Tonight, while walking Suzi the Dog, I got chatting to a neighbour we’ve known for close to a decade. She is one of my favourite people in the park: always nice to talk to, never complaining about life and hardly ever obviously feeling down.
This time was an exception. I knew something is not right when instead of answering my ‘How are you?’ with ‘Fine, thanks’, she said ‘Not too great, thanks’. See, people break cultural conventions only when there is something seriously wrong.
It soon came up. She’s been having problems with her teen son, you see. Oh, the usual – he doesn’t seem to take his exams seriously, stays out late, smokes, drinks and doesn’t care a bit about the guidance his mum is offering.
What do you think I said on hearing that?
No, I didn’t offer sage words of advice. I was too busy grinning from ear to ear, nodding with understanding and, from time to time, interrupting with; ‘Oh, I know. Mine does the same.’
I was so pleased that I’m not the only one who is struggling with the fear of my son growing up without becoming a grown up.
It then occurred to me that if I am struggling with helping my son become a grown up and my friend in the park is struggling with the same, may be there is a bigger problem here.
I started asking my friends with teen sons, and daughters, how are they coping with task of supporting their offspring become grown up.
Here is what I heard:
“My son spends most of his time in his room, playing computer games. When he decides to be polite when I go into his room he tells me to ‘please, get out’. Often he uses much stinger words.”
“My son plays this computer game all night and spends most of the day in bed. I discussed, explained and argues; then I shouted. Now I think it is his life. He would either wake up and change or he will fail at life; and I’m not going to be waiting there with open arms.”
I’m certainly not alone. But why we have this problems?
Yes, there is the opportunity (there are computer games and they are addictive).
There is also the fact that everyone I asked is from middle or upper-middle class background.
Automation in the home means that housework has become easier and less time consuming.
There is also outsourcing of some house chores: we have a cleaner, someone who does the ironing and a gardener.
Combine all these and one thing becomes clear: we no longer transfer the skills necessary to become a grown up through example or through involvement. My son, for example, don’t see me ironing or hand washing the dishes. He doesn’t help me wash the dishes (and unloads the dishwasher but only when we remind him).
You see what I mean?
Learning the skills to become a grown up, because of the changes in our lives, must be an intentional, and systematic, programme.
What are the skills that everyone should master to become a grown up?
After some thinking, analysis and reading, I believe that there are 13 skills every grown up needs. So, if you want to be help your teen (child) become a grown up, teach them:
#1. Basic skills to look after themselves: have good table manners, keep clean and keep well groomed. This is probably achieved best by example and reminders (reminders can get difficult after you’ve reminded your teen something for several years).
#2. Basic skill to look after their environment: this is about cooking, doing the washing and the washing up, stuck up and run the dishwasher, clean, change bedding do the ironing. I think this needs lessons and practice. Teenage angst may turn out to be a major problem.
#3. Skills to look after others: this is about helping them to develop compassion, become helpful and giving, and generally become responsible members of society, social groups and families.
#4. Thirst for knowledge and appreciation of the value of education: this is rather obvious. Continuous learning and honing one’s skill is becoming/has become a key survival skill in the network economy.
#5. Understanding that life is built on exchange and compromise: connecting to others is based on continuous exchange of emotion, resources and support. One ought to compromise on the way; a lot.
#6. The skill to make smart choices. This is hard to teach and is usually absorbed through example or involvement. Before my son got to the age when it is cool to ‘not be bothered’ we used to involve him in different decisions. I can just hope that some of it has stuck.
#7. Respect for others and for the environment. Again, this works best through example. Another way to get your teen, and yourselves, to get back to some of the core values of civilisation is to start practicing a martial art (properly, including the traditional values that come with it).
#9. Skills to participate in the political process and exercise their democratic rights. Discuss politics with your children. Explain that the government we have is our democratic choice and we must choose wisely.
#10. Morality. This is about teaching our children about the norms and rules of acceptable behaviour.
#11. Open mindedness and flexibility. Open minded people are much more interesting to deal with and they also learn faster and better. Being a fast learner and being flexible are two characteristics that can make one successful in fast changing economies.
#12. Creativity and ambition. Creativity is rapidly becoming the foundation of employment (the rest of the jobs are either being downgraded or automated). As to ambition, I always remember the myth of Icarus and that his father warned him not to fly too close to the ocean because the ocean spray will make the feathers of his wings wen and he’ll drawn.
#13. How to spend money. This is about a mistake we tend to make in teaching our children how to save. I believe we ought to teach them how to spend and saving will follow naturally. There are other things I’d teach my son about money but how to spend seems to be the key.