Choice: Preparation for Adulthood
How our society thinks about those younger than eighteen is important. It affects the way we vote on policies that influence the way they are educated as well as constructs the social systems that dictate how much autonomy they have over decisions about their own physical, mental, and spiritual lives. When teens reach their eighteenth birthday, the social and political expectations of them spike. Without adequate preparation for the many adult decisions, they will be expected to make when they turn eighteen, many young adults falter at this coming of age moment. To avoid this frowned upon “stumble,” it is essential that we as young adults make an effort to reverse the view and treatment of children and teens as lacking autonomy of their own.
A few days ago I watched a Fox News interview about the new California law that would allow transgendered children to decide which locker room fits them best. In opposition to the law, conservative contributor Dana Loesch scoffed: “When I was eight, I wanted to be a flower.” Embedded in this statement is a gross misconception about the capacity of children to comprehend their own thoughts and feelings as well as navigate a gendered society. Loesch discredited all children’s knowledge simply because from her adult perspective, the thoughts and feelings of those younger than her appear less developed. Yes, it is true that children have fewer experiences and less of an understanding of the world around them than an adult does. However, this does not mean that all children’s knowledge is invalid.
Adults often expect children to believe and behave as instructed, rather than guiding children in making decisions throughout their childhood and teenage years. In his book Big Ideas for Little Kids, Thomas E. Wartenberg, a professor of philosophy at Mount Holyoke College, discusses teacher-centered learning, and learner-centered teaching strategies. Teacher-centered learning is a teaching style in which the teacher is regarded as the possessor of knowledge, and their students are akin to blank slates on which to transfer that knowledge. Conversely, learner-centered teaching treats students as capable of development into successful critical thinkers. In this teaching style, the teacher does not transmit information, but instead facilitates discussion to assist the students in reaching their own conclusions. The mindset that children’s knowledge is without value supports a teacher-centered learning strategy, as it portrays children as void of knowledge, and critical thought.
Teacher-centered learning styles perpetuated by the disenfranchisement of children’s capacity for autonomous thought and behavior restrict children’s opportunities to explore with their decision making skills. The repercussions of such a societal mindset aren’t seen until years later when teens reach their eighteenth birthday. Suddenly a whole group of young adults are thrust into the adult world of choice and responsibility, for which many of them are unprepared. They lack experience with the power to control their own lives with decisions from whether or not to buy cigarettes, to how much time they should spend studying to which candidates for whom they should cast their vote. It’s no surprise that the voter turnout rates of eighteen through twenty-four-year-olds in the United States are the lowest among all of the age groups . Young adults who lack experience making influential decisions during their childhood will feel uncomfortable with the prospect when they are of age to vote. Additionally, many college age students have difficulty budgeting their time between studying and partying. They were never taught how. As kids, they were simply told when to study and when to play, but never granted the opportunity to explore the benefits and repercussions of making that decision for themselves.
This “stumble” of young adulthood is an easily avoidable social problem that starts with the way that we, as young adults, voters, and role models treat children and teens. Whether we are teachers, parents, college students, or workers, our mindset about the experience of children manifests in the ways we act towards them in everyday life and the ways we vote on legislation pertaining to educational policies. It is time for us to embrace a learner-centered teaching mindset in the way that we think about children. When we empower them with the opportunity to exercise their decision-making skills, we prepare them to take on the responsibility of young adulthood and steer them away from the “stumble” many of us have faced.
Some may remain skeptical of this call to provide children with choices. If we give children the opportunity to make every decision pertaining to their lives they will inevitably make mistakes. For example, a majority of children are unprepared to make life altering medical decisions simply because a child has not had as many experiences as an adult and, therefore, ought to rely on an adult’s more informed opinion. Thus, to grant children full decisional autonomy at a young age would be unwise. As stated earlier, not all children’s knowledge is valid. But neither is all of it invalid. The key to balance in this discussion is limited choices. We need to vote on policies that support learner-centered teaching to provide children with choices to prepare them for the responsibility they will take on in adulthood. But we must also keep the choices we give them restricted within reason. As a child matures and develops responsibility, more choices can be granted to them. Decisions like this are at the discretion of any individual who interacts with a child. But do not assume that because a child is eight years old his or her thoughts and actions are unworthy of consideration. False blanket statements used in arguments like Ms. Loesch’s comments on Fox News, perpetuate a system in which young adults needlessly stumble as they come to terms with the new powers and responsibilities of adulthood.
[i] See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jj_vo0DZQV8 to see the clip in question.
[ii] On teacher-centered learning and learner-centered teaching, see Big Ideas for Little Kids by Thomas E. Wartenberg (15-18)
[iii] For more information on voter turnout, see Young-Adult Voting: An Analysis of Presidential Elections, 1964–2012 by Thom File, https://www.census.gov/prod/2014pubs/p20-573.pdf
REESE HALLER is considered one of the youngest award-winning authors in America. He has published six books: four in the Fred the Mouse™ book series, 101 Success Tips for Kids, and The Watch Keeper.
In addition to writing, Reese travelled around the United States encouraging kids to pursue their aspirations and inspiring them to write with his eight steps to writing in his lecture entitled Catching the Writing Bug: From One Kid to Another. He spread his message in schools and conferences, as well as on radio and television spots like the Martha Stewart Show where he appeared live in 2007.
Through his involvement in the literary community, Reese was appointed the Ambassador of Literacy to the Youth of Michigan by then governor of Michigan Jennifer Grandholm.
Currently, Reese is eighteen years old and a sophomore at Michigan State University majoring in the Residential College of Arts and Humanities, and philosophy.