Wednesday, January 5, 2011

How Maturity Is Encouraged

Recently I read something that said that maturity is encouraged and developed less by the giving of freedom than it is by the giving of responsibility.  Now there is an interesting thought.  Children look for freedom as the sign that their parents trust them or acknowledge that they have grown up.  Parents tend also to reward their children's maturity with additional freedom -- generally that means more privileges, less oversight, and expanded privacy.  In the past this may have been more benign but in this day and age it may be accompanied by more danger than opportunity.

Our children spend a great deal of time on their own and with their peers and less and less time with the family as a whole.  In part this is an unavoidable result of two income families in which parent's work schedules do not correspond to the school schedule.  Children from middle school age on up are alone for much of the day.  In my own community the school dismisses at 2:30 pm and most parents work schedules do not end until 3-4 hours later.  This leaves our kids on their own for a significant portion of the day.  They have privacy not because it is given to them but because they are alone and parents are working.  This creates a potential for great harm even more than it does provide a proving ground for responsibility.

Secondly, children do not have to leave home to get in trouble.  With the internet culture in which we live and the social networking sites that provide the primary arena for our personal relationships, our kids have privacy and opportunity without even leaving the house.  Because privacy is presumed by our kids and because not enough parents even have access to the emails or social networking sites used by their children, we have a scenario in which many children can live completely different lives on the web than their parents might recognize from the limited interaction at home.

We first put TVs in our kids rooms to prevent them from arguing over what they wanted to watch and to make it possible for adults to watch what they wanted.  This changed the bedroom from a place of sleep to a refuge or private place to separate yourself from the other members of the family.  What was once punishment ("Go to your room") has become the primary living area of modern day kids.  They are more likely to see spending time in the family room or kitchen table as punishment than their rooms.

Then we stopped eating together and our eating became the home version of fast food.  The kitchen became a place to pick up what you wanted to eat and take it with you wherever you were going.  In the end less and less family time resulted even from the ordinary routine of eating together.

Finally, we as parents felt guilty about all of this and so we compensated by reducing the level of responsibilities expected from our children and increasing our own workload at  home.  More and more of the ordinary family chores that once belonged to children were assumed by the already busy and tired parents.  Allowances that were once tied to duties around the house became less and less related to chores or household responsibilities and more and more the cash given to get the kids out of our hair for a while.

I may sound very negative here but I think it is more descriptive than condemnatory.  My point is that we did not realize what we were doing -- and we thought we were doing the right thing.  In the end, we fostered a false idea of maturity in which freedom to do as they please and privacy from others became the primary arenas in which our children saw adulthood and sought out this adulthood for themselves.  In the end we forgot that adulthood is less about freedom than about duty and responsibility, more about what you have to do than what you want to do, more about the people around you than about yourself.

If we want to encourage maturity in our children, we must change the way we see maturity and we must begin to foster and encourage them to be responsible as the highest goal and evidence of this maturity.  We must reconsider the attention given to freedom and the privacy accorded them.  We gave our kids their space and now they may resist giving back some oversight of who they are and what they do but if we do not do this, we have forsaken the most essential role and purpose of parenting.  It is something to think about...


Rev. Eric J Brown said...

The great irony in all of this plays off of your very first sentence. For Christian, freedom is given so that you might exercise responsibility in your service to the neighbor.

The fact that freedom and responsibility are contrasted shows that we have forgotten what freedom is. Freedom is never merely freedom from, it is always freedom to or towards something good.

Anonymous said...

Parents are at their best when they
raise their children to be independent of their parents. This
involves giving them age-appropriate
responsibilities for their age group.
Otherwise you have the current trend
of young adults in their 20's still
living with their parents. College
education or vocational skills to
earn a living become important after
our children graduate from high school. We can not blame the poor
economy for our youth still living
off their parents for food and
shelter when they are 22 or 23 yrs
old. Responsible young adults
are not made dependent on their
parents for financial support.

Anonymous said...

"Responsible young adults
are not made dependent on their
parents for financial support."

I am not so sure that is categorically true. Consider those who work in a family business or farm. They inherit and continue the business without ever really leaving. Independence is not all it's cracked up to be. Living at home and saving up money for later is more responsible than getting one's own apartment, being lonely and wasting money on rent.