There are many teens caught in the waiting game – waiting to grow up, waiting for a girlfriend, waiting to get a driver’s license, waiting to get away from home. To be fair, many adults are caught in the game as well – waiting for a promotion, waiting for the big break, waiting for . . . . something.
The problem with the waiting game is the damaging belief that life will start at a future point. Living will be good when (fill in the blank) happens. This day, this moment doesn’t count. It just needs to be survived.
Unfortunately, many teens, trapped in the middle of the waiting, emotionally check out. Without a purpose, each day looks much like any other day and no day is especially enjoyable (for them or anyone in their vicinity). I believe that the teen years for many kids are some of the most wasted years of their lives, when they should be some of the richest.
Charlotte Mason, a British educator of long ago, felt that all children needed three things for their life to be meaningful:
- Something (or someone) to love
- Something to do
- Something to think about
In a nutshell, she was talking about helping kids find a purpose for their existence.
Something to love could be academic. There are kids who are invigorated by the pursuit of knowledge and research. It could be sports – the thrill of the game and the necessary skill set that is needed. It could be music – the constant challenge of mastering an instrument. When we say someone to love, we are not talking about loving someone in the romantic sense, but loving someone who is important to them. That could be the children they tutor, the lonely elderly widow in the nursing home, or the homeless people that they serve.
Having something important to do is critical in helping kids find their footing. John Taylor Gatto has coined the term “Significant Discipline.” He believes in giving children a big thing to do very early in life, something that will require years of work and discipline to do well – ice skating, a musical instrument, sculpting, and auto mechanics are a few of the things that take years to master and give our kids valuable disciplines.
But, having something to do can also be of shorter duration. Holding down a job or starting a small business teaches kids a great deal and can greatly improve their self-concept. Substantial volunteering not only change the lives of the people being helped, but can change the life of your teen.
In trying to help our kids get out of the waiting game, look for opportunities where someone will rely on them. Students need important responsibilities. And, they need consequences when those responsibilities are not handled well. If they don’t do their job well, someone suffers.
Finally, everyone needs something to think about. Teens are idealistic to be sure, but noble thoughts are important to develop upstanding adults. Whether your teen is intrigued with a fabulous book that takes work to decipher, a challenging research project, or a creative endeavor, the thinking and the planning are of critical importance.
Basically, kids need a reason to get up in the morning. When they play a key role in a project, when others are depending on them, when they are needed and wanted, a magical transformation occurs. Suddenly they are no longer waiting, they are living!
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