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Rite of Passage ParentingFour Essential Experiences to Equip Your Kids for Life
By Walker Moore
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2007 Walker Moore
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWhat's Missing: Kids Need a Rite of Passage
Cultural shifts have led to the loss of a rite of passage- a clearly defined line that distinguishes childhood from adulthood.
My youngest son, Caleb, has the gift of creativity. As he was growing up, this gift expressed itself in all kinds of unusual ways.
One day, his mother and I were on our way to his middle school parent-teacher conference when the school nurse met us in the hall. She stopped and asked us, "How is your son's diabetes?"
At first, we assumed she had the wrong parents. However, as we questioned her further, she began to tell us that ever since Caleb had been at that school, he came to see her every so often, complaining that his blood sugar had dropped dangerously low. He would ask her for a spare candy bar and eat it while resting on the cot in her office.
The nurse also told us that it seemed as if Caleb's low-blood-sugar episodes were coming closer and closer together. She was very concerned about him. We finally had to tell her that our son didn't have diabetes-just a creative mind and a not-so-holy hunger for candy bars. (By the way, God healed him of diabetes the very next day! Miracles never cease.)
That event reminded me that this child was different, this child was special, this child had the potential to raise my blood pressure.
Based on our own upbringing, my wife and I seemed destined to have average, "normal" kids. I grew up in an average, middle-class family near Kansas City, Missouri. You can't get much more average or normal than Kansas City, Missouri. I was an average, normal, middle-class kid who grew up and married an average, normal, middle-class young woman who also came from that same area of middle-class America. So how did we end up with a Caleb?
Probably the same way we ended up with a Jeremiah. Anyone who has kids knows how different they can be-almost as though they deliberately set themselves at opposite extremes. One of my favorite stories about Jeremiah happened near the end of his high school years. As a young teen, Jeremiah wrote out a numbered list of his most important values. This value system included a commitment to postpone dating until after he graduated from high school. However, he decided-in his organized, efficient way-that he would make an exception for the senior prom. Cathy and I watched with more than slight interest as Jeremiah finalized his plans, rented a tux, and made the other needed arrangements.
On the big night, our son told us he would bring his date by the house so we could take a few pictures. We could hardly wait to meet this lucky young woman. I caught my breath when the car pulled up in the driveway. Trying to appear casual, I held back on my natural inclination to fling open the door and run down the walk to throw my arms around my son and his dream date.
I have to admit it: I gasped. The beautiful young Amazon that Jeremiah escorted nearly had to duck as she entered our front door. I know she stood at least five feet fourteen inches high. She had a very mature figure that matched her statuesque height. Smiling a bit nervously, she turned to show us her elegant formal and matching corsage as our son introduced her, beaming.
"Mom and Dad, I'd like you to meet Marcia. She goes to school with me-she's a freshman."
A freshman? Freshman girls sure had changed since my high school days! Wait a minute-a freshman! Had Jeremiah lost his mind? A graduating senior, dating a freshman? Did her parents know about this?
I knew it was time for more father-son wisdom. "Uh, Jeremiah, will you come with me just a minute?" I cleared my throat uncertainly. "There's, uh ... something I want to show you in the kitchen."
Jeremiah obediently followed me out of the living room and down the hall as Cathy began making small-make that tall-talk with his young friend. It didn't take long for me to find my voice. "Jeremiah. A freshman? What were you thinking?"
Jeremiah had no chance to respond before I continued my tirade. "Son, seniors shouldn't date freshmen! If there's not a school rule against that, there ought to be! How old is she, anyway-fourteen?"
By now, I may as well have been doing the Chicken Dance. I angrily waved my arms around, forgetting all about teachable moments.
"How did you come up with her, anyway? Couldn't you have picked some nice, quiet, twelfth-grade girl? Someone who'd have more in common with you-someone who wasn't three years younger?"
As usual, Jeremiah remained much calmer than I. "Do you know why I chose Marcia, Dad? I looked at all the girls in our high school. It took me a long time to decide-but I did. Marcia is the one girl who has qualities most like Mom."
My jaw felt just a little shaky after I picked it back up from the kitchen floor, but I managed to squeak out, "Uh, son."
"Son ... here's some money, in case you and Marcia need to get anything extra. She sounds like a great girl. Go on to the prom ... I know you'll have a wonderful time."
No Such Thing as a "Normal" Child
As I said, of all people, I really should have been the one to have normal kids. What normal kid evaluates every girl in school to see which one most closely resembles his mother? For that matter, what normal kid could convince a school nurse to give him candy bars by telling her about his daily struggles with low blood sugar?
As a longtime youth minister, I should have already known the answer: there's no such thing as a "normal" child.
I've done a lot of traveling overseas. Even when I'm in another country, I keep an eye out for young people. Watching kids from other cultures has been one of the main ways I learned about the dramatic shifts that affect American families today. I would look at kids from other countries, and then at the kids in my youth group-the teenagers who seem to spend half their time watching MTV, and the other half in the drive-through lane at McDonald's-even at my own boys-and wonder which seemed more "normal." I think you already know the answer.
Want Ammo with That?
It was on a trip to Israel that the comparison first struck me. As I entered the crowded McDavid's (yes, it was a real-and kosher-Israeli fast food restaurant), my stomach growled, anticipating a midday meal. Scanning quickly, I spotted an empty corner booth. I ordered my lunch and hurried to the staked-out seat. The tables around me were filled with the typical lunchtime customers: an overworked mother and her three energetic children; a senior citizen with his Hebrew newspaper in one hand and a half-eaten burger in the other; two loud-talking businessmen, their untouched food on the trays between them.
As I ate my lunch and continued to observe the diners around me ... I saw them. They sat facing each other, so close that their noses almost touched. These fresh-faced, bright-eyed teenagers used two straws to share the same malt, held hands across the table, and playfully fed each other French fries. Just like back home in America, right?
Wrong. Hunger forgotten, I set my food down and leaned forward to get a closer look: Surely I don't see what I think I'm seeing! Each of the teens wore a machine gun slung over one shoulder. Fear gripped my heart, and my first thought was to warn someone in authority. Since no one else seemed concerned, I began to relax. This is not the United States, where the sight of a loaded gun in a public place is a cause for alarm, I reminded myself. This is Israel, a country where they like to say, "There are no blanks." The soldiers carry fully loaded, ready-to-fire guns. Yes, these lovebirds were teenagers, but they were also Israeli soldiers.
I sat there longer than I should have, watching them and wondering how I would have reacted if this scene had occurred back in the United States. How many American teenagers would you trust to carry a fully loaded machine gun in a public place?
In Israel, the two young people I watched appeared to be living with the realities and responsibilities of adulthood. As soldiers, they would have been carefully trained and commissioned to carry out their duties. Chronologically, they were teenagers-and yet their society regarded them as adults.
In the United States, however, our culture delays the assumption of adult tasks as long as possible-with unfortunate results. Parents and teachers across the country complain about the headaches of dealing with children today. We typically describe kids as rude, lazy, and apathetic. In fact, there is no longer a normal teenager. At some point in the past thirty years or so, it became normal for a teenager to be abnormal. It's that simple.
It's also that complicated. At McDavid's, I watched two young people who had already accepted adult responsibilities for their own lives and for those over whom their jobs gave them authority. They lived capable lives and accepted adult consequences, the predictable outcomes of their own choices. The students I worked with every day seemed much less mature and responsible than these malt-sharing, machine gun-toting Israeli teens.
And as I watched them, a thought came to me: Which kind of teenager do I want my own boys to be? If I had to choose between the two extremes, which kind of teenager would I prefer to raise? Deep down, I wanted Caleb and Jeremiah to become more like the responsible McDavid's Teens than the McDonald's Kids.
This experience marked a life-changing moment for me. From that point forward, I was on a quest to discover what distinguished these two very different sets of teenagers. What made them different? Why were they different? Of course I didn't want to equip any student with a machine gun, but how could I bring the McDonald's Kids up to McDavid's Teens' standards? How could I keep their youthful exuberance and energy, but add the capable, responsible qualities that I witnessed in the few minutes I sat watching the Israeli teens?
I began to pray. I began to dig deep into Scripture. I began to study youth culture. I began to watch the teenagers I worked with and the teenagers my sons were becoming. The more I prayed and studied and watched, the more I realized that something was missing in our culture. There had been a day when American teens looked and acted more like the Israeli ones-when teens accepted adult responsibilities.
* Adult Responsibilities: An individual's obligations to himself and to others under his authority. * Adult Consequences: Predictable outcomes determined by one's own choices. * McDavid's Teens: Young people whose lives demonstrate that they are moving toward capable, responsible, self-reliant adulthood. * McDonald's Kids: Young people who continue to exhibit childish incompetence, irresponsibility, and dependence on others.
Walton's Mountain Revisited
While I was growing up, my parents used to make us sit through (back then, it seemed more like "suffer through") a television show called The Waltons. Each week the show reached us through the vision and voice of John-Boy, the eldest son of John and Olivia Walton. John-Boy worked with his dad on a farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains and helped him run the sawmill.
Today, this show might be considered politically incorrect. For instance, John and Olivia actually expected John-Boy to work-planting corn, feeding livestock, and chopping wood. He and his six siblings had to do their chores in order for the family to survive. You would never hear his dad say, "You know what? We ought to let our kids be kids. They'll grow up soon enough."
If The Waltons had been written about a modern-day family, the show would look very different. First of all, no one would expect John-Boy to help his family. While his dad tried to keep the farm going, John-Boy would sit in his room, playing video games. His sole responsibilities would consist of making his bed and taking out the trash. He could only accomplish these tasks, of course, with tremendous whining, complaining, and snorting like a bull poised for attack.
If the contemporary John and Olivia ever dared to let John-Boy go outside, he would certainly have to be covered from head to toe in protective gear. Can you see our modern-day John-Boy coming out to chop wood? He would have a helmet-not just any old helmet, but one that had passed all the government safety ratings. He would don protective eyewear, elbow pads, and safety shoes with reinforced steel toes. His parents would make sure he had a rope tying the ax handle to his wrist. That way, if he let the ax slip, it wouldn't go very far. It would have a safety shield covering its head so John-Boy wouldn't accidentally cut himself. Of course, it would also come with a safety DVD so he could learn which end was sharp and how he should always keep it pointed away from his face. Finally, the ax would come shrink-wrapped in clear plastic-the kind that even a nuclear blast can't break free.
Caught in the Shift
It's funny though. The John-Boy of the 1930s was actually much better off than our modern-day John-Boy. After all, his family had prepared him to live as a responsible adult. As a young child, he had learned that his work was important to his family. He had much more in common with the McDavid's Teens than the McDonald's Kids we know today. What made John-Boy so different from our kids? Educator Stephen Glenn offers an explanation:
The last half of the twentieth century saw massive changes in American society ... For our forebears, most of whom lived in rural environments, life proceeded at a relatively slow pace. They had time to adapt to external changes. But today we are caught in a vortex of technological and societal change that is whirling ever faster. Instead of the stability and familiarity our grandparents knew, we are faced with the need to adapt to constantly changing conditions.... Nowhere is the stress of that journey more evident than among families and young people.
Families today have been caught in this cultural shift. The relatively fast switch from an agricultural to an industrial society, which happened between 1930 and 1950, left huge gaps in our culture and in our families.
In 1930, according to the census, 70 percent of all Americans lived on farms or in small communities. By 1950, a complete reversal had occurred: nearly 70 percent lived in an urban/suburban environment, and only one-third lived on farms or in small communities. And even those in a rural environment had an urban lifestyle. They commuted to work, had televisions in their homes, and had their children bused to school.
Teenager and Beyond
Although John-Boy and the young people of earlier generations lived through their teen years, they were never teenagers. In fact, the word teenager is less than a century old. Its first recorded use, as the hyphenated word teen-ager, was in a 1941 article in Popular Science magazine. About the time that our culture changed from agricultural to industrial, our country also began to develop the idea of the lazy, spoiled, self-indulgent teenager.
What happened? During the Depression, men needed work. It no longer seemed appropriate for a teen to do a job that an adult with a family could do instead. "Like the Hoover Dam, the American teenager was a New Deal project, a massive redirection of energy. The national policy was to get the young out of the workforce so that more jobs would be available to family men."
As the culture shifted, our society created new paradigms to go along with it. First, we invented this new concept of the teenager. Second, we reinvented something we now consider an American institution: the high school. For the first time, high school attendance became compulsory. No longer could the carpenter's son spend his days learning his father's trade, or the farm boy stay home during harvest season to help his dad bring in the crops. Suddenly, very different types of kids from very different families were forced to make their transition to adulthood sharing the very same experience. When teens left the workforce, they had to go somewhere-and that place was high school.
In a 1750s classroom, a nineteen-year-old might have learned from the same textbook as an eight-year-old. And a sixteen-year-old could be a physician! A hundred years later, the teenage girl might be a factory worker, her brother a businessman. A century after that, we would find them all in high school, and a kid in Memphis with a bizarre fashion sense could set styles for the entire world.
Excerpted from Rite of Passage Parenting by Walker Moore Copyright © 2007 by Walker Moore. Excerpted by permission.
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