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I’d feel pretty confident in betting that at least 95% of all parents have used the line “When I was your age I (fill in the blank)!” We see our kids doing or not doing something and we squint our eyes and shake our heads and think “Seriously?” At that age I was dating, driving, working, and so on.

A new study published last week in the journal Child Development by psychology professor Jean Twenge of San Diego State confirms it. Today’s youngsters are developing into adulthood at a much slower rate than their predecessors in the early 90’s. The attraction to adulthood responsibilities and freedoms don’t seem to hold the same appeal and are shrinking their opportunities for growth.

For example:
• there was a 15-20% downgrade in risky behavior
• 29% of eighth graders drank alcohol, down from 56% in the early 90’s
• 32% of teens today work for pay, down from 63%
• 73% of those who can obtain a drivers license do, down from 88% in decades past

The study suggested that there were several contributing factors, among them the “helicopter parenting” of our children as we have fewer children and feel more responsible for smoothing their life path. This can be especially true when there are teens with special needs or circumstances.

The second could be the fact that today\’s teens and young adults are on technology for hours a day, keeping them distracted/satisfied. They can see and talk to their friends in a virtual world, without ever leaving the house. If you don’t go out, you don’t need the money, transportation, or wardrobe. Though it’s a relief to know they are safe at home and not engaging in sex, drugs, drinking or worse, they also aren’t pushing for more appropriate freedoms. Eighteen year olds are acting more like fifteen year olds. They are stalled out.

If this is a national trend, how are parents to counteract it?

Here are two tips (because honestly, who has the band width for more than two?). Implement them now and see if it doesn’t shift your adolescent towards more independence and maturity.

Tip #1:

Get online and look for videos of people with handicaps doing extraordinary things.  Not only will you be inspired, but it will shift your paradigm of what your son or daughter could actually accomplish, even given their own struggles.  Though it is difficult to do as a parent, when you intimately know the details of their strengths and weaknesses, you need to shift your own thinking so that you can help your children find the confidence to try their wings in healthy ways.  It could surprise you both.

For example, remember the story of Helen Keller and her teacher Anne Sullivan?  Helen, as a completely frustrated deaf and blind child, had to be removed from her home where her parents were doing their best, but coddling her, and taken to a location where she was working only with Anne, who through a loving firmness knew how to help.  It wasn\’t always pretty, but it was effective, and we were blessed with one of the great figures of the last century.  Voted #15 out of 100 of America\’s most inspiring movies, Miracle Worker could be a excellent family activity and discussion starter.  Removes a lot of excuses.

Tip#2:

Think of yourself as conducting an internship in the field of adulthood.  You are to give this young person as much experiential learning as possible.  Realize how quickly this teaching window is passing, and provide opportunities for your teen to:

  • make appointments by themselves
  • prepare their own meals, or an occasional meal for the family
  • get a driver\’s license to help with family errands
  • invite friends to the house, or organize a group activity for a Friday night

All of this is easier said than done.  I struggle as a parent myself.  Recently, our eighteen year old son graduated high school and left home, turning over our little dairy business to my 15 year old daughter.  Whenever I wanted to talk to her about the operation, she\’d wave me off saying it stressed her out.  Frankly, thinking of training her for a job that was two times a day, 365 days a year stressed me out too.

Finally, with five days left before her brother moved out, I thought to myself \”She has two of the gentlest, best-trained cows I\’ve ever seen, and a clean barn to do this in. She is capable.\”

So I approached her with \”You can do this for free, or you can get paid for it.  Which would you rather?\”

She relented, but wasn\’t happy.  After two days of working side by side with her, going over each detail of the care and feeding, the milking process, the bottling of the milk, and the tracking and billing of our customers, she came to me and with a half smile and admitted \”I kind of like milking the cows Dad.\”

Success for her.  Success for her future.

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