Childhood Should Not Be Eternal

 

Tones

Photo by Dan Foy
When children are two and parents are attempting the toilet training feat, there’s a phrase that we all seem to say: “Look at what a big boy/girl you are!” We encourage kids to want to think of themselves as “big”. And they love it! They walk up to complete strangers and announce, “I’m a big boy!”

What happens to that pride in growing up?

It somehow disappears. Several commenters and emailers suggested I was being harsh in my Halloween column, when I said that teenagers should not be trick or treating. I know many trick or treaters in my neighbourhood last night were well past my expiry date for revelers, so I don’t think that my interpretation of the etiquette of the evening is very widespread.

So I’ve been rethinking my take: am I wrong on Halloween? Perhaps. I’ve never been enamoured with the holiday to begin with, so I may be being a bit grumpy about it. But I’ll tell you why I think it’s important: too often we deny our children the chance to grow up.

Our society is suffering from an epidemic of overaged adolescents. College graduates move back in with their parents (though much of that is the lack of ability to find a job). People don’t marry; they live together. They become addicted to video games. Teens are often very rude. They don’t know how to hold down a job, even if they wanted to. They don’t seem in a hurry to hit the milestones I rushed full tilt to: finish school, get married, have a baby, get a job. Those things are to put off as long as possible, so we can still “have fun”. And fun is described as anything that does not require responsibility.

We live in an adolescent society, and I see that as a bad thing. Thus, in my parenting and my writing I have taken every opportunity possible to encourage children to grow up, in age appropriate ways, of course. Here are a couple of random thoughts on how to encourage kids to “grow up”:

1. Talk About the Next Milestone

From the time they are little, talk “up” the next milestone. We do it when they’re toilet training; let’s keep doing it. See responsibility and increased ability as something to look forward to. “Soon you’re going to be able to stay in the house by yourself! What a big boy!” “Soon you’re going to be able to read chapter books!” “Soon you’re going to be able to go to youth group!”

And then, when those milestones happen, get excited about it! Have a mini-dinner party about it! It’s not hard; just at your regular sit down family dinner wear paper hats and toast the child who has reached another milestone. Talk about growing up as if it’s a good thing.

2. Give Increased Privileges

I remember at each birthday for a while I was allowed to stay up 15 minutes or half an hour later at night. I was so looking forward to birthdays because I’d get to go to bed later!

That’s hard to do, though, if kids don’t have a strict bedtime. Parents today aren’t as scheduled as parents were when we were growing up, and because of that it’s hard to make distinctions between different ages. If you’re already letting your 8-year-old stay up until 9:30 at night, or go to bed whenever he wants, how do you give him increased privileges when he turns 9?

Try to keep some elements of your home structured, like bedtime, play dates, how many extracurricular activities they do or what type of extracurricular activities, or what TV shows they can watch (if you have a TV). Then, when they reach the next milestone, you can let them do more things.

So don’t let all children do everything. I know that’s hard when you have a whole pile of kids, and you’re just trying to keep things working, but distinguish between the ages. Give the older one more privileges, and then growing up will be seen as a positive thing.

3. Grant More Responsibility

At the same time, give children more responsibility as they get older. Increase the number of chores they’re expected to do. Help them learn to run a household, whether it’s ensuring they know how to cook a few meals by the time they’re 13 or teaching them how to clean well. When kids feel capable, they tend to act more mature and think of themselves as older.

Then, with that responsibility give increased allowance. Don’t give every kid the same amount of spending money; increase it as they age so that they want to get bigger.

4. Put an Age Limit on Some Activities

Here’s where my Halloween strategy comes in. You may not agree with it for Halloween (though I definitely do), but think long and hard about this. We don’t want children to grow up thinking that they can still act like children, even when they’re in their late teens. We want to raise children who, once they’re 18, will want to get a job, will want to become more independent, will want to plan for the future.

To do that, we have to encourage our children to stop thinking of themselves as kids. We have to encourage them to think of themselves as being “beyond childhood”, and to see that as a badge of honour.

So take some things in your family and call them off limits once a child hits 13 or 16. I would put Trick or Treating in this category, but you may add something else, like going to a particular summer camp, or doing a certain extracurricular activity. Whatever makes sense for your family.

Just make sure that as your children age, you are distinguishing between childhood, adolescence, and adulthood, and that there is a progression. Don’t assume that children will one day wake up and think of themselves as adults and be happy that they’re adults!

5. Mark Milestones

Last summer we threw a blessing party for my 13-year-old. I had a mini-spa set up in my dining room and living room, where we were doing pedicures, manicures, and facials. It was great fun.

Then, afterwards, I invited twelve women and several teenage girls who Katie looked up to to say a blessing over her, and to affirm something that they saw in her. We did the same thing for Rebecca when she was 13, and it was wonderful.

This winter Rebecca is turning 16, and we’ll celebrate another milestone. Our society doesn’t do that as well as they did in the past. We don’t have ceremonies marking the fact that “now you are an adult”, because it takes so long, with education and training, to function as an adult today. But I believe that’s all the more reason that we should mark milestones and congratulate our children for growing into the adults God made them to be. Help them to see themselves as growing older; help them to see themselves as being made for a purpose; help them to see themselves as capable people, whom God will use to live out that purpose.

Their life, in other words, is bigger than just them. You can’t live life as an extended adolescent; we have to embrace the fact that God has called us to something, and is now equipping us for it.

One last warning: The new Superman graphic novel has radically changed the Superman character. Education writer Joanne Jacobs explains, “He’s still super, but he’s not happy about it. DC Comics’ new Superman is a sullen, brooding and angst-ridden 20-year-old who prefers a hoodie to a cape”. They’ve turned Superman into a brooding adolescent, instead of a hero who wants to fight for justice and for what’s right. Even our cultural icons have started to glamourize this extended adolescence. If you don’t want that for your child, you will have to fight against it, and that means making some things off limits for teens, giving them more responsibility, and marking milestones.

That’s why I believe teens shouldn’t trick or treat. Perhaps it’s only a minor thing, but it’s part of my bigger strategy to help my girls grow up. I don’t know what stage your children are at, but it starts in the early years, encouraging them to look for the next milestone, giving them increasing responsibiliity and increasing privileges, and congratulating them when they reach a certain skill level or responsibility level. Let’s talk about growing up as if it’s a good thing; let’s remind them that it’s part of God’s plan.

If we all did that, I bet we’d have fewer brooding Supermen.

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Comments

  1. Stam House says:

    >I agree with this post! WE have adult child in our society and it is disturbing!

    Our children are 3 and under so I can't speak for them yet but I can share my in-laws philosophies.

    they have a own business (Bakery ) and the youngest to the oldest are to help according to their capacity!

    Teh 3 years old can take off the wrapper from the butter, the 10 years old can serve costumer and handle money and their older can do delivery etc… They all have responsibilities and some people are being mean to this family because they are making their children *Work*

    What is wrong with making children learn work ethic, what is wrong to trust young children with money and teaching them how to use it wisely, what is wrong preparing them to a future where they will have to take charge???

    Oh the let kids be kids comment we have hear it so often!!!, but they do have fun, more fun then other children I've seen, but their is a time to play a time to learn time to work etc…

    We are planning to follow my husband's family regarding preparing our little one.

    have a blessed day
    Renee

  2. Terry @ Breathing Grace says:

    >Great post, Sheila! I agree wholeheartedly (again:).

    Pereptual adolescence is one the worst things to happen to our culture.

  3. Anonymous says:

    >I agree that we are raising adults my children and young adults know this.I will not even call my 12 or14 year old teenagers.I am not raising a teen I am raising an adult.That being said there is such a thing as innocent fun and trick or treating is one of those things.I would prefer my 12 and 14 year old be doing that alongside my husband, myself and my 2,7,and8 year old than haveing a party some place else as was your suggestion.

  4. Anonymous says:

    >I think I should add. that I really do love your blog.I agree that the gruesome and sexy costumes are shameful and I can very vividly remember when I only had two very young children being upset that some older kids might be ruining the night for my frightened young ones.

  5. Anonymous says:

    >I am a little confused as to why you would use summer camp as an example of something to not allow a teenager to participate in. I didn't start going to summer camp until I was a teenager and it was very important part of my spiritual development and also led into my first job.

    I do believe in encouraging maturity and responsibility in children and teenagers, but I'm not sure I follow your line of thinking.

    Nurse Bee

  6. >Nurse Bee–
    You're right, I should have been more clear about summer camp!

    What we've done is said, "if you want to be a camper, that's fine, but somewhere around 14-15 you should stop being a camper and go as a helper/leader in training."

    Camp should switch from being something that entertains you to being a place where you learn leadership skills. I don't mind the kids going to "teen camp" at the end of the summer of serving, for instance, but there does come a time when I think they should be helpers!

    As for the Halloween comments to Anonymous, I understand you wanting to do it as a family! And for the party I was suggesting, I meant that kids can have the party at your house! I love having kids over, because it means that I get to know my kids' friends. So I don't see it as sending them somewhere else as much as it is creating a new tradition where kids can get together, get dressed up, have some good, clean fun, and not act like children anymore!

  7. >I agree with most of your post. About college graduates moving back in with their parents, I don't see anything wrong with that as long as they are contributing.

    When I graduated college I moved back home and started working as an English teacher. I paid my parents my rent every month and helped in other ways. My parents enjoyed having me there, and would rather I stay with them and pay them rent than rent an apartment. At least at home I was helping my parents.

    I did that until I got married at 24, and I don't see anything wrong with that per se. If I had just been living there and not contributing, then that would have been wrong. But, if a young adult is paying rent and they are in thier early twenties I do not see anything wrong with that.

  8. >I meant their.

  9. >Amen! Amen!! Amen!!! Oh how I agree! When did having responsibility and growing up become a bad thing? sigh…My husband and I completely agree with all you are saying. We do a lot to celebrate the milestones in their lives…from losing their first tooth (our 7 yr old), to potty training stickers (our 2 yr old) to a special birthday party for our 15 yr old as she prepared for taking her driver's permit test. Each one is special! Our 7 yr old is so excited about turning 13 because if he has learned how to be responsible at each age up to that he will get some supervised time on Facebook with mom or dad assisting–just like his sister! We want our children to like being adults when they are old enough and need to take on adult responsibilities…but if we act like responsibility is boring, not enjoyable, etc…WHY will they want to become adults? I think its because there is a generation of people who give everything to their children instead of giving their children the gift of confidence and responsibility by allowing their children to earn things…so it becomes more desirable than the entitlement complex that's out there.

    Thank you for addressing this issue! I love your blog!

    Blessings!

    Mary Joy

  10. >I am the anonymous commenter I should have left my name.Which would be Melita, sorry.We do have a hayride and weinnie roast but again we do it as a family.Basically we do not incourage family segregation.

    S.Belle,I agree with you.We as parents don't even think it is necesarily safe for young women to live alone.

  11. >I think it depends on what you call Childish….the bible calls us to have faith like a child but also tells us to put childish ways aside.

    I think it's appropriate to raise our kids with a degree of responsibility and a look toward the future, but I also think that parents can go too far and rob children of the magic that resides in childhood: the belief that anything is possible.

    There needs to be a delicate balance, because childhood only can be lived out once. What a pity it would be to rob them completely of it, and what a pity if all we teach them is to revel in it. Balance is the key here.

  12. >Melita,

    No worries about your name! Good to meet you!

    And I do agree with Belle and you about the living alone part. In fact, I wrote about that a week and a half ago with regards to the Russell Williams case in Belleville, where the former Colonel killed two women and assaulted others, targeting women who live alone.

    If kids move back but contribute, that's fine. I just see so many adults living at home and not contributing! But I think there's also something to be said for renting an apartment with a few friends and learning to be independent. I learned a lot that way! I don't know if it's best if the first taste of independence is upon marriage, because that's a lot of transition all at once. I could be convinced otherwise, though.

    Perhaps this should be its own post, because it would be great to get more feedback! I'll have to write one on it soon!

  13. >I whole heartedly agree. I live in a college town and help to run a small and very successful business downtown. The "kids" that come in are so far behind in being an adult that it just scars me. I am not much older than most of them, but I have a husband, a 4 year old and an adult mindset. They look at me like they have no idea how I run things all myself. You can hear the childish language,you can see their reactions to each other and they way they deal with people around them is just astounding. I cannot tell you how many times a week I get handed wadded up money because they just don't know what is there.

    My son, who is 4, is already given a fair amount of responsibility for himself. He has to clear his own dishes, he knows how to start his own bath water, take his clothes to the laundry room etc. He helps everyday to take care of the dogs, the cat and our small critters. I don't want him to grow up thinking everyone else has to be responsible for him. He always tells me how proud of himself he is when he has completed a task. I'd like it to stay that way.

  14. >Pickle: I like what you said: He is so proud of himself for accomplishing something.

    I think that's part of the key to this whole thing: responsibility & accomplishment should be FUN. There's a mistaken idea out there that childhood is fun and carefree while adulthood is not fun.

    What really happens, though, is that as we mature, new things become fun. It's fun to start a new business, plan two weeks worth of meals, have a clean house, knit a sweater, etc. When we're adults, we don't play with Barbies anymore. We get our jollies reading cookbooks, or painting the nursery.

    It's just that different things become fun. But we've forgotten that work and accomplishment CAN be fun and SHOULD be fun. Maybe that needs to be its own post, too!

  15. >Sheila, I can see where you are coming from with the camp thing and kids being "leaders in training" — but that would all depend on the level of faith in the teenager's life. I personally quit going to camp when about 12 as I was always homesick!! (My parents were ministers and were always at camp. Then we moved 3 provinces away and lay people ran the camps and so Mum and Dad weren't there and I didn't like it).

    As far as growing up — only recently have I started to feel "grown up" — and I'm 48! Always felt like the kid going home for Christmas or whatever, suddenly realizing that I am the mother and must make decisions for my children — whether those decisions are agreeable to my parents and what they would choose or not (as in my daughter who is 5 wanted her ears pierced. My parents would never have allowed it and I was in fear of what they would say to me about it). I let her have it done and took the attitude "let the chips fall where they may" but I have only been able to do that recently as I have always wanted to be the goody goody pleasing daughter!!

    Maybe part of my struggle with this was my first husband was 10.5 yrs younger than myself. Now that I am with someone 8 yrs older (and realizing I am almost 50!) I have to "grow up" and not rely on others to make decisions and do things for me…

    Denise in Saskatchewan

  16. >Denise–

    Oh, could I tell you stories about hating camp! I was sent to camp because my mom, as a single mother, needed someone to watch me during the summer, and so it was a necessity. And I hated every minute of it.

    At 18 I went back as a counsellor, and that was marginally better.

    My kids have gone to camp off and on, but decided against it recently, and I'm fine with that. I don't think kids should have to go to camp if they don't want to (and that includes being a leader). My problem is just with kids who want to keep "having fun" as campers instead of contributing back at a certain age. Obviously, though, faith levels do play a part in that decision as a parent!

    It's an interesting question "when did you feel grown up?" I think I wrote a post on that a while ago. I'll have to dig it up!

  17. >Sheila, I wanted to tell you that this post really validated many of my beliefs. I am only 36, yet see people 10 years younger than me complain about having to work. What happened? When did we become a child obsessed culture? When did it become the norm to become "helicopter" parents and keep our children from growing up and becoming individuals? I know many of contemporaries criticize me for allowing my children to be rough, independent and making them responsible for their actions. Isn't that our job?

  18. Anonymous says:

    >I suppose that makes more sense (although the fact that your kids no longer wish to go to camp makes even more sense).

    Nurse Bee

  19. Anonymous says:

    >While I agree with much of this post we have never particularly encouraged our unmarried adult children to move out. It is only in the last few generations that this relocation has been encouraged in our culture. The whole idea of family as an economic unit has become rare. If someones job or educational training requires relocation then fine, but if either work or school are close then why not stay in the family home? Even if they pay rent or other financial contribution to the household it still makes economic sense for adult children. How much easier to pay tuition or save for their own home. Contributing help in household chores as well is an expected good thing; we aren't operating a hotel.

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