Fascinating article in the Wall Street Journal this past weekend from Alison Gopnik on the teenage brain. I learned so much from this article and wanted to share a summary and my insights. Turns out that there are reasons behind the mystery that is the teenager and, I believe, some steps we can take to grow them up.
One of the most intriguing parts that I learned was that the contemporary teen in North America is handicapped by their lack of engagement in homemaking and other life skills. In the past, the young adult was well-adjusted to take on the challenges of living in the real world because they were an integral part of these activities at home. They learned the right way, and the wrong ways, to do these things through trial and error. Today’s microwave, instant-on, drive-through burger society has largely eliminated the need for our children to partake in these activities.
Besides delaying their preparedness for life on their own, this impairs your teen’s decision-making abilities. The article points out that teenagers take chances not because they don’t understand risk, but because the associated rewards are far more reinforcing to them. Teens desperately want the approval of their peers so they are likely to engage in that rewarding, yet potentially dangerous and stupid, activity that can lead to their approval over stepping back from the ledge and thinking it over.
Because teens have not learned the wrong ways to do things and made mistakes in a safe environment, they learn in the real world where it hurts more. Attach this to the child who never has a checking account until age 18 – do you think an out-of-balance check register is worse when their debit card is denied at the movie theater or when their rent check bounces? Two or three of these bounces and your kid returns home to live in your basement, convinced that they can’t make it on their own. Kids need to have these experiences at home, and parents need to create an environment for those to happen.
So what can we do? Our kids are smarter than ever but can’t handle the basics of life. Here are seven suggestions that you can incorporate in your home.
1. Just say no. When your child asks (and sometimes tells) you to do something that they are capable of doing, let them do it instead.
2. Delegate. As soon as your child can physically perform a chore or household task, give it to them. A shared load around the house gives a child a greater appreciation for the real world.
3. Praise and correct, never criticize. Stick with your child while they’re learning the ropes of these new tasks so that you can help them learn to do them well.
4. Create grown-up moments. As an example, let your child create grocery lists then let them do the shopping. During these times teach them how to read ingredients, price compare, and so forth. You can do this with auto maintenance, yard work, budgeting and other seemingly adult work.
5. Reward proper communications and extinguish poor ones. Dave Ramsey likes to say that in our teens lives a four-year old and a 34-year old. Communicate with them when they are talking and acting like an adult; when they’re acting like a child, treat them like a child.
6. Teach them money, and give them opportunities to handle money. Like it or not, money is the lifeblood of today’s economy. Send a child into the world with money skills and you’ve won half the battle. The best thing a teenager can learn about finances is that work creates money.
7. Set the course for them to leave the nest. If your child seems to lack direction or desire to move on with their life after high school, begin to talk about it and give them clear guidelines on what life looks like after they graduate.
In short, you teach your child as you raise them; it’s much more than providing food, clothing, and shelter. Don’t take a passive approach to this by doing everything for them and assuming that they learn by watching you. Add age-appropriate chores and household duties to all of your children, teach them about finances, and expect more from them. Your teenager, even with all of their weirdness, can handle challenges far greater than we tend to give them. When you think you’re protecting them and giving them the “good life,” you’re probably setting yourself up to have a 30 year-old roommate.