What Parents Can Really Do to Help Prepare Their Teens for Success

While reading about the student-led climate protests last week, a statement jumped out at me from the 16-year-old Swedish activist, Greta Thunberg, who is credited with launching the walkouts that occurred in over 100 countries. In an interview with The New York Times, Thunberg, who says she was a shy but good student who was overcome for years with adolescent depression, claims that her climate work has added fulfillment to her life. She says: “I’m happier now…I have meaning. I have something I have to do.”

Teenagers Crave Purpose

Regardless of how you may feel about climate activism, the key message to parents is that school can be stifling and anxiety-inducing for many teenagers who crave and need meaningful work. Adolescents are meant to come of age within the adult world, surrounded by a diverse group of mentors and engaged in authentic, real-life pursuits. This gives them both experience and personal reward.

Instead, teenagers today are spending more of their time confined in school and school-like settings than ever before. Teenage employment has plummeted, with part-time jobs abandoned in the all-out quest for academics and college admissions. Summer jobs, once a signature activity for teens, are no longer valued. Schooling has become the priority—even in summer. In July 1985, only ten percent of US teens were enrolled in school; in July 2016, over 42 percent were.

Thunberg also isn’t alone in her teen depression. Mounting data show skyrocketing rates of adolescent anxiety, depression, and suicide over the last decade. Some researchers point to technology and social media as the culprit, but they ignore other, recent cultural trends—like more time in forced schooling and less time engaged in jobs and meaningful work—that could be contributing to adolescent strife.

Job Experience Could Be A Solution

In a recent Harvard EdCast podcast interview, Julie Lythcott-Haims, former dean of freshmen and undergraduate advising at Stanford University and author of the book, How to Raise an Adult, said that she has heard from several admissions officers that they, regrettably, rarely see work experience described in student essays or otherwise touted on college applications. Young people and their parents now believe that academics and extracurriculars are more important than good, old-fashioned teenage jobs.

Not only is this increased emphasis on school over work likely contributing to teenage angst and disenfranchisement, but it is also not serving them well for the adult world they will ultimately enter. A report by the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation revealed that employers are disappointed that today’s highly-schooled graduates lack basic proficiency in simple tasks like drafting a quality email, prioritizing work, and collaborating with others. Other studies have found similar results, with employers frustrated by their new hires’ lack of communication skills, poor problem-solving and critical-thinking abilities, and low attention to detail.

While parents and teachers may think that piling on academics is the key to adult success, the lack of genuine work experience can be more hindrance than help for today’s young people. If parents really want their children to have a meaningful and successful adolescence and adulthood, they should consider trading a well-schooled life for a well-lived one. They can encourage their teens to get jobs and gain beneficial work experience—and make sure that their kids handle it all independently, learning through trial and error. As Lythcott-Haims warns in her book:

Helping by providing suggestions, advice, and feedback is useful, but we can only go so far. When parents do what a young employee must do for themselves, it can backfire.

In addition to encouraging part-time work, parents can also help their teenagers to develop an entrepreneurial mindset that focuses on customer satisfaction and value creation. By looking at her job (even if it’s in retail or food service) from an entrepreneurial perspective, a teen can learn a lot about business and value-creation and may be inspired to become an entrepreneur in adulthood. Unfortunately, entrepreneurship is woefully neglected in schools and standard extracurriculars.

As parents look ahead to summer vacation, they may want to pause and take a closer peek at their teenager’s plans. Will she spend those warm months getting ahead on her AP classes? Will he do a foreign language immersion program that will look good on the college transcripts? Maybe getting a job or learning how to think like an entrepreneur would be a more beneficial and rewarding way to enjoy a summer—and a life.

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Randolph Bourne

Nobody asked but …

This morning I listened to Jeff Riggenbach’s podcast, The Libertarian Tradition.  In particular, I heard the episode covering Randolph Bourne’s life and his contribution to the cause of individualism.  The text of Riggenbach‘s presentation is also found at the Randolph Bourne Institute’s web pages.  I realized, too late, that I had failed to mark the 100th year since Bourne’s untimely* death in December 1918.

Bourne packed a lot of ideas into his short life, and did much writing for someone who was repeatedly canned for being so forthright with his ideas.  Today, his legacy includes the Randolph Bourne Institute and its instrument, Antiwar.com.  Furthermore, Bourne is famous for the very durable quote, “War is the health of the State.”  I urge you to read Wendy McElroy’s exploration of this phrase.

But we would be remiss in ignoring others of Bourne’s observations.  To wit:

The American intellectuals, in their preoccupation with reality, seem to have forgotten that the real enemy is War rather than imperial Germany. There is work to be done to prevent this war of ours from passing into popular mythology as a holy crusade.

The ironist is ironical not because he does not care, but because he cares too much.

Really to believe in human nature while striving to know the thousand forces that warp it from its ideal development-to call for and expect much from men and women, and not to be disappointed and embittered if they fall short- to try to do good with people rather than to them- this is my religion on its human side.

For we do not do what we want to do, but what is easiest and most natural for us to do, and if it is easy for us to do the wrong thing, it is that that we will do.

In America our radicalism is still simply amateurish and incompetent.

In your reaction to an imagined attack on your country or an insult to its government, you draw closer to the herd for protection, you conform in word and deed, and you insist vehemently that everybody else shall think, speak, and act together. And you fix your adoring gaze upon the State, with a truly filial look, as upon the Father of the flock.

The State is not the nation, and the State can be modified and even abolished in its present form, without harming the nation. On the contrary, with the passing of the dominance of the State, the genuine life-enhancing forces of the nation will be liberated.

We can easily become as much slaves to precaution as we can to fear.

With the shock of war the state comes into its own again.

I had nearly let Randolph Bourne slip into obscurity.  I now make it one of my life’s purposes to keep that from happening.  I heartily commend Bourne to your attention in that spirit.

— Kilgore Forelle

* Bourne was only 32 when he died in 1918’s flu epidemic.

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You Can’t Have Civil Rights Both Ways

It’s interesting to me how many people want their own rights respected, while also wanting other people’s rights to be violated.

People who want their rights as gun owners respected often advocate a massive government welfare program, carried out through taxation and land theft, in order to build a border wall, which violates the right of association and the right of people to move about freely. They also demand a police state where you can be stopped and checked for your papers.

To justify these violations, they’ll insist it’s necessary because of other kinds of welfare and because of laws that all but criminalize self-defense and the uninterrupted possession of the proper tools with which to carry it out. To abolish any violations appears unthinkable.

On the other hand, those who oppose a rights-violating border wall want to continue to violate everyone by funding government handouts and usually want the rights of gun owners to be violated more than they already are.

Then you have those who seem happy to violate themselves. They’ll demand their right to marry whoever they want to marry, but want government permission — even licenses — to do so. Or they want to have their right to use cannabis respected while they beg for this right to be violated through taxation and regulation.

Did I say it’s interesting? I meant disappointing.

It makes one thing perfectly clear: People either don’t understand rights or they don’t respect them.

People aren’t good at consistency, especially when they don’t realize that all rights are connected so thoroughly they might as well be one and the same. How can you expect your rights to be respected if you refuse to respect the rights of everyone else? How much do you really value your own rights if you’ll let others treat them as privileges?

I want your rights respected, no matter who you are.

I don’t want you robbed to fund things I believe are necessary. I don’t want your real estate stolen for projects I want. I won’t hire armed agents to impose things on you that violate your life, liberty, or property even if I suspect you are up to no good. I won’t impose licensing on you.

If you violate me, I have the natural human right to defend myself. Laws can’t change this.

It’s one reason I will never compromise on gun rights.

I’ll stand up for all your rights, consistently.

Your rights matter to me.

Do they matter to you?

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What Does it Mean to Live Free?

It’s hard to own every choice and respect others enough to expect the same from them.

It’s easy to lazily slip into appeals to duty, what’s “normal”, guilt, or shame instead of relying entirely on mutual exchange of value.

If I’d like my wife to come on a walk with me, I can change my tone of voice to imply I’ll have hurt feelings if she doesn’t. I can say, “I always come on walks with you!”. I can try to make her feel weird, like other normal people go on walks. I can appeal to the fact that we’re family, and imply that she owes me a walk because of it.

All of these can be effective. But they’re lesser versions of the person I want to be. I don’t want to make choices in my life based on these things. Why should I ask her to? I want to live free and I want to treat her as a free person.

This forces me to get creative. It forces me to create value. It forces me to have a strong sense of self. I’ve got to ask her to join me in a way that makes it in her unmanipulated interest to say yes, but in a way that makes clear she can freely say no.

It doesn’t mean I have to hide my feelings. It’s the opposite. I can’t allow myself to hide my motives and desires under layers of false reason. Living free and treating others as free people forces honesty.

Humans are good at adding layers of justification and passive aggression to our words and actions. Pretty soon, it’s impossible to identify our own desires. Denying yourself the use of manipulative tactics forces you to come to terms with your thoughts and feelings. Why do I want her to go on a walk with me? How much do I value it? Why might she value it? What could make it more valuable than her alternatives?

It sounds cold and mechanical when broken down like this, but in practice it’s clean and true. It’s so much better than vague entreaties layered with ambiguous emotional consequences.

This is just one small part of living free. But it changes everything. Never accepting the role of victim. Never believing anyone owes you anything, or you owe anyone anything (except what you’ve freely agreed to). These force you to treat each interaction as between free people.

It forces you to break the shackles of your own bullshit.

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Beware ‘It’s Getting Worse’ Narratives

They’re too easy.

I’m skeptical of any argument that says X or Y are worse than they used to be. Not because things can’t get worse. I don’t hold to the Whig theory of history. I’m skeptical because the ‘things are getting’ worse framework is always accepted and no one demands evidence.

Whenever an assumption is universally shared and never plainly stated my skeptenna goes up.

I had an interesting conversation recently about how hard it is to find amazing people of high character and intelligence (part of the reason such conversations are enjoyable is because those having them get to silently assume they are among the few and feel warm about it). I was in full agreement that great people are rare. But I didn’t agree with the claim that there are fewer amazing people today than ever before.

It’s too easy for it to appear that the past had a higher percentage of amazing people, and too hard to know how to find the truth.

Think about your own life. What stories are you most likely to remember and retell? The good ones. What people will you best remember? The good ones.

We look back on the past and most of the evidence that remains is about extraordinary people and events. Your daily life, on the other hand, is mostly monotony with average people. You don’t read histories of the nature and causes of boring people buying and preparing ham while talking about the weather. Ninety percent of history is about one percent of who and what actually happens. No wonder it appears there were more great people.

It is possible that people of high character and intelligence are fewer. But it would require evidence, and more than a cursory review of recorded history.

The thing I’m more wary of than the accuracy of the ‘things are getting worse’ story is what it does if I accept it. It’s a comforting notion, but comforting in the dangerous way. It lets me off the hook for lacking imagination. Since everyone parrots it, you can go along without forming a view of your own. You can ignore the challenge of optimism. You can let the world be framed for you instead of creating a frame that best helps achieve your ends.

There is some value in thinking things are getting worse. For one, it may be true, and if so it can be good to see what’s coming. It also might inspire you to act heroically if you feel you’re in the End Times.

But it shouldn’t be uncritically accepted that things are worse than they used to be. The evidence on most issues strongly suggests the opposite, and the dangers of mental laziness outweigh the potential gains.

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I’m Shocked — Shocked! — that Wealthy Parents Love Their Kids Too

In the film version of Forrest Gump (but not, if memory serves, in the novel), Forrest’s mother tries to convince the local elementary school principal that her son belongs at  his local elementary school rather than at an institution for what we would now call “special needs” students. The two reach an understanding on Mrs. Gump’s remarkably squeaky bed while Forrest waits on the front porch.

That scene popped to mind uninvited in early March when fifty parents, test administrators, and college sports coaches were indicted in a nationwide college admissions bribery scandal.

Coaches allegedly took bribes to accept students as fake athletic recruits to get around academic standards. Test prep services supposedly taught students how to cheat on tests and bribed proctors to smooth the way for the cheating. An “admissions consultant,” William Singer, is accused of orchestrating the scheme to the tune of $25 million.

None of which, obviously, is According to Hoyle.

I’m surprised, though, at the vitriol directed at the parents in particular.

I suspect most movie viewers empathized with the fictional Mrs. Gump, who did whatever she felt she had to do to secure the best education possible for her child.

Real-life parents like actors Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman — the two most famous of the indicted parents — did whatever they felt they had to do to secure the best educations possible for their children as well.

The difference, of course, is that the fictional Mrs. Gump was poor, while Loughlin and Huffman are wealthy.

The public heartburn over Loughlin and Huffman seems less about them bribing their kids into good schools than about them being able to AFFORD to bribe their kids into good schools.

Suppose the scandal had unfolded in a different way. What if, instead of rich people writing checks they could afford,  it was working class parents scraping together money they really couldn’t afford, or trading menial work or even sexual favors a la Mrs. Gump, for illicit “admissions assistance?”

In that alternative scenario, I suspect most would regard the parents as victims, not as evil-doers.

In that alternative scenario, I expect that most parents could see themselves doing exactly the same things in the same circumstances.

“Let me tell you about the very rich,” wrote F. Scott Fitzgerald. “They are different from you and me.” True. But not when it comes to loving their children. I won’t condemn them for that.

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