While reading a book on parenting and homeschooling by Teri Moore a while back, this passage hit me hard:
In America, our children are the most important part of our lives, and we tell them so, but we don’t actually let them be important(emphasis added).
WHAAAAT? of course not! But reading on, it makes more and more sense:
Just like I did, American kids go to school all day, which teaches them facts but not skills and keeps them from participating in real life where they might apply learning (which helps turn facts into knowledge)…Instead of ‘doing’, American kids are ‘studying how to do’ and not doing.
Teri spent time in the Peace Corps in Africa, and contrasts American kids with what she saw there:
African kids are doing. Young people in the Third World do not seem to go through the adolescent psychological misery and angst that American children do. As soon as they are able, children in developing countries are given true responsibility. No one has to tell them they are important; they know they are, because of the consequences of failure.
Frankly, I could quote the entire chapter Teri wrote, to convince you, but let me summarize what she writes: African kids are given meaningful tasks to do, like herding or protecting the cattle, collecting water, repairing items, helping run the household, and if they don’t do their job or fail at it, there are real consequences, which affect themselves and others.
They have to think and decide how HOW to do their assigned work, and the actions they choose to take have an impact.
But what’s the problem if American kids don’t have important stuff to do?
Teri says a) they are not as motivated to learn, b) they don’t remember what they’ve learned since it never translates to the real world, c) they don’t build the life skills needed in the real world, and d) they are trained to defer to authority and don’t develop their own judgement or ethics.
For so many years, my high opinion of myself had been based on my high grades and what teachers thought of me instead of what I thought of myself based on my ability and ethics. In struggling for those big A plusses, I learned to cleave to someone else’s idea of what was important and let my own judgement atrophy through lack of use. Then I went out into the world only to find myself incompetent.
So I asked myself – is there something my kids do at home that lets them act independently and affects our family or community? Does what they do matter or have a significant impact?
You know what? The answer is mostly no. Teri’s right, I think. They are responsible for cleaning their rooms, for their own laundry, picking up their messes, for setting/clearing the table and helping with dinner, and occasionally walking the dog. And at school, their job is to learn…But the consequences that fall on them if they do these badly, or fail to do them are minimal.
And most of our family, school, and extra-curricular activities are set up FOR them, not by them – whether it’s volleyball, coding club, day trips, camps. Everyone’s doing stuff for their benefit, and they are the recipients of it, rather than instigators. (Sidenote: I think this also leads to the growing sense of entitlement. Why would’t you feel entitled if the world pretty much revolved around you your first 16 years?)
But I’ve seen what it looks like when my kids feel like they are doing something important that has impact.
Two years ago, my 12 year old son participated in the YMCA PILOTS program, which is a teen leadership program for junior high-age kids – they get together with youth leaders and decide upon community projects, which they then execute. And I was struck by the SIGNIFICANCE he got from being in this group, and taking action! I think it’s one of the first times he felt like he was doing something important.
And for my younger girls – Girl Scouts is the closest we’ve come to impact, I’d say. They sell cookies to earn money for activities – and their actions matter. They choose and present food, activites and facts about a country to present for Thinking Day, they help train younger girls for cookie sales…and their actions matter.
Right now we’re working on our Bronze Award as a troop and organizing a Pet Supply Drive for the Humane Society in town. As troop leaders, our job is to HAVE THE GIRLS DO THE WORK, and hold back. I love, love, love Girl Scouts for highlighting this for me, and teaching ME to be ready to give them more and more responsibility the older they get. I can’t wait until the day comes and they feel the impact of creating something, making something happen that wouldn’t have existed without their action.
The other situation that comes to mind right off the bat is one that Chalene Johnson talked about on her podcast. She and her husband told each of their kids when they were old enough to understand, we’re not going to buy you a car when you get your driver’s license, but we’ll help you figure out how to earn the money yourself and we’ll match what you earn.
So their children had to figure out what jobs to do, products to sell, businesses to start, to EARN THEIR OWN MONEY, as preteens. (That to me, sounds like you’ll know what you do is important and has consequences.)
Imagine if you had years of experience making an income of some sort before you even started high school?
Nowadays, teens don’t work half as much as they used to when I was a kid (make sure you say this in a crotchety, wavery voice in your head, so you sound OLD) – there are fewer jobs available and more time required to jump all the hoops required to ‘get into the best university possible’ which is still seen as the golden ticket (despite the massive evidence to the contrary that’s accumulating). But don’t get me started on higher education and the high school treadmill pressure cooker! I’ll save that for another post, and leave you now so I can mull over what other actions I can take to make my kids actions and choices matter.
Anyone with good ideas, closer to actual household activities? Maybe I’ll let my kids plan our summer activities? Make a meal plan/budget and go shopping for the week’s food..take on deciding and researching what kind of car we want to buy (our Odyssey is close to the 250K mark, God bless it)…