Saturday, November 26, 2011

A National Tragedy - What Teens Aren't Being Taught

A lot of interesting things have happened to me over the years - fodder for stories. Today as I was reflecting about what parents do and do not teach their teens, I remembered one of those gems.

I was 22 years old, and it was the morning after my bride and I had returned from our honeymoon road trip out West. For the first time in my life I asked my wife a simple question I would ask thousands of times throughout my life: "What would you like to do for breakfast?"

"I don't know. What would you like?" she replied.

I decided to keep it simple and easy. "How about a couple fried eggs?"

Then she told me she wasn't sure how to cook fried eggs. We discussed a few more options, and then the truth came out. She didn't know how to cook anything. Not even a boiled egg.

At the time, I didn't ask myself why this was so. I was a West Point graduate - a problem solver. The solution to this problem was to show my wife how to fry eggs. That was the beginning of a learning journey for her. In the years ahead, she would become a decent cook.

But sometime later I did reflect on that. I gained sufficient perspective to ask myself this question: Why didn't I know before I married her that she couldn't cook? The answer is, it's complicated. She lived 2,000 miles from West Point and we wanted to get married immediately after graduation. Ah, the passion of youth. I should have gotten to know her better.

And then: Her mother was a gourmet cook. How is it possible that she didn't teach her only daughter a single thing about cooking? Kind of a "Ripley's Believe It Or Not" amazing-but-true situation. I never received a satisfactory answer. Her mother has since passed away, and my first wife has gone on to a better life. (Just to set the record straight, the divorce had nothing to do with her cooking.)

Today, I think a lot about the things that teenagers don't learn. The purpose of raising a teenager is to help prepare the child to grow into the kind of adult who will be happy and successful in life. Neither teens nor their parents seem to be doing much to make that happen. I think it's partially because they have the erroneous idea that what teens need to know they learn in school.

And of course that isn't true. The truth is, most of what kids need to learn as they prepare for life they have to acquire outside the classroom. For example:
Imagine the enormous advantage a teen would have if he or she was coached in these areas before starting a career! But the current paradigm for educating teens doesn't include personal development.

I've talked to hundreds of adults about their teen years, and only one told me that he received anything like "the talk." He said what his uncle told him one day at breakfast was probably the most important conversation of his life. None were taught people skills. Only a few were lucky enough to have learned life skills. Some remembered favorite teachers or professors who "taught me how to think."

Yes, it's a "full plate," as I like to put it. So much learning can happen, and so little learning is actually happening. What happens is that when people become mature adults, they realize what they don't know and try to catch up. Some try, that is. Very few succeed. For example, I'm one of the most intense life-long learners I know, and in my mid-sixties I'm still learning things I should have learned when I was a teenager. My parents were good people, but for some reason they didn't see it as their job  to teach me stuff. Ignorance isn't bliss. It's pain.

Trying to help teens and their parents make the most of the adolescent time of life has become my passion. It's what I think about every day, and it's what I write about. I know there are many parents out there who would do anything, sacrifice anything for their children to help them grow into happy, successful adults.

These are the people I write for.

Books that explain the "full plate" - and a whole lot more - to teenagers...

Conversations with the Wise Aunt (for girls)

Conversations with the Wise Uncle (for boys)

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

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