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Do Kids Grow up Too Slowly?

I have two dear little friends who call me "Aunt Sheila". On Facebook I'm listed as their aunt (not in my main account, which many of you are on, but on my personal account where I only have all my teenage friends from church and my children, who I don't want seeing all the links to all the sex posts here on Wifey Wednesday :) ).

Anyway, these two girls are sisters, the third born and fifth born of fourteen children. They are lovely, and good friends with my own girls.

A few weeks ago they took off to South Dakota to attend the marriage of one of their best friends, who, at the time, was only 17 (it was just a few weeks before her eighteenth birthday). She was marrying someone she had known all her life. They had only been courting for a few months, but they were sure that they should marry. And so marry they did.

This whole thing caused a great deal of discussion in my household. Is it okay to marry at 17? She hasn't even seen the world! What if she doesn't want that kind of life, but only discovers it when she's 25?

I don't know the girl, I don't know her circumstances, and I really don't want to judge. But my initial reaction (which most of you will rebel against, so be forewarned), is that I don't think it's that bad.

Here's a girl who loves God, and a man who loves God (he's in his early twenties). They know each other well. They've lived in ranch country their whole life, and want to have a ranch themselves. He has a house for them. He has a steady job. And that's the life she wants.

But that's not the only reason I think it's all right. It mostly boils down to this: She has been doing the work of an adult since she was 12 or 13. She's one of the oldest in a very large family which has adopted a ton of kids. She has learned how to manage a farm. She has learned how to feed a ton of people at a time. She knows how to clean a house. She has organized chores, looked after money, budgeted, and cared for children.

She's ready.

But it's not that she's ready BECAUSE she knows how to be a housewife. I didn't know how to cook and clean well when I married, and I figured it out afterwards. That's not the important part. It's that she's been treated like an adult since she was quite young, and she's matured faster than most teens today.

My own girls, for instance, will probably not be ready for marriage at 17 (oh, please, don't let them even think about it, Lord!). They haven't led the kind of life this girl has. And they want more out of life than to stick to the confines of their family. But when one is treated like an adult from an early age, I think one acts like an adult.

Once again, I'm not saying I absolutely approve of this marriage; I don't know the girl, and I don't know the guy, and I don't know the circumstances beyond what I've shared, so please, let's not get into a debate about this particular marriage, because that could be hurtful to the parties. I'm just saying that I think it's POSSIBLE for a 17-year-old to be an adult, if they are treated like an adult. After all, two centuries ago girls were routinely marrying at 17 or 18. Even a few decades ago it was happening. It's only been in the last fifty years that we have extended adolescence into the early twenties, or even late twenties.

I read an interesting article in Newsweek recently that addressed this issue. Po Bronson, writing about Joe Allen's book Escaping the Endless Adolescence, says this:

As Allen writes, “We place kids in schools together with hundreds, sometimes thousands, of other kids typically from similar economic and cultural backgrounds. We group them all within a year or so of one another in age. We equip them with similar gadgets, expose them to the same TV shows, lessons, and sports. We ask them all to take almost the exact same courses and do the exact same work and be graded relative to one another. We give them only a handful of ways in which they can meaningfully demonstrate their competencies. And then we’re surprised they have some difficulty establishing a sense of their own individuality.” And we wonder why it’s taking so long for them to mature.

He goes on to address the issue that teen brains are not the same as adult brains with this:

But Allen speculates that our parenting style may indeed be causing their brains to be this way. Brains of teens a hundred years ago might have been far more mature. Without painful real-life experiences, modern teens’ brains never learn to tell the difference between what they should fear and what they shouldn’t. Without real consequences and real rewards, teens never learn to distinguish between good risks they should take and bad risks they shouldn’t. “We park kids on the sidelines, thinking their brains will develop if we just wait, let time pass, as if all they need is more prep courses, lessons, and enrichment courses. They need real stress and challenges.”

Perhaps we are hampering our kids from growing up appropriately because we don't treat them like adults.

One thing my children can do is navigate airports. We've been in so many, including third world ones from our missions trips, that they can go up to any counter and demand service, ask for a change in flight, ask just about anything. They're good at airports. And I take every opportunity, when we're out and need to figure out something, to have them go and ask. I want them to feel mastery of their own world.

But that's such a small thing. The big things are the things Allen talked about: taking risks, being productive, having meaning, having real work. Most kids do not have this. And it's no wonder, then, that they don't grow up.

I know many of you reading this blog don't have teenagers as I do. You're still in the baby years of parenting. But if I could offer you any important advice, it would be this: do not be afraid of demanding from your children everything they are capable of. And they are capable of far more than we think.

We are not put on earth to coddle our children or to give them a great life. We are put on this earth to equip them for a life they are to lead FOR GOD. We are not equipping them if we keep them from maturing, and much of life conspires to do that, from the media, to school, to recreational activities. Do not leave it to the schools or the church to help your child mature. You do it. Give them chores from an early age. Teach them to manage money. Teach them to be comfortable talking to adults by giving them lots of opportunities to meet interesting people. Teach them to cook and clean so they feel independent and capable.

Start when they're young. A 3-year-old can put his/her toys away. A 5-year-old can handle an allowance. An 11-year-old can make spaghetti and baby-sit siblings. A 14-year-old can have a part-time job or figure out a business to start for the summer. Make sure your children act as maturely as they can at each stage of their development, and for this they will require you steering them in the right direction. As you do that, their brains will develop. They will think on more mature lines. And it might just be that they are ready for far more than is commonly expected when they are 18, 19, 22, or 23.

Even if they don't get married at 17! (And I do hope the vast majority of them don't even think about it!)

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At 10:37 AM , Blogger Elizabeth Richmond said…

I married my husband when I was barely 19 (okay, so I wasn't 17, but I got a lot of the same comments and questions that I'm sure this lady did). He was barely 21. We have both been treated like adults for a long time, which I think makes a lot of difference!

Admittedly, we've only been married for a little over a year and a half, but so far, no major problems have arisen. I'd say it was a good decision.


At 10:42 AM , Blogger Pickle said…

kudos, you are absolutely right. I look at the things I was expected to do at a young age VS what kids aren't expected to do now and I don't even know what to think. At 12 I had taken the Red Cross baby sitters course and was the most popular baby sitter on the Navel Base my family lived. I was trusted with up to 4-5 kids at a time. Of all ages. I would be scared to let any 12 year old watch my son now.

It is sometimes difficult to remember that your kid CAN do things and that you should be letting them. I struggle with this from time to time,but I stop and think about all I was doing at 4 and let my son figure it out.

This was a fabulous post.


At 11:00 AM , Blogger Phyllis@Aimless Conversation said…

Have you read DO HARD THINGS by the Harris twins, Brett and Alex? Fantastic book, many of the same sentiments. I highly recommend it!


At 11:12 AM , Blogger trish adams said…

I'm continually amazed by your insight. I loved this post, and have been struggling to figure how to be more "demanding' (for lack of better words) with my 6 year old daughter. She is my only child and will be my only child. My desire for her is to learn to be strong and capable and rooted in the things of God. Instead of having a the mind set "oh she's ONLY six". I want to have the mindset she will soon be sixteen...and then what?
Marry young I think can be hard but yet I married at age 23 and that's still very young. I'm now 41 and have been married almost 18 years. It can work if you MAKE IT work. :)
Thank you so much for sharing this today!!


At 11:48 AM , Anonymous Kimber said…

I was the Mom that made them do hard things.
Four of the five resent it to this day...not because they didn't turn out fabulous, but because they felt so hard done by growing up because most of their friends were being coddled by their parents, given large allowances for doing nothing, and allowed major freedom to go out and get into trouble with no consequences.

My oldest babysat the Pastor's newborn son and two daughters and the babe was only four days old!
She was 13 or 14 at the time. Nobody thought anything of it. She was more than capable of the task, having helped raise her siblings as the oldest of five.

All of them including the boys are very well versed in the kitchen, the workshop, the garden.

The best thing you can do is allow them to be capable, and rebel against the order of the day which is to have children without skills living at home at 25+.

Sheila, you are SO good for my soul. I look forward to everything you write...and I appreciate you every day.
PTL for you!


At 11:52 AM , Blogger Sheila said…

Thanks, all! You're making me blush!

But Kimber, if you happen to check in here again, I've got a question for you: you say that your kids all turned out fabulously, but 4/5 still resent it. How do you deal with that? Or do they not see, in retrospect, that they were lucky? I'm just curious! But I'm glad they did turn out well!


At 11:53 AM , Blogger Sheila said…

Oh, and Phyllis, I haven't read all of the book, but I do have it! My 16-year-old has read it and really appreciates it! I think I'll do a post on her take on it sometime soon.


At 5:34 PM , Blogger Laura said…

We were just talking about this in our homeschool group. Marrying young vs. after college, courting and dating, what is too young to marry.

My hubby and I were both 19 when we were married. We had dated for 4 years before that. We were very discouraged by everyone but our parents to wait. We just didn't understand what we were waiting for. 17 years later, we have no regrets at all. Is was hard and probably will continue to be but the interesting thing to me is when I talk to friends that are my age and have only been married 3 or 4 years, their marriages are not very different than mine. Same problems, same arguements, etc. My hubby and I have less regrets for sure. No past relationships to think about. We grew up together and learned not to be selfish at a very young age. We couldn't focus on ourselves because there was an us and not just a me. I am not going to encourage my boys to marry young but I will definately support them if they meet and fall in love with a Christian young lady (for whom we have been praying for since before they were born:)

I heard the other day someone say that there "young son"was too immature and inexperienced to live on his own. He needed to still be in their home so that they could help him make decisions. He is 26 with a college degree. Seriously?


At 5:42 PM , Blogger Ellen said…

I know that the idea of marrying young can be so foreign to many. I was raised in a small community and it seems like about 75-80% of young women get married between 18-20yrs of age. Most of these young women have always dreamed of getting married and having their own families - that has been their heart's desire. Me, I knew from my early teens that I wanted to 'do' a few things before I settled and got married. As long as you are true to yourself and not being manipulated into the marriage I think it can be ok. There is a lot to be said about kids that are raised to be responsible and to work/earn what they get and given opportunity to take those risks. One thing I would like to mention though is something that my Dad taught me (I believe it to be wise). It is good to give a teenager some responsibility, but to make sure it's not too much to overwelm - he told me, you are only a teenager once - enjoy it, you will have the rest of your life to work (this was in regards to having an after-school job). We need to make sure we find a balance of allowing our children to be carefree (age appropriate) and giving them greater responsibility as they grow - enough to teach them life skills, but not so much to burden them. In some ways kids are growing up too fast (with the type of adult information and situations they are being exposed to) at the same time their maturity levels are often lacking because their parents are 'guilt'-parenting. I hope this makes sense.. either way, I really enjoyed the post!!


At 7:54 PM , Blogger The Roberts Family said…

Love this post!!! Yeah for you tackling this topic! :) I was talking to another HSing mom recently about this very thing. We work to train/shepherd/mentor our kids to be responsible and hard workers and ready for life. Then we are kinda shocked {and the world is even moreso} when we have an 18 year old that is ready for marriage. :) We're just beginning to wade through all these waters. Thankfully our sons have their eyes FIRST set on Christ and trusting Him for their future mates. However one has "seen" who that will be. So .... we're walking with him and have been so amazed and humbled how he has handled things thus far. All praise to God!!


At 11:34 AM , Blogger Terry @ Breathing Grace said…

I agree wholeheartedly with this post. As a mother of 3 teenage daughters, I think you are spot on here.

I don't think marrying at 17 is necessarily a bad thing for young people who have been raised to be prepared for it.


At 4:16 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

I don't think it's necessarily bad to marry so young (it would seem this young lady has a bit of a different culture than many of us), however, it doesn't follow that people who marry a little or even a lot later do so because they are immature (or that people who marry young are mature--some of the most immature people I know married young).

Nurse Bee


At 4:49 PM , OpenID americanfamilynow said…

I got married the week after I turned 18, to a Christian man I had been friends/courting/dating since I was 13. Although our parents supported us for the most part, we still got a lot of slack. Well, I'm happy to say, we have now been married (and in love!) for over six years, we have three children, and I can't imagine us being better lovers/friends than we are. Marrying young may not be for everyone, but it certainly doesn't ruin you! Oh, and I am also actively pursuing my dream of becoming a homebirth midwife, so even though I'm a stay at home mom and happily married, I am still happy with who I am as an individual.


At 8:26 PM , Anonymous Allison said…

What a wonderful and well written article. I couldn't agree more.

I was homeschooled growing up, and starting working part-time at the age of 16. While my parents still provided for most of my physical needs (food, shelter, etc.), I was required to put the gas in my car, paid the vet bills for my cat, paid for any entertainment expenses (which I therefore, kept to a minimum) and bought my own clothes.

Looking back on it, I would say I became an adult when I started working. For the first time in my life, I had adult responsibilities and was treated as an adult, therefore, I started to see myself as an adult.

Several months later, I met the man who is now my husband. I was 16 at the time. He was 22. With my parents' blessing, we dated for 2 1/2 years, then married when I was 19.

So yes, I love this article because, in many ways, it is the story of my life. I've been there and done that, and heard all the arguments for why getting married young is such a bad idea. However, almost 4 years and 2 children later, I still have no regrets.

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About Me

Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.

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