The word adult is a funny one to me only because in today’s society it seems to have such a wide variety of definitions, most of which contradict each other. To me an adult is supposed to be someone who is mature and who behaves responsibly, has self-discipline, someone who sets a good example and is a positive role model for peers, younger adults or children. It’s someone I would want to emulate. But if you ask an 18-year-old (someone who is now legally an adult), what an adult is, they will tell you “it’s someone who can do anything they want.” I know that’s what my 18-year-old thinks anyway. If my husband and I say anything to her by way of advice or rebuke, she says, “I am an adult.”
If you look at movie ratings or “adult” bookstores, or “adult” movies, the words “adult” and “mature” mean something quite different. They are not looking for someone who is responsible and who has self-discipline and who is trying to set a good example for their peers or for the younger generation, they are looking for someone who is legally 18 or older, in some instances 21 or older, to be their audience. Those parameters are required by law, or the makers of “adult” films and sellers of “adult” novels would be out of business (and on a sarcastic note, wouldn’t that be sad?).
It may seem a strange question to ponder what the word “adult” really means. The definition certainly requires review. My husband and I are raising our children, we are hoping one day that they will be able to hold the traditional title of “adult.” They will understand how to be responsible and work hard (we give them chores and expect them to do a good job and to finish them), how to be on time (our children have curfews), how to work hard in school (we receive weekly progress reports on our children’s grades and participation in school, and we discuss that report with them weekly and give them praise or help or consequences accordingly).
We expect our children to tell the truth. We expect them to be obedient. We expect them to be well-mannered. We give our younger boys allowance for the chores they do. Our girls have jobs because they are old enough to work. With this income, we expect them to have a budget. They have learned that once the money is gone, it’s gone, and no matter how much they beg, they cannot get more money. That’s not the way the real world works. Are we perfect parents? No. We’ve had a few bumps and bruises along the way and made some mistakes. And since we’re not finished parenting until we’re dead, we’re expecting many more bumps and bruises in the future.
I understand there are some parents who would rather be their children’s friends than their parents. Kids have enough friends; they need parents. They need structure, rules and guidelines. My opinion is that they want structure, rules and guidelines.
Here are some examples.
Last week I volunteered to help with my son’s Earth Science field trip. I was a chaperone. I showed up to his class before it started. I heard the teacher say, “Tell me ‘yes’ or ‘no’ when I ask if you brought your permission slip.” Out of 40 ninth graders, roughly 21 had brought their permission slips. The teacher told them to bring a pencil as they would need it to record data on the field trip. Nevertheless, I heard a lot of kids say once we got there, “Oh. Does anyone have a pen or pencil I can borrow?” I heard the teacher tell ALL, yes ALL of the children including the ones who had not brought a permission slip, “When you finish your assignments, I have cookies for all of you.” I didn’t know whether to ask her if she was kidding or start laughing. ALL of the kids, whether they were responsible enough to bring permission slips and attend the field trip and do the work required, or whether they forgot their permission slips, or didn’t care, or didn’t come to the field trip to do the work were going to get a cookie? Wow. All I could think was, “wow.”
My high school children are told: “If you need to retake the quiz you failed, take it before the end of term for full credit.” “If you need to turn in the assignment you didn’t turn in on time, turn it in before the end of term for full credit.” “If you need to retake the test you failed, retake it before the end of term for full credit.” Are you kidding me?! When I was in high school, if we failed a test, that was it. No second chances. If we failed to hand in an assignment, we got a zero, no make ups. Of course there were exceptions if you were sick or if there was a family emergency. But I worry about how our children are not learning responsibility. When they are in college, I doubt a professor will give them a cookie if they don’t turn in a research paper. At their first real job, they’re not going to get a raise if they don’t do their work and do it well.
Yes, there are many definitions for adults. But for parents in particular, I hope it means that you expect your children’s best, that you have put strict rules and guidelines in place, that your children are on the road to becoming more and more responsible the older they get and using self-discipline and hard work in their daily lives. Kids are not stupid. They catch on quite fast to rules or the lack thereof. There is a time to treat them like children, and a time to move up the ante the older they get. But for Heaven’s sake, by the time they are in their early twenties, they should know how to be adults who care for their community, who are honest, trustworthy, hardworking, responsible and who reason out choices or options in life. Only then are they really becoming an “adult.”