Tell me, did you know at twelve or fourteen what you wanted to do for your life career? Kids are now asked this routinely in middle schools because the administration wants to direct them into the “right track.” Those who say they want to be mechanics or heating and air conditioning technicians are put in different non-college directed classes. Even if a child knows she wants to go to college eventually, chances are that she’s not totally clear on which major she may eventually want to choose.
I am the parent of two high-achieving daughters. One will receive her Ph.D. in May; the other is now completing her residency in Emergency Medicine in Brooklyn. My point in mentioning this is that although my kids grew up with two parents who went to grad school to earn doctorates, neither my spouse or I ever directed them into any specific career. (I take that back–it is now a joke in our family–although I meant it seriously–that I told both my daughters to go to college to four years, get a degree that would support them in financial comfort and make them happy. I stressed that they only get an undergraduate degree and they both subsequently ignored me.) From the time they were small, Roger and I reflected their skills and strong points, always leaving their eventual career choice to the appropriate time in their lives.
Why the heck are we trying to push them into decisions they aren’t ready to make?
We laugh and joke about kids’ attachment to their phones, their video games and Snapchat. Parents bemoan that their kids are growing up so fast, but we’re expecting more and more from them. My medical doctor daughter didn’t even show an interest in biology until her second year in college. My psychology doctor daughter reluctantly admitted to her interests at about the same point in her education. Neither of these “late bloomers” have suffered in their academic achievements.
I’ve seen an increase in anxiety disorders in adolescents in high school. This started initially with those in their senior year–facing big choices and the reality of self-direction–and has now grown to more and more kids who are in their late middle school or early high school years.
Clearly, career pressure isn’t the only reason for kids’ anxiety issues, but let’s not forget that the transition from childhood to adulthood is complex and challenging. It involves both career and relationship choices, along with lifestyle choices. Kids get to vote on who will be president. They have the possibility of being tried as an adult if they commit a crime. They are offered a big variety of mind-altering chemicals, both for entertainment and medication.
Life gets real.
As parents of young children, we often have complicated feelings about the kids we used to take to the bathroom “suddenly” driving cars and getting into the rough parts of life. We parents sometimes want to cling to the belief that we still direct them. We don’t. When our children get to be adults–even start getting closer to being adults–the steering wheel of their lives is yanked from our hands. For some reason, they want to direct their own choices. They pick what they will do and when. Just like you and I did as teenagers.
So, let them be young when they’re young…and let them be adults when they’re adults. It doesn’t matter if we think they’re not acting mature. It matters if they’ve reached that age.