Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Teen Expectations

Linking up with the MOB (Mothers of Boys) Society today.

Earlier today I posted the following article onto my facebook page. It was mainly in response to a couple of friends who were struggling with their teens and some rebellion issues. However, if you've been on facebook for long, you've likely seen this floating around. Take a moment and read it.

I wasn't expecting to receive any responses from it - let alone the passionate remarks it stirred. And given that I have some strong thoughts on teens in our society, I figured I'd write my response here instead of in several long comments on my facebook status.

I may have young children, but I also have two boys on the cusp of being teens. In fact, I do consider my 12 and a half year old a teen because of his maturity level. Because of this, I've been giving much thought over the last year to how I should approach the teen years with my children. I don't want to settle for the status quo of backtalk, rebellion, and stupid decisions. I'm not naive - I do know some of that will occur, but I certainly hope it will not be the norm for my children.

To that end, I've had my oldest read a book entitled "Do Hard Things" by Brett and Alex Harris. It's an excellent call for teens to go beyond the low expectations of society and meet their potential. I blogged a bit about it here if you are interested. The basic premise is that around the world and throughout history, teens have been expected to do ... something. They aren't just children still living at home. They aren't yet adults. But they are adults in training who no longer want to be considered children. And their capabilities are amazing!

As parents it's our responsibility to give our children wings as they approach adulthood. You give them the opportunity to make choices, to fail or soar, to feel the consequences of their actions (good or bad) within the safety of your home and care. You guide with tough love, much grace, and unending forgiveness. And most importantly, you must model with your own life the type of adult you hope your child will become.

In almost all other societies, teens are considered productive members of society. They are expected to contribute, to add to the community and to the family. They are not permitted to live in fantasy or seek out "fun" unless the work is done. And work isn't just homework. It may be chores at home or on the farm, it may be a steady job. It may be hard and it may be inconvenient and it may be dirty. But teens are capable, strong, and smart. They can do much more than we in America give them credit for!

My problem with our society is that I see so many young twenty somethings living in their parents' basement, playing video games, and avoiding the job market. I'm not talking about honest, hardworking young adults who just need a boost to get on their feet. I'm talking about the MANY who are avoiding adulthood in favor of continuing a childhood that has stretched much too far. This isn't some nebulus group of people "out there". I've met them. They're in our town, they are people I care for.

So what to do? Is it right to just yell at kids and say "Do more. Get a job. Do chores. Read books." No, that won't do it. It falls to the parents. WE are the ones who must teach responsibility to our children. WE are the ones who must push our children to their potential while also providing a safe place to fail. WE must encourage, cheer, and reward successes.

Before writing this, I shared the article with my two oldest boys at the dinner table. I told them nothing of what I was about to read except that I wanted their opinions. I stressed that I'd be fine with them having differing opinions of each other and of the article. I read it, and I waited.

Both said they thought the article was right on. One said he felt it was a little harsh in the wording but that he agreed with the premise. I asked them to explain their thought process in agreeing - still not having voiced my opinion - and they shared that they know they are capable of much more than what is typically required of kids. They feel they can be important and productive. They want to have responsibility.

I didn't have to ask my next question, because I already knew the answer. They also want to be kids. And therein is the conundrum of teens. Part kid, part adult. They need time to play, to be silly, to hang out with friends, to get some extra sleep as they grow. But when we let that be the entirety of teen life, we're actually doing our children harm, not good. How is that preparing them for adulthood? How does silliness ready them for a job or marriage? How does expecting them to cop an attitude contribute to their well-being?

We tell our kids when they talk back to us that it's unacceptable. And we tell them why. Not only are they to respect their parents under God's laws, but under man's laws, they can be fired from a job for sassing their boss. If you are rude to those you meet, you'll soon be a lonely human being. You'll quickly burn bridges and you'll lose the respect of those around you.

It's the same when we give our children chores and responsibilities. My children have school year round. They also have chores year round. They are required to help in the garden in summer. They vacuum, clean bathrooms, do dishes, wash laundry, and help with their younger siblings. Am I stealing their childhood? I don't believe I am. I do expect a lot from my children, but I don't expect more than they can do. I would never ask a 4 year old to get out the big vacuum and clean the floors. The vacuum is as big as he is! It would be an unrealistic and frustrating expectation. Instead, I ask my 4 year old to make sure he puts two rolls of toilet paper on each toilet in the house so that we don't have issues of running out while someone is on the pot. He has the satisfaction of contributing to the household in an age appropriate way.

It's the same with our teens. I wouldn't normally ask my oldest to simply put toilet paper on the toilets because he is capable of so much more. Instead, he is the one cleaning the toilets. He is the one vacuuming. He's capable, he feels good when he has accomplished the task. And here's the kicker. When he's done with work, he's free to play. It's not an exclusive issue. Teens need the play and the responsibility. But the play should come AFTER the responsibility, not before. And that's where much of our society has it backwards. Many want their kids to have all the fun they can and if there's time left over they can help out. Because of this, we're raising lazy adults who feel entitled to an easy lifestyle and are going into massive amounts of debt to acheive that lifestyle.

All this to say: Love your kids. Love them enough to help them reach their potential - in all areas of life. Take a good look at their capabilities and give them the respect they long for by recognizing how mature they can be if given the chance. And when they fail, which they will, be there to help them back up, encourage them onward, and celebrate when they succeed the next time around.


  1. Right on Ali! Very much my thoughts and philosophy on the subject. Children need boundaries, and responsibilities appropriate to their age and ability and time to just be a kid.Given proper direction in life and added responsiblities as they grow older toward adulthood will prepare them for succcess as an adult. And as we all know, we all learn from our mistakes, but we should never allow our mistakes to hinder us from making the effort to do better at the next task or next time. I especially believe that having Christ in our lives, guides us first and foremost in how to raise our children, from birth to adulthood. Many scripture verses in refernce to this. Nad hopefuly when our children reach adulthood, they can see the wisdom God has given us as parents and they can feel that they can come to us even as they are adults,
    to ask for advice or input. Good post!

  2. You know all of our kids have chores to do. If you ask them they may tell you they don't like doing them but they do them, most of the time without complaining to much. I think if you(not you personally Ali,people in general)are looking at chores as a means of teaching them responsibility for their future then that is a good thing and positive. If you are making them do chores because you are to lazy to do them yourself then I think that is the wrong attitude to have. I think all kids teens and others deserve to have appropriate fun. I love to do fun things with my kids, and I like when they can have friends over and I like them to be able to go to friends houses but not if they are not going to be responsible for their chores or themselves. I guess what I hope is that by teaching them some responsibility through chores and such that they will be better adults when it comes time. Maybe they will be more willing to help others that can't do certain things or have disabilities.
    I do believe this society has taken on more of an entitlement attitude and it is very sad. So I guess you know I am hoping at least I can instill some values in my kids to take them to and through adulthood and hopefully to help others also.

  3. Thank you Ali! This has helped me with a struggle I often have! I sometimes feel like I am stealing my childrens childhood.They have school, homework, chores,and then free time. I always wonder if it is too much but then I remember they do have free time at school and they get some every night and on the weekends. It is just nice to hear it confirmed :) Amanda J.

  4. It is a good thing that children learn responsibility in the home and feel they are contributing to helping others in the family as well. As you and others have said, they usually have lots of time to have fun or read. Hopefully this attitude of serving others will carry over into their adult years. I was never bored as a child; there was always some project to work on or gift to make after school work was done. It takes much time for parents to not only teach chores, but also skills. Our honor society in High School allowed us to serve in a nursing home, helping make beds and fix the hair of elderly ladies. I hope kids learn to reach out beyond themselves in service to others- it is very rewarding. Thanks for encouraging others by your blog.

  5. Thanks, Ali! Ours are just entering this incredibly important part of their lives. You're helping me reflect & reevaluate some things.

  6. Great advice from you and "the judge" in the article you posted. Encouraging kids to help out others in the home or in community - when their school work and home responsibilities are done - is so important as they mature. There are so many activities and skills that kids can "work" on as they grow up and you have shared many. Some other ideas that come to mind are: helping a classmate to improve in a subject (tutoring in a sense); coaching or encouraging a younger or handicapped child with sport or skill; getting involved in scouting or 4H and being part of service projects in their community; learning a musical instrument so they can contribute to an orchestra or band or accompany singing; singing in a choir to bring praises to God; helping an elderly neighbor with yard work or cleaning; etc. The values kids learn in the home are so critical to their sense of worth as a human being. As you said, parents - and I would also say teachers, extended family members, and church leaders - have such an important role in helping kids develop into the person God wants them to be. Instilling God's word into the hearts of our kids is so key to helping them understand how to live a life pleasing to God. I know this is a key component in your family, and I would like to encourage everyone to read the Bible and make God's Word an important part of their lives and families! May God richly bless you, Josh and your family. Sending love.