Saturday, January 30, 2010

Letting Go, Giving In, and All the Rest

I teach 6th graders - middle schoolers in the midst of one of their biggest transitions in life so far. They are, by definition, in the middle of their transition to adulthood. Their hormones are all over the place, they are no longer babies, and not quite grown enough to be on their own. Parents don't know how to hold on, let go, or how not to hover. The pre-adolescent is a unique being, but also a recent phenomenon.

At the turn of the last century, your daughter might be married by age 14, have her first child by 15 and if she lived long enough, be a grandmother by age 30. Responsibility topped a young pre-teen's list of characteristics. Young 12 year old boys were expected to be making a living, either as an apprentice to a trade or for their family business. The bigger the mouth to feed, the more that was expected of them.

Not so much today.

The term "teenager" didn't even enter our lexicon until 1938. According to American Word Origins:

In the first part of the twentieth century, we made a startling discovery. There were teenagers among us! Until then, we had thought of people in just two stages: children and adults. And while childhood might have its tender moments, the goal of the child was to grow up as promptly as possible in order to enjoy the opportunities and shoulder the responsibilities of an adult. The girl became the woman, the boy became the man. It was as simple and significant as that.

Today parents of preteens, teens, and young adults struggle with what past generations took for granted - the girl becomes the woman, the boy becomes a man.

Going from dependence to independence is as worrisome for our 18 year olds as it for their parents. The uncertainty connects us, but it also divides us as we have different views on how to deal with it.

Our source of insight and advice has to go beyond "The Secret Life of the American Teenager" - let's hear how you let go, sometimes give in, and all the rest.

You Tell Me
What are you most concerned about as a parent trying prepare your kids to fly on their own? What frustrates you most in your attempt to give them wings?