We Are Raising Adults, Not Teenagers

Prior to the early twentieth century and throughout history, people were either children or adults. Teenagers are a modern invention.

I saw this quote on Facebook today and it got me to thinking about a post I read yesterday on a foster parenting site about extending the age for kids in foster care from 18 to 21.  (For the record, I don’t have an issue with that, so long as those 3 years are used for transition, life skills are taught, and the child isn’t dumped to the curb completely unprepared like they are when they age out at 18.  Let’s not just delay the same thing happening when they hit 21, let’s fix the problem and provide the necessary tools.)

Anyway, this post is really NOT about foster care, but rather it is about those of us with young people who are in this “teenager” stage of life.

I think about the young men and women back during the World Wars and who they were and the lives they were setting out on at the tender ages of 16, 17, and 18.  We call them the Greatest Generation.  And I wonder what has changed since then.

One thing I’ve noticed is that we set really low expectations for our “teens”.  We pander to them.  We *expect* for them to rebel (because we did!)   We refuse to give them responsibility (maybe because we are afraid to give up control?)  We refuse to allow them to have to work through the natural consequences of bad decisions (because we feel like we have to bail them out.)  We do not intentionally set out to teach them the life skills that are necessary to function as an adult (because we’d have to be INTENTIONAL and we’re just so busy…)  We make life all about academics and sports and fail to teach work ethic and character traits that they will need when they are beyond school aged.  And we insist that they go into major debt to acquire a four year (or higher) degree, when many would be better off in a vocational school learning a trade.  So they start their adulthood having never had to really be responsible for their own decisions, not knowing how to open a checking account or write a check, thinking that their boss at work should just be fine with them being late and not doing their job because they haven’t ever had any accountability and Mom & Dad have always made excuses for their irresponsibility.  Now we “grown-ups” are finding scientific reasons to not hold them responsible and saying “But, but!  Their adolescent brains aren’t even fully developed until they are 25!  How can we expect them to make such big decisions and function like real adults?” (http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/brainwaves/2012/08/29/the-neuroscience-of-twenty-somethings/)  Well, did our grandparents and great grandparents have brains that matured earlier, or were they taught differently?  And why has the age of maturity NOT changed in under developed countries?

It would be easy to just say that we’ve just spoiled our kids and they refuse to grow up.  And on some levels, just living in American society has made all of us “spoiled” when you compare us to the rest of the world.  But since we aren’t going to pack up and move to the third world, we need to look at what we’re doing and how we can really help our kids and rectify this disservice that we are doing them.

We need to teach them the basics that they are going to need as an adult long before they are an adult.  The aforementioned opening a checking account and writing a check, how to read the terms of a loan and what would qualify as a good loan, basic financial knowledge, basic vehicle maintenance information, how to clean out the trap under the kitchen sink, how to maintain yard tools, how to plan meals and grocery shop (and how to save money doing so), how to sew on a button, how to follow a recipe (and along with that, basic kitchen skills), how to parent, what to do in an emergency or natural disaster (and not to just leave it up to the government to care for you).

The list goes on and on and is going to vary by family.  I think the best way to teach these skills is to involve your teens as you do these things in your life.  If you’re going to the bank to make a deposit, have them fill out the deposit slip and go with you to see how it’s done.  If you’re going to change the oil on your car (or even PAY someone else to do it), involve your child so that they can either learn how to change their own oil or learn the lingo for what they need to have done at the oil change place.  Teach them that life is not all about them and encourage them to serve others.  Help them to find an area that they are interested in and volunteer.  This helps them not only get involved in something they may be passionate about, but it helps them build relationships.  A community of support is very important in life and we need to teach our kids how to build one.

“But my son or daughter doesn’t want to be involved with what I want to teach them.  They are too busy (fill in the blank).”  I hope that by this age, you have a relationship with your kids that will allow you to have a mentorship type relationship (and I think this is often the case in the homeschooled family.)  However, if you and your child just constantly butt heads and you aren’t able to help with teaching these skills – FIND SOMEONE WHO CAN.  Remember that community of support?  This is a great way to start building it.  Find someone at church who knows about finances and have them teach your child.  Find someone who works on cars and have them teach your child.  It’s okay to contract things out if you have to.

Get them involved in the adult community at church long before they graduate high school.  I fear that we’ve focused so much on youth groups and catering to the needs of our teens, that when they do become adults, they don’t have a spot in the church.  They are too old for the youth group, but they’ve never become part of “grown up” church.  We need to work on encouraging our college and career aged folks to be involved and not make them feel like they are isolated and don’t have a spot – and I think this needs to begin before graduation day 🙂

Our kids need to be confident in their choices, skills, knowledge and abilities and if we do our best to teach them ahead of time, they will grow into confident, knowledgeable, skilled adults – and likely before they are 30 😉

So, the point of all that rambling is that I challenge you to challenge your young adults and treat them like young adults. Begin to hand over responsibility for decision making earlier, allow natural consequences and equip them to fly. Don’t expect them to magically hit 18 and have it all figured out. They should have been taking test flights for several years by then. They certainly won’t have the confidence that they need if adulthood just lands in their lap and they don’t have a clue.


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