Advice From the Trenches

Advice From the Trenches: She’s leaving home

Dear C and Dr. B:

In just a few short months my teenage daughter Sabrina will be moving away to college. I am worried. They didn’t teach script at her high school, so she can’t even sign her name. She can’t write a check, let alone balance a checkbook. She can’t read a clock that doesn’t have digital numbers. None of these skills were taught to her!

Her reaction? “Like, chill out mom, those are skills from the dinosaur age. Can you do Venmo?” I do have to admit that until she asked me, I had never heard of Venmo.  

But she can’t even do her own laundry! Once, I didn’t have time to wash her clothes before I went to visit my mother for a week and when I got home, her clothes were still in the hamper. She’d simply borrowed clothes from my closet and then left them on the floor!

Will she survive living on her own?

Dr. B says:

One can survive without clean laundry or a checkbook. There was once a time when everything was new to us too. I had a car accident the first week I had my car. When I went to college, I didn’t know how to write a check. A nice cashier at the supermarket showed me. I flooded the laundry room at college under soap bubbles the first time I tried to do my own laundry. A nice woman at the laundry room taught me how to measure detergent. I learned. So will your daughter.

C says: It is true – the world has changed and with it, the basic skill sets. Checks have been replaced with Venmo and credit cards, Quicken does our taxes and our accounting… in fact, the virtual world has replaced the real world to a frighteningly large degree.

But none of this has anything to do with how your daughter will do the first time she’s out on her own. This is the point where other parts of her character are far more likely to affect her survival.

It is not your daughter’s lack of writing or laundry skills that worries me, it is the fact that when you couldn’t do her laundry, she didn’t even attempt to figure it out for herself. Dr. B may have flooded the laundry room, but at least he tried. 

I constantly run art workshops with children who, like Sabrina, can’t write in cursive, can’t read the hands on a clock and don’t know how to use a phone with a circular dial. But those aren’t the kids I’m concerned about – rather, it’s the ones who just sit there with their art materials and wait for me to tell them what to do.

There are going to be many surprises and challenges that life will bring to your daughter. This is what life brings to all of us. The people who can deal with the unexpected are always better off than the people who are limited to any particular skill set. Let’s say you are a genius on the computer and can text 80 words per minute – great! What are you going to do when the electricity goes off and your cell phone dies? Just sit in one spot and wait for the power company to turn the lights on?

One of the most valuable things that children can learn from me is that they don’t have to know how to do something in order to be able to do it. If they aren’t afraid to make mistakes, and they persist in their efforts, they can usually figure it out by themselves.

What I see as the most damaging lack in our current educational system is that no one is being taught the coping skills and emotional resilience necessary to deal with the exigencies of life. We memorize, digitize and surf the web for information, but faced with the unknown we wait for the “experts” to save us. It’s one of the reasons that fake news can take hold so easily in politics and in our worldview.

The most damaging and self-defeating decisions that people make are usually done in the privacy of their own minds, when no one is looking. That is where character, common sense, and core values come in – and where otherwise highly skilled people are too often lacking.

The jury is still out on your daughter, mom, but it’s all up to her now. I wish her the best.

– Cathren Housley 

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