Pic by JJ Thompson

Do kids lie? It’s widely believed that they don’t, that kids always tell the truth. Then the question is: What is the truth? What adults want to hear or what kids really want to say? That’s one of the interesting challenges we faced when working with a school on increasing the awareness of higher education among its students.

Tell me what you want to hear…

When the principal of Lozano, a bilingual school in Chicago, first approached us, the innovation challenge was clear. She wanted to increase college readiness among her middle school students. Since the school caters to kids that, in most cases, will be the first in their families to get a degree, this wasn’t just a need but a personal mission she was determined to fulfill.

To solve this, our approach was to balance both insider and outsider thinking. We built hybrid teams that combined students, teachers, administrative personnel, and members of Junior Achievement and of our agency, LAPIZ.

We learned that kids don’t want to think about being adults. That’s too far off in the future for them. They’re busy spending time doing things they love: sports, art, playing games, and experimenting. Unfortunately, they find it hard to share their passions at home. Their parents tend to work long hours and are usually too tired to listen. Their teachers seem to be more open to talking about their dreams, but kids feel they put too much pressure on future careers. None of this is necessarily conducive to candid conversations.

We learned that kids don’t want to confront their teachers. They want to please them and appear obedient. Tell me what you want to hear and I will tell you your truth.

College is the solution to what problem?

We started by questioning the assumption that higher education equals success. We interviewed extreme users- people who are outside the norm: from a kid whose dad didn’t attend college and spent some time in jail, to a family of very successful entrepreneurs who never attended college but ran their own business.

Take the case of a student whose parents want him to go to college and become a lawyer. They think this will give him a financially secure life. When asked about college, though, he really didn’t know what it meant. His parents couldn’t engage him in conversation about the topic, because they haven’t gone through the process themselves.

His parents already have a specific idea of what he should do in life: get a degree and you’ll be happy. So when he tries talking to them about what really matters to him — his dreams — , they get upset.

Dream a little dream for me

Parents see college as the magic ingredient for their children’s success, yet they are clueless about what their kids want and where their passions lie. This helped us reframe the original challenge to, “How might Lozano School help parents understand and recognize their children’s dreams and aspirations for the future.

It was great to see how the school principal, after experiencing it firsthand, moved away from her original thoughts and embraced the finding: It’s not about college. It’s about getting them ready to succeed as adults.

A cause, a dream, can be materialized in different ways. For example, one of the students wants to help others when he grows up. In terms of a career path, he could do that by either becoming a teacher, a social worker, a doctor or a lawyer. More than 60% of US adults feel emotionally disconnected from their workplace. You can blame it on the companies if you’d like. The reality is that if people could reconnect with their purpose, it would be easier for them to find news ways to bring that passion to life.

That was precisely the approach of our solution prototype: a school-run workshop to help parents reconnect with their own childhood dreams. This will help them open up and be willing to listen to their kids more. At the end of the day, it’s all about the importance of being true to oneself. If we accomplish that, who cares if kids sometimes lie?

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