Growing up is hard to do. With growth comes responsibility, and that usually means a good deal of effort up front -- an investment that becomes a bit easier over time with repetition. Unfortunately, those in the process of growing up often do not have the perspective to realize that pain can lead to gain.
I began thinking about this after reading an article in The New Yorker about spoiled American children. The writer spoke about a visit to another country, where the children are mostly ignored, but somehow, on their own, they begin to pitch in with the needs of the family. In the everyday course of survival, while a mother makes food, a child picks up a broom and cleans up -- without being asked. Then the writer details a few family situations in Los Angeles, where one child had the father tying his shoes, and another would do nothing but play video games. Exasperated parents -- hoping that one day their children would pitch in, but not wishing to put the energy investment into teaching the child a lesson -- merely tie the shoes, both literally and figuratively.
This seems like a horrible comparison of extremes, but it does appear that in many cultures, young people grow up earlier and come into adult responsibilities merely by taking up what needs to be done. In many American homes, children do not.
The article I read posited that we impose that our children are "special" and must do things perfectly, and when they often don't, they give up and the parents finish the tasks so the family doesn't lose face and the child remains above the fray. Looking at the other cultures, "special" doesn't seem to mean anything, especially when survival is such a large part of existence. Everyone works together for the sake of the family.
Seems like a romantic notion, except most of us wouldn't trade our comforts for a simpler way of life.
In industrialized nations, there is a prolonged route to adulthood. Turning 13 and the sweet 16 are symbolic, but the real benefits of being an adult aren't bestowed until later in life. I would argue that the real age of adulthood in America is somewhere in the mid-30s. Around that age, many people are starting to make enough money to support their families. The lessons of keeping finances have been eked out, jobs become more stable (one hopes), owning a house might be within reach, and a person is starting to gain more respect in the workplace (with a few gray hairs starting to show). In the meantime, the period of odd angst that was once a bastion of the teen years is extended through the 20s. Some sociologists are calling this period "Emerging Adulthood" or "Extended Adolescence."
Despite our culture's obsession with being young forever, becoming an adult is a good process; one that I believe could be started much earlier. In fact, I see in many young people the potential for leadership and yet they have been given permission to do nothing for so long that there is a great amount of strain to do things that, over time, have become simple.
Let's wake up early so we can work. "Oh man -- that's hard."
This decision has to be made regardless of the consequences. "I don't like the sound of consequences. Can we do that tomorrow?"
Your speech will be tomorrow, are you prepared? "What day is tomorrow? What? When?"
Growth is frustrating for everyone involved. Especially for those who hold the keys to the world adolescents are growing up into. When King Saul saw that young David had defeated Goliath, he became jealous. David and Saul's son Jonathan became good friends, and at many times Saul tried to kill David. David eventually became king and the administration of Saul and his family faded away.
In Ecclesiastes, it is written that there is "a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot ..." and many more times to do many things. If you have grown up and been grown up for a long time, is it your time to build someone into adulthood? Or if you are growing and wish to be planted as a seed to grow, how are you going to be reborn? I think there is a connection that needs to be made. More of the wise could be reaching out to those who need wisdom. It is clear that we have the time, how will we grow the future?
And what is your part?
Columnist Daniel Griswold is the director of youth at St. Andrew By-the-Sea United Methodist Church. Follow him at twitter.com/dannonhill. Read his blog at www.danielgriswold.wordpress.com.