Do Marco’s Travels Seem Remarkable? They’re Not!

This map traces Marco's travels by bike, on his own, one recent afternoon.

A couple of weeks ago, my seven-year-old son Marco made the following trips on his bike on his own, one after the other:

  1. from school to the barber shop, Golden Shears (2 miles). He walked in, greeted his favorite barber, Sam, and sat down in Sam’s barber’s chair before I walked in a couple of minutes later with his two brothers
  2. from the barber shop to the bike store, Menlo Velo (0.6 miles). I stayed behind at the barber shop with his brothers. Marco walked into the bike store with his bike and asked Christian to make a minor repair to his brakes. He waited there until Christian was finished making the repair.
  3. from the bike store to home (0.4 miles)

That’s remarkable, eh? Your kid could never do that, right?

Well, as much as I’d love you all to admire Marco, I need to remind you that, decades ago, seven-year-olds did stuff like he did that day all the time. At seven, I remember walking to school every day, walking to stores often, and interacting with people in the stores. Doing that stuff was very unremarkable at that time.

Seven-year-olds today have the same genetic makeup that they did decades ago. They can do what Marco did. Yes, your kid could probably do that.

What’s remarkable is how parents today don’t encourage their kids to be self-reliant. Just like my parents encouraged me to walk to school and to stores, I’ve encouraged Marco to ride his bike to places and to speak for himself at retail shops on his own. In fact, I’ve been nudging him to be more and more independent, day-by-day, ever since he started walking.

On the other hand, many parents simply don’t care about teaching their kids to be self-reliant. Between being uptight about safety and being uptight about getting their kids into a good college, they’ve forgotten about this fundamental goal of parenting.

So what? Kids these days are entering their twenties less prepared than ever to take on adult life. They’re less likely to live on their own, have a steady career job, manage their own finances, and be in a steady, long-term relationship. Recently, psychologists have coined a new term for twenty-somethings – “emerging adulthood” – to capture the fact that they’re not ready for adult life.

I’d like to avoid this outcome if I can. Sure, I love my kids like crazy and will be very sad when they leave home, but I accept that one of my primary parenting jobs is to prepare them to be competent adults.

My wife and I still have an awful lot of work to do in this regard. We want our boys to grow up doing household chores, working jobs, managing their own money, and managing their own schoolwork. Most of all, we want them to find their own purpose in life, and then we want them to pursue it with zeal.

Kids need their parents’ help to reach these plateaus. Riding their bikes places and interacting with retail personnel on their own are just two of hundreds of steps we need to help them take.

I think we parents should be as aggressive in teaching these independence skills as we are in teaching reading or times tables. After all, teachers spend hours every day teaching them the latter, but who will teach them the former if we don’t?

What do you think?

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