Teenagers Don’t Have to be Children

I’ve realized this weekend that it’s time to start shifting the focus of my parenting.

When I was a teenager, I got A’s and B’s (and C’s in gym class) in school. Starting at 15 I had a babysitting job that I went to every single day after school and every weekday during the summer.  Never missed a day.

At 16, I got a part time job at a secret government agency (after school) and was considered “essential personnel.”  By the time I was 17, I had graduated high school and was working full time at the agency and only took off one sick day in the 3 years I worked there.

I worked a rotating shift (days/mids/nights) and weekends.   Being essential personnel meant that I was required to go in to work during snow storms in my Ford Festiva– no matter how bad the snowstorm, and on every major holiday:  Christmas, New Years’, Easter, etc.  For two years, aged 17 and 18, I was the one who volunteered to switch my schedule so I could work those holidays, so that the people with kids could be at home.  It never crossed my mind that I was a “kid” and maybe my mother wanted me home with her on Christmas morning.

In the event that the building was under attack, at least one of us was expected to stay in the room and keep the lines open to the bitter end, bombs bursting in air and all.  I kinda figured I’d be able to run away screaming, being a civilian, and that one of the military people would stay and sacrifice his or her life to keep the lines open.  But at the same time, I resigned myself to the fact that if they all ran away faster than me, I would stay behind and sacrifice my life.  It was never put to the test, so I’ll never know what I’d have really done.

If my salary had been high enough, I could have easily lived on my own at 17.  Easily.  I was a dependable employee with a full time job, paid all my own bills and lived then the same way that I live now. Actually, I went to bed earlier back then and Darling Husband pays the bills now, so, in some ways, I was more independently responsible at 17 than I am now.

I married at 19 and am still married to the same man.  For the next 10 years, from 19-29 years old we both worked our jobs rarely using sick leave and spent less money than we earned. We bought a house when I was 21.

I was convinced of it then, and I’m just as convinced of it now, that teenagers are easily capable of running much of their own lives and of handling serious adult responsibility: working all day or all night as the shift may require, marriage, proper handling of finances, home ownership, and the very real willingness to sacrifice one’s life for a greater cause amid exploding bombs.

I don’t believe I was an anomaly.  I personally know more capable teenagers than I know incapable ones.  You’re right that they don’t have as much life experience as someone older, but that doesn’t last long.  There are plenty of people in their twenties who have traveled or lived through hard times that, when you put his or her experiences side-by-side against mine, actually have a more well-rounded life than I have had at almost-40.

It’s only been within the past 200 years that teenagers have had their adult-like responsibility and rights stripped from them.  Throughout the entire span of human history, girls were often considered marriageable by about 12, and for boys it was about 14.  Our culture and our time is the anomaly.

And I believe we’re doing people in their teen years a disservice by treating them like children, when all it takes is a cursory glimpse throughout history to see that they’re capable of much more than we release to them.

I know people, In Real Life people, not just someone I’ve heard about on the internet, who have raised their kids to be capable of running the family’s household by their early teens.  I’ve actually met these teenagers.  Sure, they still enjoying being young and having time to “play.”  And sure, they make more blunders than I would make now that I’ve had 20-25 extra years of living, but they are handling themselves with a respectable level of maturity and responsibility.

What’s the point of this?  I realized today that Boy10 is…well, he’s 10.  Only 3 more years until 13.  That’s the blink of an eye.  Boy10 will be a man very soon with Boy7 not much farther behind.  And what am I doing to prepare them?  As they shortly enter their teen years, will I continue to treat them like children to be controlled, or will I equip them to run their own lives before they reach the end of their teen years?

Now that I’ve been thinking about these things, and have noticed that Boy10 is 10, I’ve been reassessing how I parent him.  It’s time to switch gears and slowly release him into greater responsibilities and to grant him more rights.  Boy7 is still small, but will probably benefit from this as well.

First step: I’m revoking my vetoing power over their allowance purchases.   As of today, they’re in full control of their finances.

Second step:  Letting them pick their own chores off of the day’s to-do list, rather than assigning them, and teaching them how to do the harder chores.

I’ll let you know in three or four years whether it’s working or not.

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Picture of the Day:

Lunch with Gerhard and Janet.

Big burrito.

No burrito.

No, that wasn’t mine.  I was clever enough to fill up on chips and salsa so that I would have leftovers.

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P.S.  Hurricane coming.  If there’s no post tomorrow, you’ll know our power went out.

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