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Learning From Life's Challenges

How socially responsible are high school and college students today? Is the student of today self-reliant and committed to making positive decisions? Or is the present generation of college and high school students just overly ...

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How socially responsible are high school and college students today? Is the student of today self-reliant and committed to making positive decisions? Or is the present generation of college and high school students just overly self-indulgent and spoiled?

It is amazing how many high school students still do not clean their rooms and make their beds before they go to school. Many of these same students do not do their own laundry during the week, but rather leave it for Mom s maid service.

What social expectations do we have of our high school and college students? Do we expect them to act responsibly and socially appropriate? Are we clear and consistent in what we expect from our young people?

What are your family rules? Do your children know what you expect from them? How frequently during the week do you gather for a family meal, with the TV and the phone turned off? During those meals, what kind of conversation is had? As parents, do you try to engage your children to talk about what s happening in their lives, to look at world events and local social happenings and really talk? Or, is dinner the ten minute special where everyone gobbles their food down and leaves for their night of activities?

Family life is being pulled in four million directions. Our children, for the most part, are overcommitted between school, sports and extracurricular activities. A growing number of our high school juniors and seniors and our college students are also working part time. All of these activities make it increasingly difficult for family to gather for a meal, never mind for a conversation on important issues.

The world has radically changed in the past thirty years. For those of us who went to college in the 60 s and 70 s, the computer was a nonexistent tool. We typed college papers on an electric typewriter and used white out. The cell phone was nonexistent, as was text messaging and instant messaging. There was no such thing as Facebook and My Space. Some of us, depending on our jobs, had the new phenomena called the beeper! Life was less chaotic then. There was greater opportunity for family time and communicating with one another.

Most of the new technology is a positive force among us, but unfortunately, a growing number of parents do not fully understand its complexity, its scope and its ultimate use. Many of our children in middle school are more adept when it comes to computer technology and the Internet than we adults.

The world around us is constantly changing. Most of us are uncomfortable with change. However, the change that we must confront as adults and as parents is both rapid and radical. For some of us, it is moving too fast!

There is no universally accepted handbook for parenting young people in the 21st century. Most of us parent our children based on trial and error, our intuition and drawing from the positive experiences of our own growing up. Unfortunately, many of the challenges we face today were nonexistent when we were teenagers and college students.

In every family system, parents should be in charge, no matter what the age of their children. It should be clear what the social rules and boundaries are. Family life should not be a free-for-all and no is not a dirty word.

Our children are not born with a computer chip in their brain that empowers them to make the right choices in every social situation. Developing a moral compass is something that is primarily shaped by the family the young person is raised in. Parents must take a greater role then in the past because of the great diversity of opinion on a wide range of moral, ethical and social issues. The world that we live in is no longer just black and white " most things are in the gray area!

As parents, it is our responsibility to lay the foundation to our children s moral code. We must help them develop the skills and the tools to navigate life s complicated landscape. Based on our own value system, we will look at some of life s complicated moral questions with different lenses than our neighbors. We do our children a disservice, if we do not give them a foundation to work from. As they grow and mature, they will draw from that foundation or they will create their own foundation to live an ethical life.

Parenting is hard work. There are more complicated life issues to confront than ever before. It is imperative that we at least open a conversation with our children on these complicated and delicate issues.

It is also important to call our children at every age to responsibility and accountability for their choices and decisions, and ultimately, for the way in which they live their lives. In simple terms, if our children are a part of our family, they should have basic responsibilities and obligations that they take care of every day. Life should not be handed to them on a silver platter. Too many young people are growing up with an attitude of arrogant entitlement.

Loving your children does not mean doing everything for them and not holding them accountable and responsible for their lives. There is nothing wrong with earning certain rights and privileges and contributing to some of the opportunities they desire to enjoy.

A growing number of college students who go away to school or stay home are socially ill prepared to navigate the greater freedom that comes with that new chapter in their lives.

It amazes me, as someone who has taught college freshmen for over thirty years, how many college coeds have never done a budget, don t live within a budget and do not have a clue of what it costs to be self-reliant and independent.

Every fall semester, I spend a class having my freshmen itemize everything they spend money on. It s mind boggling that some don t have a clue of what things cost, except maybe gas for their car. Their parents cover car insurance, car repairs; they pay their cell phone bills because it s part of a family plan. Their hygiene and cosmetics, Mom takes care of when she does the weekly food shopping. So, they are not totally sure what the costs are unless they go away to school. After we itemize everything needed for a month, we guesstimate room and board and health care. Once they total everything up, they are shocked at what it costs to live month-to-month. Many of them realize immediately that their part-time job does not even come close to covering their monthly expenses.

We are not helping our children grow by spoiling them and covering all of their expenses without any obligation or commitment on their part to contribute. They are not learning how to become responsible, self-reliant and independent. They should learn early on what it costs to live. They should know how to budget and save. They should be aware of what health care costs, how to clean up after themselves, how to maintain their car and how to fix small things where they live. It is not healthy for them to leave all of life s difficulties, materially and socially, to their parents. As parents, we should be helpful to our children, but we should not rescue or enable them when there is an opportunity for them to grow and learn from life s challenges.