A recent scientific analysis of seven large surveys identified what Modern Parents have suspected for a long time now – that Modern Kids are putting off adulthood for as long as they can.
There are pros and cons to what the author of this large-scale analysis, Dr. Jean Twenge, calls a “slow life strategy.” The pros are that Modern Parents can worry less about their kids engaging in risky behaviors such as having sex, drinking, and smoking. According to the Modern Kids surveyed, they actually preferred spending time hanging out at home with their parents instead of socializing outside of the home with their peers. As such, they aren’t putting themselves in situations where previous generations of teens might have engaged in risky behaviors.
As you might have guessed, though, the downside to a “slow life strategy” is the postponement of positive teenage milestones that serve to prepare kids in becoming successful adults. Twenge’s study also found that the average teen is putting off getting their driver’s license and getting their first job by several years.
This means that when our kids come of age and are expected to be independent young adults, they are often sorely unprepared; thus, they retreat to their “comfort zone” of the family home.
It seems, then, that there are pros and cons to this new phenomenon of extending the Modern Kid’s childhood. While it’s great that Modern Parents are plugging in and creating a positive and nurturing environment that inspires Modern Kids to enjoy their fleeting childhoods, it’s also encouraging a generation of kids to become complacent with staying in the nest.
Many well-meaning parents (myself included!) enjoy parenting and all the little daily interactions with our kids that show how much we love them.
I like spoiling my kids by making them dinner and cleaning up the kitchen afterward – instead of requiring them to “do their part” by cleaning up the dishes afterward. It’s always fun to chat with them in the kitchen while I cook or clean up.
I like driving them to and from school or activities. We have the best conversations in the car. (Keep in mind that my son wasn’t interested in getting his driver’s license until he was 19.)
I didn’t mind looking the other way when my kids were younger and the house was messy – if it meant that they both agreed to snuggle on the couch with me and watch Harry Potter for the umpteenth time.
Recently, I wrote an article for the Huffington Post on how to balance creating a close bond with today’s teenagers while still encouraging their independence. If you’re looking for some guidance on how to ensure that your child continues to hit those important young adult milestones, then I highly suggest reading that article.
In today’s article, though, I want to explore some warning signs that might indicate that your teenager might be actively avoiding growing up. Identifying these early warning signs before your child hits young adulthood is key in helping them be prepared when the time comes to grow up and become independent.
Sign #1: They don’t seem comfortable making their own decisions.
Does your child often defer to you on where to go for dinner, what to watch during family TV time, or even how to spend their free time?
On the surface, it might seem like that your child trusts you to make good decisions for them (and this could feel really good for you as the parent), but the reality could also mean that your child just doesn’t trust themselves to make their own decisions. Part of being an adult is having to make choices that have consequences – either good ones or bad ones – and many teens who are nervous about growing up are also nervous about making “bad” decisions.
One solution to this problem is to intentionally let your child make decisions. Start off slow – maybe insist they choose what movie to see on Friday night – and work up to more important decisions.
It’s also important that you help them get over their fear of making a wrong choice. Let them make some not great choices so you can also teach them that how to make up for bad choices.
For a great article on how to encourage your child to take smart risks, click HERE for an article that I wrote about this in the past (it comes with a free downloadable PDF parenting resource too!).
Sign #2: They avoid talking about what they want to do after graduating high school.
Many kids are stuck because they can’t imagine themselves as adults.
When asked about what they want to do when they grow up or where they want to go to college, these kids never have an answer. The thought of being independent, working at a job, or even living in their own house or apartment is extremely foreign to some kids.
These kids avoid any kind of discussion about growing up like the plague.
If this sounds like your child, help them overcome this fear of independence by talking about their future. As always, you’ll want to start off slow and non threatening, and do it in a natural (not forced) way.
Expose your child to adult experiences such as college campuses and places of employment. Get together with successful young adults that you might know. Let your child hear about the rewarding experiences this young adult is having with their independence.
The goal here is to help your child start imagining themselves as a successful adult in the future. Get them excited about growing up!
Sign #3: They don’t have interests or hobbies of their own.
When your child’s only interest is accompanying you on whatever your hobby happens to be, then they are cheated from exploring their own unique talents and passions.
Now, I’m not saying that spending time with your child while participating in an activity that is fun for you is a bad thing – far from it! What’s important is that your child is always encouraged to discover their own unique passions, values, and beliefs that might be different from yours.
Independence is about your child discovering who he or she is as a person and how they fit into this world. They need to start this journey of discovery while they are teenagers so that are somewhat comfortable with themselves when they become young adults (this is important because, as we all know, figuring out who we are is a lifelong process).
Encourage your child to explore interests and passions. They might not always stick with a hobby once they’ve started one, but it’s so important that you encourage their search! Once they’ve found a hobby that interests them, then growing up to further explore it seems fun and exciting,
The goal here is to allow your child to find an interest that they are excited about participating in independently. This makes growing up and participating in this hobby less scary.
Sign #4: They don’t have many face-to-face friends.
Let’s face it, in order for our kids to successfully navigate the adult world, they must be able to have good relationships with the people around them.
They’ll need to have a good relationship with their boss to stay employed.
They’ll need to understand how to have positive romantic relationships if they are to remain in a relationship with a romantic partner.
Being a happy adult means engaging in social relationships of all kinds – with friends, Church members, work peers, etc. If our kids don’t know how to navigate these face-to-face social contacts, then no wonder becoming an adult seems like too much work!
Encourage your child to have face-to-face relationships with peers by allowing your child to have friends over to your house for movie nights or sleepovers. Sign your child up for social extracurricular activities such as Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts. Put them into contact with their peers as much as possible,
Now, many kids do have ample opportunity to socialize face-to-face with peers and they still have difficulty maintaining long-term friendships. If this is the case with your child, then taking them to a mental health professional for an evaluation might be a good idea. Lots of times, mental health professionals can help kids learn special skills to help them if they have any social difficulties.
Take Home Message
I think Twenge’s analysis of surveyed teens is a huge eye-opener.
We don’t have to look at her work and conclude that this generation of kids is doomed. Rather, Modern Parents can use this new information to better inform their parenting.
It’s ok if we allow our kids to have a “slow paced life,” but we still need to ensure that they are ready for adult responsibilities when the time comes. The trick is finding that sweet spot of allowing our kids to take certain aspects of life slowly, while acknowledging that they are still consistently going down that path of adulthood.
Is your child stuck in childhood? You’re not a bad parent if this article opened your eyes to that fact; however, now you need to do something with that information.
It’s never too late to work with your child to encourage their budding independence.