Honouring the Adult within the child is what invites the child to join the club of adults
This quote, which I have adapted from Richard Rohr’s From Wild Man to Wise Man, challenges us to rethink how we understand the process of becoming adult. It tells us that becoming adult does not happen automatically nor does the process entirely depend on the person who is growing up but rather successful maturation depends in large part on the community who surrounds the adult-in-the-making.
Sadly I think much of the time we all too readily abdicate ourselves from our calling to invite the child or teen into adulthood. I think a big part of the reason why we do so is because we have bought into an overly simplified view of the modern teenager.
In this simplified view the teenager is a borderline monster. They are selfish, they care only about their peer group, they are a slave to their horomones, and they are hardwired to rebel. In this view sowing wild oats and haphazard experimentation with drugs and alcohol are often seen as necessary parts of the journey to adulthood. The parent, teacher, or other adults connected to the youth must simply wait out the storm and hope that on the other side of adolescence there is something left of the relationship that they can salvage.
To make matters more difficult, after their teen years, society expects adolescents to be able to turn on the switch and seamlessly transition into adulthood. Unfortunately there is abundant evidence that this transition is more often than not anything but seamless; it is not uncommon to hear about adolescence extending well into people’s 20s. We see this not only in the fact that traditional markers of adulthood like moving out, finding a career, and getting married have been pushed until later in life but also in what is described as a general lack of maturity and sense of entitlement among 20somethings.
I believe this is why we need to take Rohr’s comment seriously. It is easy for us to write off the next generation as immature and entitled but I believe the problem has more to do with us than with the emerging generation. We have for too long neglected building a bridge of relationship to the next generation and in the process have forced people to figure out on their own what it means to become adult.
What I humbly advocate for is a much different approach. Instead of looking at teens as monsters and 20somethings as entitled, let’s look at them as people who have an adult-within that simply needs to be called out. Let’s speak affirming words to them when we see them taking responsibility, working hard, and behaving beyond their years. Let’s have patience when they fail to be as mature as we are—they are, after all, at the beginning of a long journey. Let’s also value and treat them as friends, integral members of the community, and not as lesser citizens.
The good news is that accomplishing many of these things does not necessarily require a huge time commitment and investment on our part. Sometimes it might involve a brief conversation in which you simply encourage, affirm, or perhaps even gently correct. In my life one of the most impacting things that I ever experienced was when a high school teacher took me aside after class and told me that he was moving me from the back of the class to the front of the class because he felt like I was wasting my academic potential by talking when I should have been listening. That conversation probably lasted less than a minute but its consequences were life changing. For that reason I am forever in debt to Mr. (Scott) Christianson!
For others of us the time commitment may be a bit larger. It may involve forming friendships that cross the generation gap. The importance of these friendships or mentorships cannot be overstated. Mentorship is to life what apprenticeship is to a trade. It is the process of an older and more experienced person sharing a part of life’s journey with a younger and more inexperienced person. Mentorship involves some talking and even more listening but most of all what mentorship communicates to the younger is that they matter and that they are worth investing in. Can you think of any better and more powerful way of honouring the adult within the child?