Growing Up Too Fast…or Not Growing Up? Part 2

Part 2: Parents

If you haven’t read Part 1 which introduces this idea, take a minute if you can to do so and get the background before reading on. It’s one of the trends of our time…kids are growing up too fast and then they’re not growing up. We began exploring why in part 1.

This post will focus on how parenting is affecting what is called “delayed adolescence.” There will be direct implications for parents, and also some food for thought to youth workers reading this. Youth workers pay attention too, there are ways you can identify this happening in families you are serving on behalf of, and ways you can help.

Delayed adolescence is a trend we can’t ignore. When…

  • 50% of 25 year olds don’t consider themselves adults,
  • many young adults have lost the drive to become independent from their family
  • many are avoiding bigger life commitments like marriage, parenting, and career decisions

…then we must ask the question, “What has contributed to this tend towards delayed adolescence?”

Below are some thoughts on how parents are connected to this trend. First let’s look at some reasons.  We will focus on three. Then let’s begin to look at some solutions.

“Helicopter parents” is a term you might be familiar with. Helicopter parents hover over their kids and try to protect them from negative things. Typically this term is used to describe parents who go overboard to shield their kids from the reality of tough situations in life. Rather than allowing them to figure things out, they tend to insert themselves into a situation where it might be better to allow their child to work through a challenge and figure it out on their own.

For example, a helicopter parent would have no problem talking to a coach if they feel their child isn’t being treated fairly (even when maybe they in fact are but may not be working hard on the team, as an example). The stereotype of this parent would be to automatically blame the coach because their son “Johnny” could never do wrong.

Working in a career with primarily high school students for the last 20+ years I’ve seen all kinds of parents. Traditionally, parents tend to be pretty involved in the life of their child and less as they get older. I asked a teacher of one of my high school daughters about parent involvement in parent/teacher conferences and they said something I hadn’t thought about. Parents regularly attend meetings for their elementary age student, but by the time they get to high school parent involvement and attendance to such meetings goes dramatically down.

But this trend seems to be changing when it comes to parents helping kids with conflict, particularly with authority. A friend of mine is a college professor, and he told me recently that more and more he has parents contacting him to complain about their son or daughter’s grades. What may have seemed ridiculous in the past is now much more commonplace according to him and the other college professors at the university.

Helicopter parenting is taking away the struggle that many and/or most times makes a young person stronger and better for having worked through a difficult situation in life. When a young adult makes a poor financial decision, and the parent recues them by picking up the tab, the eventuality of this “help” that parents offer turns into enabling bad behavior. Unfortunately, I have seen this in hundreds of families over the years.

The struggles of life can help us to take a look at ourselves first, rather than an immediate blame of others or unfairness biased against us. Helicopter parents tend to produce kids who don’t take responsibility for their actions, and many go on to live a life of excuses pointed towards the mistakes of others, rather than on themselves when they make mistakes or find themselves in a tough spot.

Throughout time, cultures have provided ‘rites of passage’ to people coming of age. This bridged the gap between childhood and adulthood. Quite often this ritual or experience would propel them immediately afterwards into adulthood.

Examples are (these aren’t ideas but examples!)

  • Young Maasai men would hunt lions with only spear and shield
  • Spartans traditionally would beat their young children to test their strength of survival
  • Vanuatu youngsters practiced “land diving” to reach adulthood.

Typical American culture has erased many rites of passage once previously practiced. Ask yourself this question; do our young people know when they are officially considered an adult by their family and by their society and culture? Is it when they drive? Can legally drink? When they can vote? Graduate college? Move out? As you can see, the answer to this question is fuzzy at best. Rites of passage, while maybe foreign or flawed to us, nevertheless provided a clearer sense of identity and expectation to the emerging adult.

James Carville coined this phrase as the campaign director for Bill Clinton in his successful 1992 run for President. Many pundits say that the key to his victory to become President was his focus on the sluggish economic environment of that day and a promise to fix it. This phrase became the mantra of their campaign staff as a reminder to focus on what mattered to voters.

When it comes to delayed adolescence, the economy is a factor in this trend, no doubt. From factors like the change to health care laws enabling 25 year olds to still be under their parents health insurance coverage, to mobile phone family share plans that tie kids to their parents monthly bill, students coming of age into adulthood are more connected to their parents than ever.

College costs have far outpaced normal inflation rates, causing college graduates to face life with a house payment without even having a house. The climate for available jobs for young adults emerging into the market is difficult and rapidly changing. Entry-level jobs often limit the chance for independence from families and may only be considered temporary until the job they really want comes along. It’s become much more common for college graduates to return to living at home, in a job that they don’t see a future in, all the while struggling to pay the hefty college loan they owe.

So what can parents do? And what can youth workers learn?

What!? Hear me out.

Parents who are hovering generally are lessening their child’s chance for success in learning how to overcome challenges they are facing. Think of how our bodies work when it comes to building muscle. Muscles are literally torn up and broken down in the process of building them up to become stronger. Remember how sore you feel when you work a muscle harder than it’s been worked for a while? This soreness is the tearing down process, enabling the possibility of greater capacity for the future.

Sometimes when your students fail, simply allow it to happen. Support them; be there for them to process it. But don’t always rescue them from the consequences or responsibilities that come with failure. When we protect our kids from failure we promote failure within them. We’ve all experienced the pain but also hopefully the growth from failure. Failure is the greatest teacher for success that exists because it forces us to deal with the reality of growth. Growth only comes through pain, and it can’t be cheated. You will not cheat pain and grow.

If you are rescuing your student from their repeated failure then you are failing them. Your attempt to remove the consequences of bad behavior is only complicating the issue and making their improvement more difficult. Watching our kids fail is painful for us too, but don’t cheat your student from learning to overcome the challenges and obstacles that life brings. If you help them learn this when they are young, you have the opportunity to coach them through it while they are still around.

Our kids need to go through the pain of failure to become better people and better leaders. So yes, support, but don’t promote, their failure.

Rites of passage can clear the fog for students as to when they cross the line from being a child to becoming an adult. Cultures have used them for millennia. Why not do the same? Create a rite of passage of some kind for your adolescent-to-become-adult. If you still have the time and they are young enough, establish this and communicate early what this is and what it means.

This could become a meaningful tradition that is passed on to future generations of your family. Think about how cool that would be, to think that you created something that could outlive you and go on to impact future lives you will never know. As a parent of faith, consider consulting spiritual guidance for rites that connect your kids to their faith. (youth workers, are you paying attention?)

When our children were young, my wife and I stayed up late 2 nights while on vacation and drafted a family plan. It ended up being a 10-page document that detailed all the things we wanted our children to experience and learn before they graduated high school. This included trips, books, movies, discussions, concepts, skills, and rites of passage we would provide for them. This has been a guidepost we have used for 10 years in helping provide a path for us as parents to be as deliberate as possible in helping our kids be prepared for life as best we knew now.

That may be a little too extreme for you, but consider something that helps your kids bridge the gap and cross the line into becoming an adult.

A friend of mine who is a financial advisor says that financial know how is the most important 21st century survival skill. Much like knowing the skills of hunting, fire building and agricultural methods were critical to surviving in the past, understanding money today is absolutely essential to navigating successfully through life. Think of it…one bad financial decision can potentially ruin your entire life. No one would want their child to experience this.

Sticky faith is doing cutting edge research on the transition from students post-high school, and they say that time and money management skills are the most practical and needed skills that students need to know before they graduate high school. The credit card offers and loans come quick to young people today, and we as parents must prepare them to know what to do with their money.

Several public high schools in the area where I live either provide or require personal financial management courses to students in high school. And hopefully your youth ministry in your church is providing solid biblical teaching on money as well. (hint hint, youth workers! Get an idea of where to start here) This is a great idea but parents must also never rely on outsourcing in this area of finances. Read a book together, attend a class, have intentional discussions, or even do creative experiments with them in real life to teach them financial responsibility. If young adults have no clue about money and make one or several bad choices, they could delay not only their financial freedom, but many other freedoms attached to that as well. (and they may not move out for another 10 years!)

What other ways can parents help navigate their students toward adulthood?

In the next blog post on this topic I’ll be offering some ideas for solutions to youth workers.

I’d love to get your thoughts and feedback on this and all of our topics. Hit me up on Twitter @jeffeckart  #aretheygrowingup or the Never The Same Facebook page where this will be linked.

Parents with questions or ideas, please post on our FaceBook page. This is a great way to support each other as we do our best to raise Godly, healthy young adults.

Jeff Eckart, CEO
Never The Same


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