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Five Ways to Pass on Wisdom to Younger Generations

Making the Most of Teaching Moments

By Robert Peckenpaugh
Learn more about Robert Peckenpaugh by visiting his bio page.

As parents and grandparents, we would like to pass along our values to our children and grandchildren so they can live rewarding and meaningful lives. Most of us have a few simple goals for the younger generations. We want them to be independent so they can stand on their own two feet. We want them to be good critical thinkers so they can find their way through tough times that seem to come to all of us. We want them to be prudent financially, live within their means, make solid investments and position themselves to help others.

A conversation with my granddaughter Amy

I recently had an opportunity to share some life lessons with my granddaughter. As Amy was preparing to leave for her freshman year of college, she asked if I had any advice for her. As she suspected, I did. I told her that even at a respected university like Miami of Ohio, the professors will be trying to fill her brain with ideas that may be important, and on which they will test their students. But these will be the ideas that they are thinking about.

I told her that I realized these ideas will be of some importance for exam day. But, more importantly, I suggested to her that she should be doing her own critical thinking to sort out what she is being taught, consider what is consistent with her values, and the choices she will be making over the future.

As I reflect back on my conversation with Amy and others, I realize how fortunate I have been to have these teaching moments with young people. I also began to think about how others might be interested in what I’ve learned about sharing some of life’s lessons when opportunities arise.

Five ways to pass along wisdom

Here are the five principles that I think can help us make the most of our teaching moments.

  1. Protect and nurture a relationship of trust
  2. Recognize the teaching moments before they come
  3. Prepare yourself through thoughtful reflection
  4. Choose the best possible way of expressing yourself
  5. Look for opportunities to plant a seed and let it grow

Protect and nurture a relationship of trust

This is the foundation from which wisdom can be passed. It starts here. Young people will not seek out, or even be willing to listen to, the wisdom of someone unless a trusting relationship already exists. We have to build that trust by staying involved and nurturing those in the younger generation. To do so, we have to show them that we have a genuine interest in those things that are of interest to them.

All the special moments, like birthdays, family get-togethers, and other special occasions offer opportunities to show that we want to be part of their lives. If your child or grandchild wins an award at school and you acknowledge it, congratulate them, and make a point of attending the awards ceremony, it will show how proud you are of them and their accomplishments. These special moments send a message.

As working and even retired adults, our lives tend to become very busy. But we greatly diminish the opportunity for teaching moments if we miss the special moments.

Recognize the moments before they come

Be aware of the moments when a meaningful conversation can take place. If we pay attention we will see that there are special times when young people are most likely to be open to hear the wisdom of our life experiences.

Amy going to school opened the door for our conversation. But there are at least these critical moments when you know a young person may need direction for the future and when they will most likely be open to the wisdom of your life experiences:

  • Award and recognition occasions
  • Graduating from high school.
  • Going away to college and college graduation
  • Getting the first job
  • When an engagement is announced.
  • When they may face a difficult time or crisis

If you know someone you care about who is coming upon a significant moment in their life, start thinking about how you might be able to connect with them. They may not ask for your counsel, but they may be receptive if you show some interest at the right time.

Prepare yourself through thoughtful reflection

As adults, we tend to underestimate the value of our own life experiences and the impact these have had on our lives. So we need to reflect on what we have learned that can be shared with others when an opportunity develops. Some of our experiences could be valuable when others go through similar experiences.

If you think about your major life events and the lessons you’ve learned from those events, you’ll be ready to pass on those lessons when the moment is right.

Choose the best possible way of expressing yourself

More than 200 years ago, Benjamin Franklin wrote a wonderful little book called The Way to Wealth. The book postulates that industriousness and frugality are the way to wealth. But financial advisors today would not use the language used in his day.

Instead, we would probably say that one should learn to spend less than you make, save the difference and invest it wisely to develop financial independence. Ben Franklin’s advice and ours is essentially the same, but we say it differently and in a more contemporary way.

Every generation tends to use language somewhat differently. The Oxford English Dictionary, the preeminent English language resource, publishes updates four times a year. Their recent March, 2014 edition included more than 900 new words and phrases in this update alone. Multiply the number of four updates per year by ten years and you see how much language actually changes in a decade and you may see that young people have a language of their own.

When you think about the younger generation and how you wish to pass along your wisdom, you may need to consider the language you use. The way you talk about wealth, commitment, honor, duty, and other values may require some thoughtful explanation and examples. Sometimes a story is the most effective way of communicating a point.

Look for opportunities to plant a seed and let it grow

Seeds of wisdom take time to germinate and flourish. A farmer would not plant seeds and check on their growth too early and often. When you reflect on the words of wisdom that affected your life, think about how long those words may have taken to become a part of who you are.

We have to be patient with the younger generation and give them the time they need to sort things out. If they ask for our counsel and we are able to deliver it, a seed well-planted may take time to grow to fruition.

Final reflections

Teaching moments can never be a substitute for living our values day by day openly in front of younger generations. But these can be turning points for the ones we care about. I know that I was fortunate to have mentors over the years who spoke words of wisdom at what turned out to be just the right moment. By considering these five principles, you may be able to increase the likelihood that your teaching moments will have the impact you desire.


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ROBERT PECKENPAUGH - view full bio

mia erickson

“It is my great privilege to serve my clients at Whitnell.  I’m also delighted to mentor young people at this company.  Mentoring is one of the ways I help ensure our next generation of leaders have the skills and expertise, as well as the values, that have made this company strong for many years.”