Have you ever said those words to your kids? (Or your spouse? That could be trouble!) Is there a moment or event that happens — paying your first bill, filing taxes for the first time, getting married, having your first child — where a child crosses the threshold into adulthood? Judy Mollen Walters isn’t so sure:
These days it feels like we shift our young people ever so gradually and tenderly toward adulthood that they can barely feel themselves doing it. There are books everywhere teaching children how to become adults, or telling us to teach them how to do it. It never dawned on me that I would need to learn to teach my child to become an adult. Doesn’t it just happen naturally at some point? Didn’t we celebrate our child’s every birthday not only with cake and candles, but also with the idea that becoming a year older was something to mark?
I feel like not so much. Many of us send our children the message that being an adult is bad. That being an adult is too hard. That you’re better off not being an adult. And what we get in return is a lot of kids who, well, don’t turn into adults.
Walters goes on to describe a stereotype with arrested development — young people who I think are the exception rather than the rule:
We all know them — the kids who don’t make plans out of high school and then don’t follow any particular path. They take a college course and drop out. They don’t work. They sit around the house a lot. Maybe they go to college, but they don’t get a job after college; perhaps they avoid looking for a job altogether. Maybe their four-year degree is stretching into six or seven years. They’re in their 20s, closing in on 30, and still living at home, under- or unemployed, not in school, with no direction. Their parents cook their meals, do their laundry and help them function in their daily lives.
What have we taught them? Have we given them the impression that adulthood is not worth looking forward to?
You can lay a lot of blame on a lot of parents for a lot of things, but coddling children, or being “helicopter parents” — especially through the freaky-deaky years of adolescence — is, I believe, an unfair accusation directed at too many parents. One thing I think many parents are guilty of is having impossible expectations that our schools will teach our children everything they’ll need to succeed in the adult world when it’s really parents themselves who shoulder that responsibility. Another thing is that this generation of parents makes everything look so easy. Even parents who work one or two (or more) jobs, or single parents flying solo, or parents deftly parenting two generations — their youthful and exuberant offspring and their elderly and infirm parents — or one of any number of life’s trials and tribulations, they seem to handle things without putting too much of a burden on their kids.
This generation of children, teenagers, and young adults is growing up in a very uncertain period with an uncertain future. This alone makes it hard for youth to project an image of themselves onto a future canvass, to answer the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up? or “What do you see yourself doing after high school/college?” When our concept of reality is not only challenged by the hard knocks of life or by religious enlightenment or by new scientific discoveries, but is actually distorted by the denial of facts or the presentation of “fake news” or the call to believe not what we see clearly with our own eyes but rather what someone else with lying eyes tells us, it can cause understandable paralysis among young people who are, for the most part, innocent, idealistic, and altruistic. Their world has gotten… weird.
Still, Walters wants to send a better message to today’s younger generation: Don’t fear adulthood. Embrace it:
It’s not bad to be financially independent. It’s not bad to live in a tiny apartment and eat spaghetti most nights while watching TV because you don’t have any money to go out. It’s not bad to drive a 10-year-old car and hope that it lasts another few months. It’s not bad to have to get up with an alarm, or study for a test in a subject you don’t know much about, or learn to live with people you might never normally have a reason to be around, or share a bathroom with 10 other people at the end of the hallway. It’s not bad to set goals and then go after them, no matter how hard it may seem to reach them. These are good things.
Being an adult is good. Let’s not only keep teaching our kids that. Let’s believe it ourselves.