With each generation that grows up, we become accustomed to new standards and lifestyles. Some change is good; others, not so much. Personally, I am only for change that leads to improvement. Too often, our changes are drifts away from what’s good and healthy. Sadly, we don’t even notice. For instance, today, very few adults (parents, teachers, coaches, youth workers) expect a seventeen year old boy to be a mature adult. After all—he’s still a kid. He plays video games, texts his friends and goes to movies and malls. Yet, this is a shift from, say, a hundred years ago. Less than a century ago, seventeen year olds led armies or worked on a farm, or in a factory. They were expected to do so. Their parents needed them to produce something and they discovered they were capable. Slowly, we bought into the idea they are not ready for this kind of responsibility. And, of course, teens are willing to buy into that idea, too. Kids love the idea of adult autonomy, but not the idea of adult responsibility. In time, the standard just sinks lower.
The New Normal Shouldn’t Be Normal
Let me suggest seven changes that have occurred over the last century that created myths we’ve become accustomed to:
1. Myth One: Kids are unable to make commitments.
Today, students have short attention spans and get bored easily, but teens are indeed able to make and keep commitments. Centuries ago it was normal to get married at 15.
2. Myth Two: Kids shouldn’t have to work in high school.
Today, a minority of teens work outside the home. They don’t need to; mom and dad supply a nice allowance. Three or four decades ago, most of us worked a job at 16.
3. Myth Three: Kids can’t be expected to have adult conversations.
Most think—they’re just kids; how can we expect them to interact with grown ups? A century ago, kids attended a one-room schoolhouse and had to interact with all ages.
4. Myth Four: Kids should have whatever they want.
Fifty years ago, parents were proud to give their kids whatever they needed. Today, kids often get whatever they want. It’s the new normal. Going without is not an option. This is sad.
5. Myth Five: Kids shouldn’t take any unsafe risks.
Society is consumed with safety. We won’t let our kids do anything without a helmet and adult supervision. But risk is part of what makes our nation great and part of all progress.
6. Myth Six: Kids can’t wait.
Today, kids have short attention spans and little patience. It’s a Google reflex. But delaying gratification is part of maturing. As a kid, I grew as I waited for things I wanted.
7. Myth Seven: Kids should not be expected to produce anything.
We unwittingly bought into the idea kids are only consumers, not contributors. But I’ve watched teens use their gifts and generate something—and they come alive when they do.
Do you remember the story of “The Emperor’s New Clothes”? It was the tale of a king who went out into his monarchy without any clothes on. Everyone was afraid to say he was naked—except for one guy. Just like me saying the water tastes bad in Dallas, it’s time we woke up and acknowledge the truth. We cannot simply get used to a lesser version of kids. I believe the day has come that we declare the reality of our situation:
We have done a poor job as adults, in getting this generation of kids ready for life. If they flounder, it is because we’ve focused on preparing the path for the child instead of the child for the path. I believe in this next generation. These kids are great and they’re capable of much more than we’ve expected. We have not led them well. We’ve protected them instead of preparing them for life as adults. It’s time we get them ready to lead the way into the future.