Julie first of all questions what criteria we are using to decide on whether someone is an adult. Traditionally this might have meant leaving home, becoming financially independent, getting married and having children. In 1960 77% of women and 65% of men had done this by the age of 30. However 40 years later only 50% of women and 33% of men had accomplished these things. Clearly such a definition of what it means to be an adult is outdated, so in 2007 a study published in the Journal of Family Psychology reported on what 18-25 year olds felt were the most important indicators of adulthood. These were
- accepting responsibility for the consequences of your actions
- establishing a relationship with parents as equal adults
- being financially independent
- deciding on beliefs/values independent of parental influences
Interestingly enough only 16% of the 18-25 year olds surveyed thought that they had reached adulthood.
How do we prepare our teenagers for being adults. According to Julie the following should be possible for all 18 year olds:
- The ability to talk to strangers - and yet we teach our children not to. What we need to do is to teach them discernment.
- The ability to find their way around - and yet we often drive our children everywhere.
- The ability to manage their assignments, workloads and deadlines - and yet we constantly remind teenagers about their homework deadlines and even help them to do it. What we need to do is to teach them to prioritise tasks.
- The ability to contribute towards the running of a household - yet we don't expect today's teenagers to help much around the house and so many don't know how to look after their own needs, respect others or do their fair share.
- The ability to handle interpersonal problems and cope with the ups and downs of life - and yet we often step in to solve things so our children don't know how to cope with and resolve their own conflicts.
- The ability to earn and manage money - but often teenagers don't hold part-time jobs and instead we give them money for the things they want, which limits their appreciation of the cost of things and how to manage their own money.
- The ability to take risks - often we don't want them to do this, and so they don't develop the grit that comes from trying, failing and then trying again, or the resilience to cope with things that have gone wrong.
Julie describes the role of many parents today as "doing childhood" for their children, and she points out that one of the key life skills our teenagers need to develop is the ability to live without us.