Saturday, June 12, 2010

The teenage years

A few years ago I was asked by a new mom to give some help regarding co-sleeping and breastfeeding. My answer was pretty simple - what would great-grandma do? 100 years ago or so women breastfed their babies, kept them close and nursed them. There was no need to fret over the "family bed" because many times there was just one room and everyone slept, ate and lived in it! Think log cabin, Abe Lincoln type of living arrangements. That was just how it was and everyone went on with their lives.

I find that looking back to a simpler time can give guidance for how we should be living now. Which brings me to the next time in child development that parents have problems with- the teenage years. Yesterday there was a mini WifeSwap marathon on a local station. In case you've never watched the show, the producers try to take families that are complete opposites, and switch the moms for two weeks, hoping for maximum drama. Regardless of lifestyle choices, the care of the teens and older children tend to fall into the "let kids play and have fun" camp vs. the "make kids tow the line and have lots of responsibility." I've seen similar sentiments expressed online, particularly in forums that want to take the Duggar Family apart for making their older children do terrible things like, take care of the younger children, clean, and do laundry or yard work.

From observation it seems that there are lots of things in the culture that people think teenagers have a "right to" for example the right to drive, the right to be with their friends, the right to go to prom, to have a t.v., cell phone and computer and kids who don't have these things are somehow missing out.But is all this stuff really good for teens?  Has it made them better adults ready to take on adult responsibilities?  Or has it just prolonged childhood?

I look to the past to find some answers.  My grandpa was born in 1902.  By the time he was 11 years old he was a seasoned farm hand.  He knew how to put in a day of work in the field and how to work with big farm animals. He learned how to weld and he used both his farming and welding skills to provide for a wife  and a family at the age of 25. He never told my great grandparents that he just wanted to "hang with his friends" and even if he had, he probably would have ended up helping them with THEIR farm work. People of my grandfather's generation learned how to work hard, and then make the most of their free time. This was the generation that fought the first world war and then raised the next generation that won the second war. Hard work and sacrifice - this people learned how to do both from a young age and they were a happy and prosperous people.

I'm not sure that generations today could pull those kinds of monumental events off again.  We no longer pursue happiness, we expect it to be handed to us.  And I think a lot of that starts in the home. So if we have to look at what's best for teenagers, again, what did great-grandpa or grandma do?  They worked, they had responsibilities, they were focused on the survival and togetherness of the family and they made the most of their free time and outside socialization. We KNOW that is the best recipe for a happy, productive adulthood.




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