OK! In this article I want to write about something that is one of the reasons I love working with teens and young adults. It also happens to be very personal to my life.
I grew up in a very strict, organized and loving Italian family. My mother had a way of making everything simple. You cleaned up after yourself as you went. You went to bed at a certain time. You woke up at a certain time, knew what you needed to do and did it. Anything less was met with the proper control or discipline as needed.
On everyday of my school life that I remember, I got up at 6:30 AM and started my day. From that moment on, there was something set to do within each period of the day until I went to bed. That is not to say I didn’t have choices; I was given many choices and freedoms to pick what I wanted to do on my scheduled free times. They were seldom sitting around watching TV. They usually were creative and fun activities.
Then when I turned sixteen years old, a guidance counselor from school called me in to his office. He wanted to know what I planned to do after high school. I can’t say that I hadn’t thought of it before. I remember in Jr High School writing a paper about wanting to be a teacher. So I knew I wanted to go to college.
Truthfully, I had no idea what I was really good at. I knew I didn’t enjoy clerical type work and I didn’t want to do hairdressing, something they actually taught at my high school. I couldn’t see how the things I was good at, talented in and skilled at translated to a working income in my adult life.
As the counselor asked me his questions, I felt confused and reeling. He invalidated my goal of becoming a teacher and told me by the time I graduated, that field would be flooded and I wouldn’t be able to get a job. He suggested that I find another field of work. He sent me away to think about it. He had no idea how his invalidating my goals changed my life and confused me. From his viewpoint, his intention was to help.
I had a few more years to worry about it; the problem was that I didn’t know how to go about finding out the answer. The day I graduated, I was happy to have been accepted at a college so I would have four more years to figure it out.
Now let’s look at this situation for what it really is. In our current society, children are not expected to work for exchange. They are sent to school for years and years. They only have a vague idea of why. The only responsibility they really have is to do maybe a few chores at home, to arrive at school, learn something and do their homework.
Compare that to many years ago. Most places were farming communities. The children woke up and their chores were feeding animals, or helping mom prepare breakfast, the older kids even helped in the fields. These are all life-learning opportunities and skills they will use in their adult life. After breakfast, the kids washed up and if they attended school, they went. If they home schooled after cleaning up the kitchen, they schooled. This went on until about noon, after which they ran home to help in the fields, with the house and afterwards played for a little while with their friends. When they were eleven years old, their parents arranged for them to work with a local business owner or artisan if they didn’t want to work on the farm with their dad. By the time they were 17 years old they had a profession. They could support a family, they knew they could exchange or grow food, exchange or build shelter.
However, in our current society we send our children to school to be able to make their way in the world when they are somewhere between 22-30 years old, in which case they can date around and have fun until they get bored with it and then settle down to have a family, worrying a bit that they might be too old to conceive children. They are schooled with little correlation of what the subjects have to do with any work they would be doing in life. During this time, unless the teen was given work to do, a reason to do it and/or in a school that helps him/her find the work that fulfills his/her purpose for living, that teen starts to become confused and reeling the closer they approach graduation day.
I understand the reasons behind child labor laws. Those laws were written to handle those individuals that would take advantage of children violating their civil and human rights to an education and to their health. But now those very laws have caused their own problems. Now we have teens graduating not able to support themselves. In a society where even if you have the skills necessary to support yourself finding work can be difficult, can you imagine how unsettling it is for an eighteen year old with very little skills at all to be given a big pat on the back and shoved out the door? And what is worse, most of them want to be out the door. They want to get out on their own and start living their lives but they can’t. Even if they go to college, most have to work a side job and just because they are back in school, it doesn’t mean it is the same structured system they came from. In college they are on their own to make it to their classes or study for their classes on their own responsibilities. There is no mom and dad to remind them, nudge them, and coax them. Professors don’t do that either. Many enter college and hit the shock of it; falter and then either get up and run with it or flunk out.
To parents, I urge you to observe your children, notice their talents and strengths. Encourage them in those areas. Enroll them in activities that will nurture those talents and strengths. As they get older, point out professions that use those skills, not pushing them towards any of them but making them aware that if they wanted to use those skills there are professions available. If possible, find a company that will let your child experience that kind of work if your child wants to do that.
Something my parents did when I was a teen was, they provided my necessities—all of them. However, extra clothes, jewelry, hobbies etc they had me work out how I would earn the money to get those things. They helped me learn how to save the money for those things. And they helped me learn to budget my money by shopping with me and showing me how to find sales, how to get the best quality items for the least amount of money. If I wanted a stereo or an instrument etc., I bought it for myself.
Now what I’m going to say next might put some into a panic, but I think if you look at it you will see the value of it. I go to friends’ houses and their kids have cell phones, game boys, X Box type game systems, Wii, expensive computer games, their own personal computers etc. Sometimes I see that the teen is paying for their own monthly phone service or contributing to it and sometimes not. But most of the time the other perks were given to them, which all contribute to filling up their time, but not in helping them necessarily with life survival skills. Teens, I guarantee you the work you will do to earn the objects and fun things you want will mean so much more to you. I do warn you though that you may not have the time to play those computer games or watch a lot of TV. However, you just might find that you are having much more fun and when you do get to those things, you will enjoy them more.
Also, parents and teens, don’t be afraid to write your government representatives to tell them you want high school programs that will educate you better in life skills, which ensure you can attain employment by the time you graduate high school. Those skills are as important as History and Biology. There should be classes that include basic vocational skills and the Arts. Even those who are college-bound should be encouraged to take them, as even college students need to know how to cook, how to budget, how to balance a check book, how to find an apartment and negotiate the purchase of a car.
For me it is very comforting and rewarding to help teens and young adults figure out their purpose in life and to help guide them with well-researched, tried and true practices that are very successful. To see them go from confusion to winning is pure joy!
You too can have access to these references. To find out how contact Mace-Kingsley Family Center at 727-442-3922.