Thursday, June 17, 2010

Apprenticeships in Life

Debates about Abby Sunderland's attempt to sail around the world has started debates all around that same planet. Heck, it is starting one even here in my house.

There's no argument about who should be paying for the rescue, or at the very least should be looking for a second mortgage to pay the costs. The source of contention is whether the parents were negligent in allowing Abby, and by extension her brother, take on these voyages. The wife and mom-in-law are of the mind that the Sunderlands are crazy.

My position comes from ideas I've had that our culture does not challenge adolescents to learn to take on the world as adults. That attitude is all over the coverage in how news readers insist on referring to Abby as a girl, or worse yet as a child. Please, at the least, refer to her as a young woman.

In order to teach adolescents to take on the adulthood there have to be adults taking responsibility to teach them and to someday say that they are ready to take on the challenges. Something like a solo trip around the world is one whopper of an example, but a similar decision has to be made for anything a teenager might want to do. A number of years is only a single criterion. Some of the others are:
  • The adult has to accurately gauge the skills of the adolescent.
  • The teenager has to accurately know the extent of their own skills. This, with the first point above, leaves no room for empty self-esteem.
  • The adult has to keep setting challenges so that the adolescent's skills keep improving.
  • The teenager has to learn how to motivate herself to keep expanding her skills.
  • The adult has to know just what the magnitude of the risks in the challenge are. I asked my wife, who grew up with horses, whether she would allow our daughters to take up show jumping. She has no problem with that, but I bet that someone whose only knowledge of the sport is pictures of Steve Reeves in an wheelchair would think that would be negligent.
  • The teenager has to learn how to gauge risks with clear eyes.
It surprises me the number of conservative minded people who are jumping up to make blanket statements about teenagers' capabilities. That, in my mind, is too close to saying that people outside the teacher/student (typically parent/child) relationship are competent to judge better than the teacher.

The real problem is more that too few adults are willing to really do the hard work of training their adolescents. Look around at the twenty- and thirty-somethings who are flat out refusing to grow up and take on mature responsibilities. I'd bet my keyboard that you will find parents who thought that all they had to do was look after Junior's self-esteem and that he'd figure the rest out on his own.

Teenagers are not adults. Neither are they children. Teenagers need to be taught how to be adults and to handle responsibility. Not full adults, but an intermediate step, Apprentice Adult.

No comments: