“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.
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.
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!