MY 17-year-old does not want a bike – he wants a car. Alfa Romeo. The cheapest one comes for Rs 40-45 lakh. “Daddy, you wasted your money building this house,” he tells me.
My 12-year-old daughter, who paints very well, one day got up at the dinner table and announced – I am going to New York and Switzerland. Will draw landscapes. And will have exhibitions in New York.
Of course the savings mentality has given way to spending. But there's a bigger change. Liberalisation children's mental power to dream is what differentiates us from them. Think about it – a 17-year-old talking about a 40-45 lakh car, even before he has begun to earn. It's the certainty of the future income that helps them dream so big. Technically an average Indian executive would see his Rs 10,000 starting salary multiply 30 times during his career span. These consumerist kids see their future cash flow to weigh their current spends. Social contexts have changed. Pre 1990, we had three broad social classes – rich, middle class and under privileged. Today we have just two – haves and the have-nots. Liberalisation has slowed down the havenots growth and accelerated the creation of haves in the society. There are people who have managed to break away from have-nots and move to the “haves” – they are the children of opportunity and global aspirations. Today, potentially for a middle class family, education and job anywhere in the world is a realistic possibility.
As parents we have changed too. I told my daughter – “if this is what you want, start working on it now.” My parents would have said – “what are you fantasising about, first go and get a job.” We feared thinking beyond boundaries, but they do not. The constraints constantly played on our minds - even the haves behaved like have-nots. Cynical and skeptical, we were largely problem-focused in everything we did. As a result we were more socially aware. At 15-17, we were troubled by what was happening around us. There was a bit of idealism. For them, the world is about possibilities, not constraints.
Changing family structures will make things intense. Nuclear, double income families with one-two children will lack social skills. Today many parents are artificially creating this feeling of abundance, taking them on the road to escapism. These children are the touch-me-nots who have been treated as fairy princes all their lives. And suddenly when some comes and tells them they are not princes and they are actually ugly ducklings, they just can't take it. They will be in denial – you are wrong, not them. For companies showing these kids the mirror will be a tremendous task.
With indulgent parents and cushioned lives, most haven't seen reverses in lives. They haven't learnt how to handle shattered dreams. Three times I was waitlisted at XLRI – I was a 95 percenter and it was extremely disappointing. Failures help you learn to fight and rebuild. My worry is how will these kids, who have had pain-free, failure-free, constrain-free lives, handle reverses. And as family gets smaller, with no siblings to lean on, we have to think what is the support structure we can provide them. Second big challenge we will face is that these kids do not value what is currently available to him. Attrition isn't a salary issue. It's a generation issue – these kids are looking at the future and deciding their moves now. At the first instance of dissonance or disciplining at work, they want to quit and go. “I will work on my own terms,” I often hear. Lifestyle issues, work-life balance is getting very important to them. You can't talk about these from day 1.
Beauty of child of constraints was he fought all constraints and outdid his ability. I fear when faced with reverses will the Liberalisation Children drop out and come back or will they hang in there and move mountains. I worry that many of these kids will struggle to push themselves to their limits – and may not be able to realize their full potential. But if they manage to handle the reverses and disappointments well, they would create and achieve far more than any other generation that has preceded them.