Monday, October 1, 2007

Infantilizing teens is bad?

I read an article offline about how the whole "teen angst" thing and problem with teen crime and so forth was a Western problem created by the extension of childhood past adolesence. It really struck a cord. I wonder if that really is the problem. The article's point was that it used to be that once you hit your teens, you were apprenticed and off doing adult things (and also starting a family) and so you were in the adult world, doing adult things with adult responsibilities, learning how to be an adult - and most teens did very well and rose to the occassion. And that now, teens are kept corralled in artificial places of stupidity (high school) where their peers are not adults teaching them how to be adults, but instead are other teens, and it is more like lord of the flies (combined with the fact that the teens are treated like children, with many schools having twice as many rules as most prisons or military life) (with such disgusting things as this going on).

So it got me thinking about my own children. I want them to grow up to be responsible adults. I want them to avoid the pitfalls of teendom (well, as much as possible). So perhaps one way to do this is to treat teens like adults at adolesence, in the sense of expecting them to behave as adults, having them work in a real job with adults, and getting them as much as possible out of the teen-world barbarity that is high school. Any thoughts from any experienced in the world of teen-raising?

18 comments:

Replicant said...

I think you mean "struck a chord" ;)

DBB said...

I'm not really into music, if you can't tell...

token said...

I do think "infantilizing" teens is bad, but only because it is done so generically.

Everyone is different. Some teens already know what they want to be and should be allowed to begin that pursuit. Apprenticeship for others would be an excellent idea. And those that don't have a clue---help them find out.

So many teens are lost and stultified in high school...what a waste of time that was.

Maya's Granny said...

I have spent much of my life teaching parenting, and part of it working with teens.

The very term teenager is of rather recent coinage. In many societies, and for most of history, young people of 14 were working and living as adults, some already married and having their own babies. Of course, this happened within an extended family system, so that two 14 year olds didn't move across the country and try to make it on their own.

I think that we do infantilize teens, and we should not. There is a tension between what their bodies and nature is ready for and the fact that if they are to prosper in today's world they are expected to delay adulthood. It would be very difficult to become an engineer or lawyer or doctor if you were married and raising children yourself. Most wouldn't even graduate from high school.

There is no perfect solution to this, but I always taught and also raised my children and the four teens that I fostered to take more responsibility for their actions as they grew older. By the time they left home I had made sure that they knew how to do any task around the house that an adult would be expected to do, as well as budgeting money, planning trips, regular car maintenance, growing food, caring for younger children, and learning even if the school didn't teach what they were interested in. By the time they were 18, I seldom said no to them, because they had long before learned that actions have consequences and could govern themselves to a remarkable extent.

My own children waited until college to become sexually active, never got in trouble with the law, and are now middle aged citizens who work hard, contribute to their communities and the world, and have never skipped voting in an election.

Neil Phalanx said...

That is an enlightening post Granny. I have a young son entering adolescence, and I go back and forth between treating him like a baby and piling responsibility and maturity on him.

As for the whole adolescence concept, it is recent, and a necessary evil. I think it is all in how you parent, and you can work around the necessary evils of society.

armagh444 said...

I think the problem here is that we're mistaking a both/and problem for an either/or problem. Teens are different from adults. Studies of their brain chemistry demonstrate as much (one of the reasons, incidentally, why anti-depressants can have unpredictable effects on teenagers). At the same time, however, teens are no longer children, and treating them as such by giving them little responsibility or contact with the adult world (as so many parents seem to do these days) is nonsensical.

Since teens cannot be rightly placed in an either/or, it seems more profitable and sensible to treat them as the both/and that they are.

So, how do we do this?

By respecting the fact that this is a time of transition and treating it as such.

One thing that worked particularly well for my Mom was to link privileges and responsibilities. There were a lot of things that I wanted when I was a teen. Extra programs at school I wanted to be able to attend, CDs I wanted to buy, a stereo I wanted to own, curfews I wanted extended so I could spend more time with my friends, and - most importantly - the right to make my own determinations in as many areas of my life as possible. My Mom recognized this, but knew that I wasn't emotionally sophisticated enough to handle having a ton of privileges handed to me. I was too immature to use them wisely or well. So she made me earn every one. Each privilege gained came after I took on a responsibility that proved to her that I was ready for it.

I had to get my own checking account and balance it every month, knowing she wasn't going to bail me out. If I wanted something extra, I had to pay for it. If I wanted to drive her car, I had to pay for my own gas and insurance and I had to drive well enough to demonstrate that I deserved to be trusted with it. And all of this meant that I had to get and keep a job.

(The curfew was an interesting one. By the time I was seventeen, I didn't have one, but I didn't get to that point until I had proven to her that I would always be honest with her about where I was, who I was with, and what we were doing, and I had to prove that I would always tell her when I would be home and call if I would be late.)

Put simply, she transitioned me. Giving more and expecting more through a gradual process, which ended up ensuring that, by the time I was over eighteen, I was ready to be an adult, and most importantly, I was mature enough to be able to recognize what I was and was not ready to handle.

She and my Dad have done the same with my sibs (one of whom is a young adult and two of whom are teens), and it's working out pretty well.

I don't know if this helps in your thinking with regard to your daughter. I hope so.

It's what I plan to do with my kids at any rate.

DBB said...

Armagh - It sounds like your parents had a sensible policy. Though I think what you describe isn't a combo - I think they just treated you like an adult, not like a child at all.

Think about it - as an adult, you don't get a car or other things by going to some authority figure and asking for it to be granted to you, you have to earn it. You have to go out and buy a car, pay for the gas, pay for the insurance, and to even buy it (with a loan most likely) you have to work first to estabslish credit.

As an adult, nobody just hands you anything - getting handed something is what happens with children. Adults have to make their own way, earn their own way, establish themselves and their reputations. Most of what you describe sounds more like that than like being a child. So it sounds to me like your mother treated you like an adult and you acted like one.

Maya's Granny - It sounds like you did a great job - I want to make sure my children know about all of those life-useful things before they get out on their own. It is a shame school doesn't teach those things, but I guess some you just have to learn by example.

Sweating Through fog said...

perhaps along the lines of what granny was suggesting:

I'm wondering if some of this flows from our educational system. For some reason, we seem to feel our civilization is served by forcing a thousand 15-17 year old kids together in a big building with a relative handful of adults droning on about something of little apparent relevance to them. They spend half their day with their peers, where the worst thing that can happen is "not fitting in." The rest of their day is spent with parents who are too exhausted from their day at work to really engage.

i think their would be a lot of benefit to returning to the old apprentice system. Teenagers used to work side-by-side working with adults, learning a trade. I'm an information worker, and I could make productive use of teenagers, giving them work that would be more interesting than high-school chemistry. Of course we would not do away with school - we could just extend school years. What's wrong with kids graduating from high school at 19 or 20 rather than 17 or 18?

This way teenagers would spend significant time interacting with engaged adults. A better, healthier mixture.

armagh444 said...

As an adult, nobody just hands you anything - getting handed something is what happens with children. Adults have to make their own way, earn their own way, establish themselves and their reputations. Most of what you describe sounds more like that than like being a child. So it sounds to me like your mother treated you like an adult and you acted like one.

But she didn't treat me like an adult. I didn't have to feed myself or provide for my own housing or even provide my own medical care. I was not allowed complete self-determination like an adult; if Mom said "do X," I bloody well did X. And I was not expected to deal with the same financial stressors or long-term planning processes that adults are.

She didn't treat me as a child. That much is true. But I wasn't treated as a full adult.

Rather, I was treated as a person who would soon take up the full responsibilities of adulthood and who, thus, must be taught to handle those responsibilities. But, and this is critical, I was not thrown into all of them at once. Rather, responsibilities and expectations were introduced at the pace at which my intellectual and emotional maturity enabled me to handle them.

That really is the core of the whole point that I was trying to get at. When you're a teen, you're not fully one or the other. You're in transition, and should be treated as such.

DaisyDeadhead said...

You're right of course, but if you are the only parent around (or in your child's peer group) who is treating your kid as an adult, they will resent it... "so-and-so doesn't have to wash dishes/do laundry/earn their own money, blah blah"--it will take a sea-change in the culture, not just one person doing it.

OTOH, one of my daughter's best friends as a teenager was expected to work at her parents' Chinese restaurant on all weekends and resented the hell out of it and her family, too.

Is there any way to win? LOL (Interesting comments so far!)

armagh444 said...

if you are the only parent around (or in your child's peer group) who is treating your kid as an adult, they will resent it...

Not necessarily, though I can understand how that might often be the case. My Mom was one of the very few parents at her school who expected her child to shoulder significant responsibilities, and I never resented the things she asked of me. (This doesn't mean we never argued about anything, of course; I was a typical bundle of adolescent hormones and emotions after all.) But, it never bothered me that she expected things of me that my peers' parents didn't expect of them.

I think, at the end of the day, the key thing was the relationship we had, and still have, with each other.

DBB said...

One would hope that part of the values you teach your kids is that being responsible and having responsible parents is a good thing and that kids without responsible parents are the ones who should feel envious. But I understand theory and reality part ways often, particularly with teenagers.

I wonder if part of the resentment about working in a restaurant was that it was not for pay or that it was not by choice - I mean, it is one thing to go out and get a job of your choosing, it is quite another thing to be forced into a particular job. I'd be resentful about that, particularly if there was a better job I thought I could get that would perhaps be more enjoyable or pay more money. Using your children as free or discounted sources of labor for your business is pretty rotten, IMHO. Maybe they didn't have a choice - like the business would go under and they'd all be on the street - but if that is not the case, indentured servitude should not exactly be a staple of adulthood.

When I was a kid, I never cared what other parents did - well, ok, I was upset that my parents never bought me certain toys that cost more than a certain amount - toys I saw at other people's houses, but I never really blamed my parents for that, I was just upset I didn't have the toys. I'm sure part of it was also that I was a shy introvert and so I didn't have a huge number of friends so I didn't have much exposure to many different parents.

What can you do to lessen resentment for being a good parent?

armagh444 said...

What can you do to lessen resentment for being a good parent?

Honestly, I think it really does depend on the kid. With my daughter, it all comes down to whether she understands why I'm making particular decisions. Not all kids care about that sort of thing, but my daughter is one of those kids who functions well with the way things work, as long as she knows why they work the way they do.

Other kids would likely respond to other methods, ones I likely will discover as my son gets older.

beansa said...

What can you do to lessen resentment for being a good parent?

Ok, I admit that my kid is nowhere near being a teenager yet - she's 5 - but I already see some warning signs, i.e., why can't she have bratz dolls, all her friends have them...

And, I was a very resentful teenager myself, so I've thought a lot about this issue because I don't want to go through the same stuff with my daughter that my parents did with me.

I think acknowledging a teens feelings goes a long way - like "I understand how you might think it's unfair that you have more responsibilites than your friends," instead of "shut up, you have no idea how lucky you are." And including a teens ideas and perspective when figuring out how the responsibilities and privileges are doled out might help prevent resentment. Lastly, not being hypocritical is key. Teens have such an amazing ability to detect hypocracy; and once they've pegged you as one, you've basically lost all credibility. So expecting responsibility from a teenager when you haven't modeled that behavior is probably not going to go over well. Or expecting them not to drink or smoke weed or whatever if they see you indulging in that all the time.

Sometimes when I'm putting my daughter in bed for the night, I just look at her and think: 8 more years until she starts hating me. It's really scary, thinking about her adolescence, but I'm trying really hard right now to lay down a solid foundation of open communication and mutual respect. I hope it works.

DBB said...

Beansa - I worry about that too - I often say to my wife that we should enjoy this time now before our daughter hates us (as she becomes a teenager). Not that I want that to happen (the hating, that is - I sure hope she becomes a teenager).

I think that is a good idea - showing understanding, even if you still stick to your guns. And Armagh - I like the idea of explaining why - I probably would do that in any case simply because I was always someone who wanted to know the 'why' of things - I hate arbitrary rules. If my kids are like me, they will appreciate knowing the 'why' - and perhaps that will make it easier to follow. Of course, it also invites arguments, but maybe that isn't a bad thing.

Maya's Granny said...

What can you do to lessen resentment for being a good parent?

The two things that were most important for me were to treat my kids with respect and to have no rules in the house that weren't for everyone.

Just as there are rules about voting and driving and drinking having age limits, there can be age limits on certain priviledges and responsibilities in the home. But, no one gets to behave in disrespectful ways. In our house, for instance, if you wanted to speak to someone in the next room, you had to go to them, not yell at them to come to you. That meant that I had to go to them as well. No hitting and no bullying and no teasing applied to all of us, not just to the kids.

DBB said...

Maya's Granny - That's very sensible - nothing is quite as annoying as "do as I say not as I do."

armagh444 said...

If my kids are like me, they will appreciate knowing the 'why' - and perhaps that will make it easier to follow. Of course, it also invites arguments, but maybe that isn't a bad thing.

It can be an additional way to promote critical thinking.

My daughter is starting to figure out that if she brings me a good argument, a sensible argument, one that has logic and evidence backing it (or that is supported by our faith's fundamental principles), she can get me to change my mind on things.

I learned the same thing about my Mom when I was a kid. A good, reasoned argument could get her to shift. Which gave me impetus to come up with sound arguments to support my positions.