Teenagers have changed: Here's what it will take for them to succeed in retail

Feb. 22, 2012 | by Bob Phibbs

In the Wall Street Journal article, "What's Wrong With the Teenage Mind?" Alison Gopnik takes an in-depth look at two trends affecting the maturation of teenagers.

She has found puberty is kicking in earlier and earlier, and that teenagers are taking on adult roles later and later.

She says in part, "In the past, to become a good gatherer or hunter, cook or caregiver, you would actually practice gathering, hunting, cooking and taking care of children all through middle childhood and early adolescence. But you'd do all that under expert adult supervision and in the protected world of childhood, where you would have experienced the impact of your inevitable failures and learned from them."

When the motivational juice of puberty arrived, you'd be ready to go after the real rewards, in the world outside, with new intensity and exuberance, but you'd also have learned the skill and control to do it effectively and reasonably safely.

She goes on to say that even the basic skills kids would have learned while supervised by an adult regarding cooking, care-giving, and the accompanying jobs like baby-sitting and having a paper route have disappeared.

Consider her statement that for "most of our history, children have started their internships when they were seven, not 27."

Failure to Launch

Researchers now know that experience shapes the brain, and they are finding teenagers' brains haven't been properly instructed and exercised.

Kids today are plenty smart but because they have been raised by a generation of parents providing instant gratification for their every want and need, their connection to life experience in the outside world isn't there. For example:

  • They might have a lot of sexual education but still get pregnant.
  • They might know all the driving rules but still get in accidents.
  • They might know all about the chemical properties of food, but that doesn't help them make a souffle.

Kids today don't know mediocre from excellent, because this generation has been raised to believe that as long as they do the work – they should get an A. Or got a trophy if they joined a team.

The more we've taken vocational education out of schools, the more crippled teenagers have become as adults.

Mentorship, so common in human evolution, simply isn't being used to show these young minds the ropes.

When we take today's youth and put them to work in retail we need to realize we need to instill the training they missed as children to make them successful employees.

What it will take

We need to show them the difference between mediocre and excellent and what it takes to stay there.

What we need to hire are kids who are trainable and then reward their ability with supervision that goes beyond simple task management.

If we are call on them to multi-task, we need to train them to be excellent multi-taskers. Your training is only successful if you remember you have to train them in the basic skills they missed before we can train them on more advanced skills and – just as importantly – before they are left on their own.

Again, we have many smart young adults, but research is showing they haven't had the right experiences to shape their brains for success as adults. That's up to us, now more than ever.

As long as retailers can give challenging real-life experiences with a degree of protection that comes from engaged supervisors, we can give these young people a path to success, not just a part-time job.

You can meet one such business owner in this interview.

Topics: Customer Service , Employee Training , Hiring and Retention

Bob Phibbs / Bob Phibbs, the Retail Doctor, is a popular motivational speaker and small business Consultant who has transformed thousands of businesses throughout the world with his straightforward, proven advice. His success at making over businesses has been featured on PBS Life & Times, in the Los Angeles Times, Entrepreneur magazine, and the New York Times.
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