“Much more than the gift of happiness, caring adults owe each new generation some perspective. I believe we must be willing to sacrifice their temporary happiness for long-term happiness — including preparing them to be disciplined adults themselves. Instead of pleasure, let’s prepare them for fulfillment.” Tim Elmore
When I was a teenager, and even before that, whenever I went some place with friends or over to a buddy’s house, my mother’s parting words to me were “be good.” And I would generally respond with a resigned, “Yes, moommm.” It wasn’t until I attended the SAI conference in August 2014 that I remembered this as I heard one of the keynote speakers share that while my generation, and previous generation were left with that warning to be good by their parents, that message has changed today. Rather than sending them off with that message, parents today – me included! – offer them this parting statement: “Have fun!”
So what’s the big deal? In my opinion, it is simple: as parents we have a moral obligation to help our children become responsible, contributing adults in our community or society. “Be good” sends the message that when you are out and about it is your obligation to make good choices. It means that when you are at another person’s home you respect the rules of the household, and you say “please” and “thank you.” If you take a date to a movie, you don’t take along booze for the trip, hold the door for her if you are a him, and treat everyone you encounter in a respectful manner. It means that if you come home and I find out that you have done something wrong, you will have consequences because you are not going to behave that way and you are not going to embarrass this family.
Why do we send our kids off with “have fun?” Are their daily lives so filled with work, toil, and discomfort that we view this time as respite; a time to let go and release pent up energy? I don’t think so as there is no way anyone can convince me that young people today work as hard as previous generations. No, I believe it is quite the opposite. In my opinion we parents are of Nike’s “Just Do It” generation, with many of us pursuing good times and pleasure and modeling that for our children. Fun is easy to come by if you have a few bucks, and when we look at the discretionary spending by many people, paying for fun far exceeds savings and investment. “Live for the day” is the motto of younger people, and many middle aged folks, without care for what may happen tomorrow. But it cannot be all fun and games. Author of The Trust Edge and national speaker David Horsager takes the position we have people chasing fun and getting less of it. In a sense, it is kind of a like a drug. After the first hit, the next one is less satisfying so you keep pursuing that initial high that you get because it is never quite as pleasurable as the first time. Once the person recognizes it, they move on to something more potent. That is the same as the fun seekers.
So what is the big deal? Well, you have to take a step back and refocus on life. Not everything in life is fun. Calculating density and researching support for a thesis are not fun. Studying for a test on metabolism or photosynthesis is not fun. Rehearsing a solo or practicing on the saxophone is not fun. Listening to a teacher provide instruction or direction is not fun. The reality is that it is impossible to have fun 24/7 and no one is ever going to be able to achieve that. Yet some will try and eventually fail, and others will become quite frustrated because they can’t. Yet many of us as parents are more concerned about our kids having fun than learning that things must be done. Every day we must start and complete a task. We face obstacles that will take persistence and hard work. We will fail and we have to figure out how to pick ourselves up and figure out a new direction. The teenage brain is not fully developed and the messages we send, and the experiences they have now will mold who they are in the future. If we continue to reinforce “fun-seeking” over being a good, responsible person, then where are they going to be? I am not a fun hater, but there is a guiding principal that has been proven true time and time again: moderation in all things is a pretty good balance in life. When we work hard, persevere, solve problems, and act responsible, then there are opportunities for us to have some fun.