There is a fascinating trend in today’s youth that has become a significant hindrance to achieving what have traditionally been considered milestones to maturity.
As we have developed a society based on ease and technology, we have eliminated many rites of passage that were the goals of youth not more than 20 years ago. At the same time, our youth are surpassing older generations with a growing ability to process information.
Dr. James Flynn, a university professor in New Zealand, has shown through analysis of a century’s worth of IQ tests that for the past two generations, there has been a consistent increase in mental processing. This “Flynn Effect” has demonstrated that an average of 6 IQ points has been gained per generation. This means that there is more than one standard deviation of IQ between grandparents and grandchildren, a family dynamic that has grown more and more common in our culture.
The idea that the rites of passages—driving, employment, living independently—are commonly postponed due to economic or other reasons is counterintuitive to the evolution that children are demonstrating. While they have become more capable, we have sheltered them more. As parents, we are often hyper vigilant and overanxious about allowing our children to be independent. At times, we are even hindering their ability to develop age-appropriate skills.
Most of the children I see are very intelligent people and are very observant of the world around them. They watch our behaviors and analyze with a keenness we often don’t give them credit for. Children learn to quickly identify their parents’ anxiety and fear. Little eyes see everything and little ears hear it all.
To make an intelligent decision, we require two things: an ability to observe and process and a database of information we have built through experience. When children are able to process more quickly and yet are held back from actual real-world experiences, the result is a generation that can theoretically tell us everything but has no practical insight.
This is exacerbated by the flood of negative information we get on a daily basis that warns us to be wary of other people and continually pushes the idea that this world is more troubled than it really is. When we have regular active-shooter drills in school and are afraid to let children walk to the park by themselves, we show them that fear and self-preservation are the most important things. We teach that “I” is more important that “we,” and we have developed a society that mirrors this belief—a society where the average McDonald’s worker is 28 years old and living at home.
Parents need to assess what milestones signify growth and hold their children to strict measurements. It’s not easy, but it is right. Children can appreciate simple things like summer jobs, volunteer opportunities, money-saving skills and work ethics at an early age. Let them follow through. Make them pay for their own driver’s education and make them save up and buy the Christmas presents they want to give. Not doing so is a potential hindrance to moving up the maturity ladder. The chores around the house need to be done before they can move to a paying job and, no, chores do not pay.
These are some simple techniques to help keep kids on a path to maturity.
Chad Beaver is a licensed mental health professional at Key Peninsula Counseling Center.