Why should I work hard?
No point la.
I sat there, thinking. And staring at the teen in front of me. By all accounts, he was smart. He was cooly dressed, with his hair neatly coiffed.
As a social worker who was supposed to move him away from recalcitrant behavior, and to better prepare him for the real world of adulthood, where people were not as merciful, I was stumped.
Growing up in a place like Hwa Chong, one of the most elite schools in Singapore (think of the Singaporean version of Eton), it was almost a given that we would be prepared for adulthood.
But it was not the case.
I failed constantly as an adult
In my first part-time job, I was sacked. I was so bad that my manager had to call me at 1am California time, to tell me that I needed to go. That was how bad I was.
In my first full-time job, I was so bad that I had a performance improvement plan. I had to get better, or get sacked.
It seemed as if I was not prepared well for adulthood.
But this shouldn’t have been the case. My parents did care a lot for me, and I studied in one of the best schools in Singapore. If school and parenting didn’t prepare me for adulthood, what could?
This article shares my experience working with teenagers, especially those with difficulties, and what you can do as a parent, to help.
Give them a Nokia, seriously
Nick Bilton, a New York Times reporter, once said to Steve Jobs,
Nick Bilton commented, “Your kids must love the iPad, right?” After the launch of the device. Jobs replied, “They haven’t used it. We limit the amount of technology our children use at home. “
“Every night Steve insisted on dining at the big kitchen table, talking about books, history and a variety of other things. Nobody ever took out an iPad or a computer. The kids didn’t seem addicted to the devices. “
Walter Isaacson, the biographer of Steve Jobs
As much as you love them, giving them an iPhone is not going to prepare them better for adulthood.
They start turning to the fancy technology for answers, rather than humans. Adulthood is difficult, and asking Google, rather than Daddy is not going to get your child better prepared.
As much as we argue that we are living in a digital world, the digital world is also occupied by humans. Helping your child to be familiar with interacting in real time with other humans is a key aspect of letting your child thrive in this world.
When they hanker you for a phone, put your foot down. Give them a Nokia 3310 if you really need to get in touch with them. But show them the world, a better alternative that exists outside the screens.
I once had an intern who asked me for a 20% pay rise, after just 1 month. And working with different generations – boomers, Gen X, Gen Y, I’ve noticed that the boomers are generally grittier. How do you help the younger generation grow up?
I asked the author of Growth by Choice, Haresh Khoobchandani. His answer?
You can manufacture crises for the young.
That was new. I never had that perspective before.
But if I look back at my time in the army, that was the exact thing our commanders did to ready us for the real world. The previous night, we had a restful night cooking by the campfire. Noodles, canned food. Ah, that was the life.
But we were in for the shock of our life in the morning. In the morning, our commanders demanded to know why we had left so much trash.
They proceeded to give us a stern reckoning. Punishments. Pushups. Hands held in the air for half an hour (if you don’t think that sounds hard, just try it for 5 minutes. Just try!)
It was by far the hardest time of my life, as I saw myself pushed to the limits.
But later, when we closed towards our graduation, our commanders shared that the ‘reckoning’ had been manufactured.
If your teenager seems to have been very comfortable, manufacture a crisis for him. Send him away to a place where you know he will be pushed. For example, you could:
- Put him at an adventure camp
- Take away his phone from him
That’s by far the best thing you can do for him. Let him go, and let him fail. It’s only by failing that he will learn one of the key lessons in adulthood:
You will fail
but that’s okay.
Let them fail
You’re the parent, but you’re not the hero of their life. For your child to survive as an adult, they need to build their own ability to rely on themselves. That can’t happen if you’re always jumping in when there’s a crisis.
Ideally, when something happens, you should not bail them out. They should learn to suffer the consequences of those actions, whatever they are.
Working with delinquent youths, I was struck by this father who saw his son repeatedly arrested for shop theft, and other minor offences. Yet time and time again, he would bail the son out, paying the fine.
The boy never learnt.
As much as your teen would scream at you for not ‘helping’ them, let them scream. That’s the only way they will learn that in the real world,
There are consequences for what you do, good or bad.
Stop supporting them
I would advise that past a certain age, you should stop supporting them financially. Often this is the time when they are financially able to earn their keep.
I would ay that you take it as the legal age to start working, in a part-time job. If they can work in Macdonalds, they definitely don’t need to come to you when they want to eat their favourite BigMac.
Letting them earn their own keep is vital in letting them be independent.
It also teaches them the value of money.
Growing up, I admired my parents for giving me the chance to work when I was 16, despite it being manual, and dirty job. I was carrying 18kg cartons of soft drinks to display on supermarket shelves. Sure, I didn’t need to do that.
But it led me to see that money was hard to earn. It’s helped me to be frugal, refusing the usual trappings of what money can buy.
Preparing your kid takes time
As much as your kids need to prepare for adulthood, you too, must prepare yourself. It will take time. Expecting a quick 5 step plan to help your child is not going to give your child the best chance.
Instead, give yourself a better chance, by investing the last few years of your child’s teenage years, with them.
They want you. And you want them too.
Sometimes we convince ourselves that our child doesn’t need us anymore, and bury ourselves in more and more work.
Remember the times spent nursing them, reading them bedtime stories? That doesn’t need to end so fast. You can still have walks with them.
As much as they will quickly leave the nest, being with them, walking with them, and being clear with them is the best thing you can do for them.