Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Underestimated Youth

In my opinion, too many people underestimate what children & adolescents are capable of. Among these are those who claim that children are not ready for formal school work until 8 or later, those who don't believe someone capable of making decisions regarding their own future at age 16, and those who believe children incapable of choosing their own religious path.

I have been criticized for allowing my kids to choose which, if any, religion they want to follow. We do not raise them in a religion until we feel they are old enough to decide for themselves. Starting around age 6 or 7, we start introducing them to different religious beliefs. They will make their own decision when they are ready. I prefer to allow them to make an informed decision, instead of trying to force my husband's or my beliefs on them. When Dea was about 7, she said she wanted to be a Christian. This wasn't a truly informed decision, as she had only a cursory knowledge about  a few different religions. It was not an age thing; it was a Dea thing. After her traumatic year in public school, she was reluctant to learn, to research, to go in-depth. That has been slowly improving over the years.
Last week, she expressed an interest in reevaluating her religious choice. She is researching different religions, in an effort to make a more informed decision. We discussed what things are important for her to pay attention to, to look for, to focus on, in her research. Neither my husband nor I did anything to precipitate this sudden interest in religious research. We left it up to her & she has chosen to become more informed on the topic, in order to reevaluate her previous choice. This is not out of a belief that she chose incorrectly, but due to understanding that her original decision was not as informed as it could have been.

Both my kids are very intelligent & advanced. They were both incredibly inquisitive from infancy & actively sought to learn everything possible. So, when I hear people say that kids aren't ready for academics until they are 8 years old, I couldn't disagree more. Some children may not be ready to read at 5 or 6, when public schools often expect them to start. Fine, I'll concede that point. However, to claim that NO child is capable of academics until 8 is ridiculous. That would be like me saying that because my daughter was reading & comprehending at a high school level at 8, that ALL kids should be at that level by that age.
I disagree with the people who try to force their kids to learn to read, write, etc, before they are developmentally ready. Those stupid 'teach your baby to read' programs are not based on child psychology or child development, and are only used by those who want to feel superior. I also disagree with those who hold children back by not allowing them to learn things when they are ready, because they are ready before the 'average' child would do it (or because it's before the parent thinks a child should be able to do it).
Sometimes pushing is needed, such as when a child is refusing to study something very important (like Math). However, when talking about developmental readiness, it should be left up to the child.

As for making decisions about their future, I see no reason why the average 16, 17, or 18 year old can't handle those decisions. Help them, if they ask for help, & back off, if they don't ask for help. How can you expect them to become adults if you never allow them to make their own important decisions? It is their future, not yours. Let them go to whichever college they want. Let them get a degree in whatever area of study they choose. If they are choosing an area that may not have many job opportunities or is very competitive, ask if they've looked into the job prospects. However, it isn't your decision to make. It is their education & their future, not yours. As adults, we have to deal with the consequences of our decisions. So, why do so many refuse to let their kids deal with those consequences until they are out on their own?

Now, there are always exceptions. Some kids aren't ready to make important decisions about their future at 16. Some aren't ready for academics until a little older than the average child. Just like some kids are ready for academics much earlier than the average child, and some are capable of making informed decisions well before their teen years. People need to stop assuming that their limited experiences speak for the majority.

I find this most irritating when it is applied to homeschooling. The debates about which is better, starting early or starting late, can quickly get out of hand. People have left groups, forums, even ended friendships over arguments where they felt they were being accused of pushing their kids to start too early or of neglecting their education by waiting too long to start. I find this very annoying, considering so many choose homeschooling to personalize their child's education.

Our experiences color our perspectives. My experiences tell me that children & adolescents are capable of far more than many give them credit for.