If we want children to be prepared for adulthood, why do we keep treating them as adults? Just as elementary education needs to be completely rethought, so do we also need to rethink how our society treats teenagers.
It wasn’t so long ago when teens were making their own way in life and even starting families. While medical advancements have increased life expectancy, allowing us to have higher time preferences for things like marriage and families, being able to provide for yourself while also creating value will always be of the utmost importance.
But instead of preparing today’s youth for the world that awaits them, we treat them like children until they reach the magical age of 18. Then suddenly, after years of coddling and under exposure to real-world issues, we push them out into the world and expect them to fend for themselves.
True, for many people this is the rude awakening they need to get their adult lives going, but what if there was a different way to prepare children for adulthood. The truth of the matter is there is a very simple solution to this problem: stop treating teens like children.
Teenagers are wasting the most curious and ambitious years of their lives trapped behind desks. While there may have been some rational reason for forcing children to congregate in large buildings to study core academic subjects, the internet has made this almost completely irrelevant. There are now learning options available to anyone. And unlike public education, these online resources are individualized and allow students to go at their own pace.
By having more freedom over their studies, teens now have more time to devote to finding out what they want to do with their lives. So many adults spend years in school mastering a particular topic only to discover that their area of specialty no longer interests them. Instead of subjecting today’s youth to that type of displeasure, what if we allow them to try a few things out while there is still time.
As more unconventional private schools pop up around the country, many have focused their junior high and high school curriculum on apprenticeships and internships. At Acton Academy, for example, students get the chance to go out into the workforce for a preview of what a given field would be like. They learn and observe the day to day and ultimately get to decide if it is something they want to do.
Often times, the most rewarding of these types of experiences occurs when a student realizes that their dream job is not what they thought it would be. But, by having this preview, teens are able to reroute their charted course and find what makes them happy. And by having the freedom to do what makes them happy, these individuals will create value in the marketplace.
This is just one example of how we can change the way we approach education for today’s youth, but ultimately what we need are options that break the cycle of perpetual childhood.
Teenagers are individuals just like adults, and unless they are treated as such, we cannot expect them to magically transform into responsible humans on their eighteenth birthdays. This belief in adolescence along with forced schooling until the age of 18 inhibits teenagers from getting ahead in life and keeps them in a permanent state of arrested development.
If we want a world robust with choice and diversity in the market, we need individuals who have the freedom to innovate by going after their passions.