Allow Your Kids To Do Hard Things

By Scott Keith

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This is a bit of a rehash and more than a slight piggy back on Graham’s plea for you to send your kids to camp. What can I say? I was inspired by yesterday’s blog. I too went to camp from the time I was 8 years old, through my pre-teen years, into my teen years, became a CIT (Counselor in Training), a lifeguard at camp, and finally worked as a camp counselor, program director and a director. Needless to say; camp is in my blood. There are many things I learned from going to camp, but especially learned as I got older and began to work at camp, mostly what I learned was the importance of doing hard things. Be it simply living on your own for a bit, building a fire, clearing a trail, splitting wood, building retaining walls, mopping floors, or cleaning endless toilets, being and working at camp can be hard.

Our culture seems to encourage us to avoid these hard tasks. Our culture discourages people from learning services skills, manual labor trades, and promotes any kind of office work over any kind of manual labor. In other words, avoid what is hard and seek that which brings the largest payoff for the least amount of physical or emotional effort. It is not my place to tell anyone what they should do when the “grow up.” Nonetheless, I do know that if children are not encouraged to do hard things when they are young, life, which is in itself hard, will be a big surprise to them when they are grown.

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Our life has been hard lately. Hard, but good. Life has been an endless sea of change for the Keith family over the past six months. Our oldest son, Caleb, is engaged and will be married in three weeks. Our second son, Joshua, has left home for the summer in order to work in a glass shop and learn a trade that he will take with him for the rest of his life. And finally, our youngest, our daughter Autumn, has left to stay with her brother and attend the camp where he works as a coordinator. They are learning hard life lessons, and Joy, and I too are learning what married life is like without them. It has been scary for us to let them go. By our culture’s standards, Caleb is too young to get married, Joshua is too young to have a full time manual labor job. But our culture is wrong.

How do we ever expect our children to contribute to society as a whole unless we step out of the way, put aside our fear, and allow them to experience the actual parts of life which challenge us, test us, and make us adults.

Current research seems to point to the disappointing reality that people do not reach what would be considered mental adulthood until their mid to late twenties. Why is that? Maybe it’s because we, their parents, are so terrified that they may come to some harm that we don’t allow them to do hard things while they are young. Encountering the “hard,” and overcoming it is what makes a person mature. Maturity is not defined by age; it is defined by how we act when it matters.

Yet doing what is needed in the face of adversity takes quite a bit of practice and often seems like a long journey. This journey feels so long that we are hesitant to let our children start it at all. Every day we delay from allowing them to take that first step––walk themselves to school, get their first job, leave home for extended periods––the longer it will take to complete the trip. Let’s all get our kids taking those first steps by allowing them to do something hard today.

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(For a related post check out “The Granite Never Lies“)