Is Your Teen Ready for Adulthood by Witty Ryter, author, Grown-Up Stuff Explained

The goal of every parent is to see their child grow up to be a self-sufficient, confident, and productive member of society. From the time they are born, we nurture our kids and give them everything we can to help them thrive. We try to fill their minds with positive messages and encourage them to have a strong moral compass, be genuine, and value an honest day’s work. We do all those things even though their young minds may not yet fully grasp the practical applications of our lessons.

While we spend a lot of time teaching our offspring about life, it’s simply impossible to cover everything they’ll need to know before they need to know it. Our days are so absorbed by constant distractions and competing priorities that we are often surprised by the fact that our toddlers are suddenly teens on the cusp of adulthood. Where did the time go? We ask ourselves that question, as we also wonder if they are ready to handle the challenges associated with being a grown-up.

For many young people, the initial answer is a resounding “no”. What else can 17-year-old kids say when they are about to turn 18 and will be expected to shift gears into full adult mode? Sure, there is the initial excitement of finally being able to do whatever they want, but the realization that there is much they don’t know is not far behind.

I was one of those 18-year-olds who was blissfully ignorant about most of the details that make adulthood work. I knew next to nothing about insurance, handling debt, important documents, or civic responsibilities. The problem wasn’t that the information was hard to find; the issue was that I didn’t know what I didn’t know. How was I supposed to ask questions about things I never knew existed?

It took me a long time to get my act together, and there is no doubt that the journey would have been much easier with the right guidance. Now that I’m older, and the parent of a soon-to-be adult, I have tried to proactively teach my teen about adulthood. However, the endeavor has not been without its own difficulties.

Getting a teenager to be fully engaged for an extended period of time is a task that defies even experienced teachers, so adding to the mix seemingly irrelevant, boring, topics doesn’t help. I really can’t blame my child for not being captivated by the subject. Even as someone who’s been adulting for decades, just thinking about some of the stuff grown-ups need to know makes my eyes glaze over.

After much trial and error, I eventually landed on an approach that worked: keep it simple, get to the point fast, and find a creative way to reinforce the lesson. 

Keeping It Simple

When I first started talking about grown-up subjects, I tried to be thorough with my explanations. I felt that providing complete information was important, but I quickly realized that only a tiny fraction of what I covered was getting through.

I ultimately learned that distilling the concepts into easily digestible explanations worked best. I also discovered the importance of avoiding unnecessary jargon and abstract descriptions. Now, you may be thinking that my epiphany of keeping things simple was just a Captain Obvious moment. However, you may be surprised by how often your definition of “simple” must be revised. It turns out that there can be a wide chasm between what you assume adolescents already know and what they actually do.

Getting to the Point

Everyone enjoys a good story, but many stores aren’t as good as you think they are, nor are they the proper conduit for education. Teenagers have their own notion of what’s interesting, and it definitely does not include anything you have to say about taxes, loans, or jury duty.

Rather than launching into a long-winded monologue, I found it best to get to the bottom line as quickly as possible. My experience has taught me that if I can’t explain the main idea in less than two minutes, anything I say after that will be wasted breath. I constantly have to remind myself that the goal is not to explain a topic in 300 easy steps, but only to get my child to understand what it is and why it matters. A basic awareness of the material is all that’s needed at this stage. There are plenty of resources that can be leveraged to further explore each topic when it becomes truly relevant.

Reinforcing the Lesson

We all know that adulthood is a journey where we get to learn, forget, relearn, and again forget all kinds of stuff. It would be naïve to think that a quick lesson is all that’s needed for a young adult to fully comprehend grown-up topics. It takes repetition and hands-on experience to fully absorb a lesson, but there are numerous learning aids that can help with the process.

I personally like using cartoons to reinforce the point. Even if they are only mildly amusing, comics offer a familiar format that normally gets a warm reception. They are certainly more appealing and easier to remember than cold words on a page.

With the above in mind, I think it’s time to go back to the original question: Is your teen ready for adulthood? Only time can provide the answer. All that you and I can do as parents is try to equip our teens with the tools we believe they’ll need to succeed. Whether we share a useful book, or make time to offer guidance, everything we do to prepare our children for the future is a worthwhile investment.

Witty Ryter is the author of Grown-Up Stuff Explained: 75 Topics 18-Year-Olds Should Know, which uses concise explanations and cartoons to teach teens and young adults about adulthood. He also published The Adventures of Timmy Wordsmith book series to teach young children big words. Witty enjoys writing and drawing comics about various topics, and has had articles and cartoons featured in trade publications in the US and abroad.

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