We’re Raising Them Backwards

Yesterday, I was talking with my husband about how several students we’ve known since they were young are now mature and doing adult-y things like advancing in their careers and buying houses. It has been a joy to watch them mature and develop. How old are they?

Most of them are in their early 20s.

That’s right, they are big-boys and big-girls doing big-people stuff. Were you surprised to hear that? Aren’t they too young to have things like a mortgage? After thinking about that, I realized something.

In our Western culture, we are getting things backwards.

When our children are young, we do everything to get them to grow up quickly. We feel pressured to have them reading by 3 or 4. They should start a second language soon; they need to have that new computer game that teaches how to program; they need a plan for when to start SAT prep courses; they have to begin music lessons so they have time to excel.

We even want them to LOOK grown up. Cool clothes. Trendy hairstyles. Professional manicures and pedicures.

And don’t even get me started on the movies they are allowed to watch. Some parents have no problem taking their young children to PG-13 movies (or even R-rated ones!). All in this desire to help them grow up faster…to be prepared…to excel.

But what happens when they become 17, 18, and enter their college years? We make excuses for them to take several years to “find out what life is all about.” We let them stay at home for years and years, even if they have full time jobs and are bringing in a decent income. We buy them their first car, pay for their insurance, do their laundry, and even make their doctor and dentist appointments.

Now don’t get me wrong. It is good to prepare our children well when they are young and to encourage them to excel. I even think those trendy little toddler outfits can be adorable! And it is also good to help our older children as they navigate early adulthood. But I think in our culture we are taking these two seasons of life a bit too far.

The little ones are suffering because they feel too stressed out. They have no time to be bored, to make up games, to play outside. They aren’t allowed to develop at their own pace for fear of them falling behind. They don’t have opportunities to dream and imagine. As they are pushed to do more and more, filling their days with soccer practice, music lessons, and hours of homework, their little minds are overwhelmed. Some children are plagued with headaches. Others develop stomach issues. And still others will melt down.

The older ones are suffering because we do everything for them. We make excuses for them, allowing them to continue to behave immaturely. We do the hard tasks so they don’t have to, and they fail to rise up to do those tasks for themselves. They feel entitled and expect the world to give and do for them. I believe a lot of that is because deep down inside, they really don’t believe they can do much for themselves.

Well, like much of everything in this life, there needs to be a balance. I encourage you parents to carefully weigh everything your young one is doing. Believe it or not, boredom is a productive thing in young children. We shouldn’t feel like we have to provide every possible experience for them before they hit puberty. We just need to love them. Spend time with them. Have experiences with them.

Sometimes that can happen while they are taking a painting class. And other times that can happen while you’re sitting on the couch at home, reading a book together.

And it is our responsibility to teach our older ones to be self-sufficient. They need to learn how to cook, clean a house, wash their clothes, and even change a tire. We need to instill in them a hard work ethic and teach (and model) character. We need to let them make the phone calls and do their taxes once they get their first job.

In our “enlightened” society today, our twenty- and thirty-somethings are having a hard time trying to grow up, but a hundred years ago a couple might get married at age 14 or 15 and start to run their household.

Let’s rethink how we see our children. As more and more research affirms that little ones need to slow down in their “growing up” and teens and twenties need to speed up, we need to revisit how we do things…for the benefit of our children and our world!