“Let them be kids”

“Let them be kids”

In the late 1800s when he was just 8 years old, young Meriwether Lewis was helping to run the family plantation. It is said that he would set of into the woods on foot for days at a time with his rifle over his shoulder to bring in meat for the family. He was an epic hiker, walking up to 30 miles a day, often without shoes on his feet. Even before this little tike had hit adolescence he was capable of contributing significantly to his family, capable of stepping up to the plate and being responsible.

It should be no surprise that by age 28 he was prepared to lead an expedition across the northwestern region of what is now the United States in search of an all-water route between the Pacific Ocean and the continent’s interior. For two years he and partner William Clark braved suspicious Native Americans, brutally harsh winters, mosquitos the size of hummingbirds, and hungry grizzly bears all in the service of President Thomas Jefferson and his dream to expand the boundaries of our young nation.

Charles Wilson Peale's portrait of Meriwether Lewis, ca 1806. Men and women of character don't arise on accident.

Charles Wilson Peale’s portrait of Meriwether Lewis, ca 1806. Men and women of character don’t arise on accident.

The great men and women of history start out life as boys and girls of deep character. And this doesn’t happen by chance.

Fast forward to 2015. Kids are given an allowance by their parents so they can buy things they want while Mom and Dad work two jobs and do all the housework. They are afforded more leisure time than any other people in history, as far as we know. They play hours of video games each day on TV, on their computers and tablets, and even on their phones. Mom and Dad arrange “play dates” for them with suitable friends and drive them there and back – all three blocks. When schoolwork interferes with sports or dance or piano, Mom confronts the teacher or Dad writes a note with a fudged excuse. Then they sleep in until noon on Saturdays – bless their little hearts, they’ve just worked so hard this week.

And these are just the college kids!

“Let them be kids,” we say. “They’re only kids once.” “They grow up too fast.” But how are we defining “kids”? The current culture tells us that kids are fragile little things that need us adults to hold tightly to them, to protect them from all dangers at all costs, and to serve their whims at all times. Heaven forbid they lift a finger to help around the house or possibly face the consequences of procrastinating on a school project. Time was when childhood was for building character – hard work, failures, consequences, disappointment, and even the B word (boredom). What exactly do we think we’re preparing these kids for? Resort life? Lives of privilege where their every desire is met? By invoking “let them be kids,” are we really doing them any favors?

Is it any wonder we can’t find a decent politician? Or married couples who are committed to one another rather than themselves? Is it any wonder our young adults today are obsessed with their own personal rights rather than making what is right a top priority? Is it any wonder we can’t be bothered to recycle our soda cans or carpool with a friend to work? When the family revolves around the children, the children become adults who expect society to revolve around them.

With a little help from Dad, my 13-year old son recently started a car detailing business. He is working hard, earning money, and learning what customer service looks like. Before this adventure, it was pulling teeth to get him to do his chores around the house. Now (sometimes) he offers to help: “Can I bring in those groceries for you, Mom?” “Does the dog have enough food and water?” “Would you like more potatoes, Dad?” Give him some responsibility and the real-world rewards that come with it, and he’s a new guy. He was caught someplace between a child and a man. Now he’s beginning to discover where he stands.

There are countless valuable life lessons kids can learn through hard work.

There are countless valuable life lessons kids can learn through hard work. www.facebook.com/ryancummingsautodetailing

I’m no Super Parent, and I make my share of mistakes. But I am beginning to believe that our kids are capable of so much more than we ask or expect of them. Maybe we’re even holding back their development by setting the bar so low. What deep character traits are they learning in front of the TV or on the Internet? Time is a currency we must all spend wisely. What are we teaching them about the value of their time?

Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it. Proverbs 22:6 NIV

OK – maybe sending them off with a rifle in the woods alone for a few days like Meriwether Lewis is over the top. But intentionally transitioning them into adulthood now, while they are still at home with us, is their best chance of becoming the kinds of adults we hope they will be someday. If we wait, we will leave it to the culture – high school teachers, college professors, friends, TV, music, movies…

So try giving your kids a bit more responsibility and see what happens. You might be pleasantly surprised!


About Dave Cummings

Dave Cummings is a husband, father of three, college professor, biologist, and urban outdoorsman. Most importantly, he is a Christ follower.
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4 Responses to “Let them be kids”

  1. spikebotts says:

    Excellent thoughts here. The other day I had several meals with kids and I noticed something. At every meal the kids would be asked what they wanted to eat, and usually the children would choose some small subset of the foods offered. As this wasn’t enough, the children would usually select too few foods to make a good meal, so they were sometimes given an offer of having their own special meal made, or they would have a snack of their choice later on. Then even after they selected their own food, they would usually eat very little of it and throw the rest away. It made me think about the messages they were being sent including: it is YOUR opinion that always matters, you should never be uncomfortable, and you should always have the amount you want. Why does our culture tell us that we should always ask people what they want? Maybe this is why my students complain about the caf when they have so much fresh food that they didn’t even have to prepare. Maybe this is why they tell me that my teaching just doesn’t work for them. Maybe this is why some of them tell me 8 am classes are too early so they won’t be there. Why aren’t we teaching them that good things can be uncomfortable, don’t waste, be flexible and participate with your community, etc?

    Kids have the ability to do so much more than we often give them the opportunity to do. At what age do they have the coordination and ability to do the laundry? 7? 9? When do we have them start doing these chores? What age could they pull weeds in the yard? At what age do they understand enough about money to start participating in conversations about the family budget? Yes we may be able to do it faster without them, but that isn’t the point. When they move out on their own, there shouldn’t be surprises about how much work there is to do. They should have already had years of time spent doing these things alongside “experts” at life.

    Thanks for speaking these words of wisdom to future parents.

  2. Pappy says:

    You and Ann have done so well with your children. Each generation sets the path for the next generation. We trully reap what we sow! You both must be really proud!

    • We are proud of them in the sense that we are so pleased with how they are growing up and honored to be called Mom and Dad. But as you know, parenting is one of the most humbling experiences anyone can go through. We’re trying to learn as we go and not make too many mistakes along the way. What will they be saying about us to their therapists in ten years?

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