn to adapt
In construction terms, this means using durable materials that can handle the elements. In human terms, it means kids learning to adapt to changing, even challenging, circumstances. This is something kids do all day long in play. When one kid says, "I'm sick of always playing kick ball!" the others have to adapt to this disruption. The play goes on — undisturbed.
Strengthen receptivity and reinforce flexibility
Similarly, when confronted by an insult or hurt feelings, future-proofed kids may flinch, but they don't fall apart. If we bring up kids telling them they are so fragile they could be hurt by an unkind word, they become the opposite of flexible. They are on the lookout for words that can "break" them. Future-proofed kids employ critical thinking skills. They can receive information or experience something and consider a variety of responses.
When we only focus kids on building their "college resume" skills they don't have time to grow all the other interests that might serve them well. The hours a kid spends drawing, tinkering, exploring, or even cooking might be more useful in the long run than four years of French or violin lessons. In engineering, to diversify means to "include different sources, uses, capabilities, and economic models rather than one dominant trait." That one dominant trait among kids -- being college-ready -- isn't enough.
Nothing endures but change. Anyone who can't "pivot" can be left behind. Creativity and adaptability don't flourish when kids' time is spent only completing activities prescribed by someone else. Think of the autocratic countries where the kids spend the majority of their day at school, memorizing things that can be Googled. That's already obsolete. Learning how to come up with a new idea, create consensus, even tell a joke -- these are "non-robot skills" that won't become obsolete...because the robots can't do them.
No one is going to sail through life without some setbacks. Kids are fortified when they are allowed to experience hundreds of scrapes, falls, arguments, and losses, each one building another tiny layer of resilience. Giving kids trophies as if they've won when they've lost, or intervening in all arguments as if they can't handle a spat -- these take away the opportunity to survive a minor setback, see that it's not the end, and be fortified for the next.
Consider life cycle benefits
To engineers, this phrase means to consider what already exists in the built environment, rather than just tearing everything down and starting anew. When it comes to kids, consider what already exists when they are born. Curiosity. Sociability. Resilience. These innate qualities mean our kids come pre-equipped to take some risks and deal with some disappointments.