throughout history, children have been variously treated, by their societies (and, at a level more close to home, by their parents) as either miniature adults, or large babies. of course, those are extremes, and often the pendulum swing is somewhere at a more moderated place.
for much of the last couple centuries, parents, and culture at large, have mostly been viewing teenagers as junior-sized adults. they were given freedoms and responsibilities by the bushel-full. they were provided ample opportunities to exercise their fledgling sense of self and their sporadicly effective abstract thinking ability. the freedoms given them by parents, combined with the limitations of their own brain development (particularly in the areas of decision making, prioritization, risk analysis, and impulse control) caused them to quickly and effectively learn boundaries, particularly as they were granted the freedom to fail, to learn from stepping over the line (as opposed to merely be “protected” from the line, or told about the line).
i started noticing that pendulum swinging the other way more than a decade ago. but — holy cow — that swing has picked up insane inertia. we seem to be living in a period of time when culture, media, parents, schools, the legal system, and all sorts of other leverage providers are encouraging each other on (unknowingly — acting as each others’ accelerators) toward pushing the pendulum to a wild extreme.
bottom line: today’s teenagers (and young adults) are being treated like children more than they have been for hundreds of years; maybe more than they ever have been in any era.
this shift is increasing in speed. i see it all over the place (you will also, if you start looking for it):
- articles and tv shows and news reports that refer to 16 – 19 year-olds as “children”
- the same sources referring to young adults, clearly well into their 20s, as “teenagers” (how can a 21 or 22 year old be called a “teenager” by any definition of the word, even if extended adolescence has them in a post-teenage, not-yet-adult pergatorial state of developmental limbo?).
- parents removing all meaningful responsibility from the lives of their teenaged children, in an effort to “protect” them, allowing them to stay “innocent” and “care-free” longer (i’m putting quotes around all these words because they’re so unfulfilled and misguided).
- parents removing consequences of poor choices, with the subtle logic that “children are innocent, and shouldn’t be help responsible for actions they don’t fully understand.” by the way, this logic has caused gradual upward movement in the age of responsibility we enforce on children — what used to be an accountability that came after 7 years old (really), then 12 years old, was — for many years — at the 18 year-old mark. but that’s going away now also. ask an HR director or supervisor of young 20somethings if they’ve had parents call in to explain why their 24 year-old will be late to work.
i’m not sure it’s fair to blame parents. i’m a parent of two teenagers. or, i should say: i’m the parent of one teenager (max, 14), and one young adult (liesl, 18), or aspiring adult, or apprentice adult. if liesl is really a child, i probably shouldn’t be letting her trudge around the uk at this moment, as she is. in fact, later this week she and a friend start a 14 day coast-to-coast hike across england with nary an adult in site, unless you count the two of them.
but i digress. i don’t want to blame parents, though i wish they would stand up more against the cultural pressure that tells them they’re bad parents if they don’t smother, over-protect, remove responsibility and consequences. i wish they would stand up more to the cultural pressure jump on that danged swinging pendulum and treat their teenagers like children, their young adults as teenagers.
i’m going to do what i can to slow the currently increasing momentum of that pendulum. i’m going to gently instruct parents about this stuff (i’m amazed how quickly they agree with me and suddenly feel empowered, when i’m asked to lead parent seminars). i’m going to continue ranting about it here, in direct and non-direct ways. heck, i think i really need to write a book about this at some point (i had a full-blown proposal that barna considered co-authoring with me; but, alas, he passed).
so, it’s another title i’m going to take: parenting pendulum preventer. yup, i like it. triple-p, baby — that’s me! i might not be able to stop that thing; but i’m going to point it out, and get a handful of parents to jump off. maybe with that weight gone, the inertia will, even a tiny bit, decelerate.