Monday, September 12, 2011

Growing into a Strong Adult - A Teenager's Full Plate

The bill for a college education these days can reach well into six figures. For the parents who are focused on getting their kids a college education, managing this expense is a daunting challenge. What's a parent to do? As they make sacrifices, they encourage their teens to make good grades and stay out of trouble.

What they really want is for their child to grow up to be a successful adult and raise a happy family. A college education seems to be an essential step towards that goal.

While kids should take their college education seriously and while it may help them get a decent job, a degree - by itself - has little to do with long-term success. It's easy to graduate from college without learning much of anything that will help in a career. Can you imagine a college graduate who hasn't become a lifelong learner? Someone who lacks self-confidence, patience, courage, composure, creativity, initiative or any of the many strengths one needs to strive against adversity and prevail? A college education isn't focused on fostering those strengths. Any academic will tell you that this is not a university's mission, not its purpose.

It's not high school's purpose, either.

And few parents appreciate that it's their job to help their kids build these strengths. Very few, indeed.

Some kids do learn to strive, though. It can happen accidentally when their personal life is challenging and they're faced with having to do hard things. It can also happen in high school sports, which are often microcosms of life.

Or not. Some kids don't rise to the challenge. They're beaten down by adversity, or they fail to meet the challenges of their sport. Most coaches feel they already have their hands full teaching conditioning, the game, skills, and strategies for winning. Which leaves little time for mentoring the athletes to become strong, mature adults.

I once spoke with a young woman I'll call Maria about her teen years. Only 24, she recently married for the second time and has two children. She's working as a legal assistant and is given responsibilities far beyond the norm. She's planning to get additional training and certification. Her goal: to create a stable life for her kids, so they never have to experience the horrors she did as a teen. Her mother, an alcoholic manic-depressive, divorced several times by the time Maria was a teen. Then her mother formed a lesbian relationship with a woman who dominated Maria. Her mother's drinking and suicide attempts made Maria's home life so chaotic that she had trouble keeping friends. On her own initiative, she got involved in her studies, church, art, and sports. At age 16 she abandoned her mother to live with her natural father. In other words, she dealt with her situation. She found supportive adults and created a strong self by struggling with her adversity.

Good for her. This is a hard way to get strong, though. Another teen might be crushed by an experience like this.

In other words, there's more to growing up and preparing yourself for adult life than staying out of trouble and getting admitted to a good university. A kid is either working on getting stronger or not. And by the time the young person is 22, well, he or she isn't a kid anymore. Hello, adulthood. In addition to formal education, here's what a teen can be working on to arrive as an adult already strong:
  • Personal strengths
  • People skills
  • Critical thinking skills
  • Life skills
I also spoke with a friend who has a niece that became an adult without becoming strong as a person, without acquiring any of these skills. Her mother was an alcoholic and her father was addicted to gambling. Otherwise, her parents were nice people. But as parents, they had no idea what to do. Put food on the table and shout at the kids when they didn't behave. That was pretty much it. My friend's niece got married at age 17, had kids, and became an alcoholic herself. Now, at the age of 38, she spends most of her time in bed at her mother's house.

The point is, if someone becomes an adult without gaining these strengths and skills, they'll have a lot of catching up to do. This is what happens to almost everyone. The problem is, this means unlearning and recreating yourself. A lot of people never catch up.

What could be more important than helping a young person develop into a strong adult? It's tragic that as adults we leave so much of this parenting and mentoring to chance. It's a shame that a child has to be an at-risk kid and "in the system" before adults get concerned and want to do something about it.

There's more to preparing for future success in life than getting good grades and staying out of trouble. Teens have a full plate. They have a lot more on their learning plate than they know. And more than most parents, teachers and coaches know.

The full plate - and a LOT more - are explained in these engaging books for teens...

Conversations with the Wise Uncle (for boys)

Conversations with the Wise Aunt (for girls)

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2011. Building Personal Strength . (Permission to use image purchased from

No comments: