Expert Q&A | Karyn Gordon

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Expert Q&A: Karyn Gordon

Q: What key 21st-century skills can better prepare youth for the future?

A: One of the main things we're finding is that what we really need to do is to put more focus on developing what's called emotional intelligence, commonly referred to as EQ (emotional quotient), involving recognizing, understanding and managing emotions and feelings. Self-discipline, or delaying gratification, is probably one of the most important skills I encourage all young people to develop. It's really important with self-discipline that people make decisions based on their values, not by emotion. That's pretty powerful when kids actually have that skill, then they can transfer it to all kinds of things, whether it's with studying, with dating, with money management or with careers. And under that umbrella, you've also got time management, organization, assertiveness and decision-making.

One of the biggest things with young people like Generation Y is that a lot of them struggle with anxiety. In fact, it's called the "sad generation" because it's the most medicated generation in history. They don't know how to deal with negative feedback, they don't know how to deal with things that are uncertain, so emotion management specifically around anxiety is huge in terms of teaching them as a skill.

I do a lot of leadership training in interviewing different people who have done well, and one of the things I've found with any person with a level of success is that they've got at least some components of these emotional intelligence skills–EQ skills are really the tipping point. A huge part of confidence is learning how to deal with rejection, failure and negative feedback. And people who are really successful, they don't let the failure define them. It's just part of the process–knowing how to deal with failure and learning from it.

Q: How can educators help students acquire these essential skills?

A: Some schools are starting to do what's called character education and starting to teach these skills, but we've got a long way to go with it.

I do training across the country with educators, and a lot have heard about emotional intelligence or EQ. But if I ask them how to define it, very few people can do that, and even fewer people know how you actually develop it if you don't have it. So EQ is something that's becoming more popular, but it's very abstract for a lot of people. I think for educators, the biggest thing is they need to be educated themselves, they need to learn what it is, what are the different parts of it, as well as think of creative ways they can develop it themselves and how to develop it in the classroom.

One of the best ways for children to learn is to have role models around them who are exercising it because people can know the definitions but the key is actually living it. So it's really important for educators to know it, understand it and live by it.

—Karyn Gordon
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