“The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for
authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place
of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their
households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They
contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties
at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teacher.” Attributed to Socrates 470 BC.
It’s worse now. Every year now millions of 18 to 22 year olds rush out into the real world for a year or two, then they rush back home. The reason is simple, they’re barely prepared to peel a grape much less compete for a job, commit to a relationship, deal with setbacks, cope with financial pressure of bills or restrain their partying. More kids than ever leave for college, but only 54 percent of college freshmen graduate within six years. One in three Americans in their mid-twenties is a college dropout.
Students are showing up on campus unprepared for the course load, ill equipped to prioritize, helpless to solve problems without Mom running interference, and lacking the inner strength to stand up to the pressures, demands, and challenges they will inevitably face in the future.
Young adults today believe they’ll find the lifestyle they enjoyed in high school waiting for them upon college graduation. They’re stunned at low starting salaries, small apartments, public transportation, and skyrocketing credit card bills. They’re overwhelmed by the competition to find a job, the stress of an unhappy boss, cleaning dirty sheets, dealing with health insurance companies and trying to party all night on MasterCard. They’ve been told all their life they can do anything, be anything and that their happiness is the most important thing in the world, then when they actually enter that world it dawns on them that they have built their lives on fiction: They can’t do anything they want, they can’t be anything they want and nobody cares if they’re mainlining Prozac every morning.
But the problem isn’t the kids. It seems to be parents. Not that we don’t try. We hover over our kids twenty four hours a day, we protect our kids from every imaginable harm, we cry with our kids when they’re hurting, we provide our kids with the best of everything, we run interference for our kids when they’re in trouble, we do science fair projects for our kids when they go to bed and we throw tickertape parades for them when they graduate from second grade.
We do everything for our kids except the one key thing we should have been doing all along: preparing them for adulthood.
As parents we live in fear. Fear our children aren’t happy enough, they’re not popular enough, they’re not safe enough, they don’t have enough, they have to work too hard, and that they’re not being treated fairly. This fear shapes the way we raise them. Instead of teaching them how to struggle, we eliminate struggle from their lives. Instead of teaching them how to persevere, we tell them not to try so hard. Instead of teaching them to do without, we teach them all they have to do is ask. Instead of teaching them to be adventurous we make them risk adverse. Instead of teaching them how to succeed, we teach them to be happy because we’ve succeeded. So our kids grow up parent dependent instead of independent.
The good news is, we can change. Instead of focusing on giving our kids the most fantastic childhood ever, with just a few little attitude adjustments, we can work to prepare them for adulthood. To give them tools to succeed instead of reasons for failure. We can teach them to value honor and integrity over “cool” and “sexy.” We can show them how to earn self-esteem, handle defeat and persevere when the going gets tough. We can help our children gain the confidence to face the world.
But we have to change. We have to be willing to lead honorable, courageous, fearless lives. We have to act financially responsible, morally responsible and spiritually responsible. We have to raise the standards by which hold our kids accountable, not lower them so they’ll feel better.
The bottom line is this: The best time to train for adulthood is childhood. And it’s not too early to begin now. Because adulthood is like some giant train barreling down the tracks. It’s coming. And we can either have a twenty-one year old who thinks like he’s thirteen. Or a twenty-one year old ready to take on the world.