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Youth is Wasted on the Young

Monday, June 03, 2013

By: Quinton Ellis, M.S., LPC

“Youth is wasted on the young”. I enjoy asking teenagers to interpret this axiomatic quotation. Most don’t know what to make of it, which, one assumes, is confirmation of the quote’s wisdom. If I assign an adult the same task, I will always get an answer as to how young people screw so much up at the physical peak of their existences.

And yet despite the doubtless accuracy of these varied answers, I always detect the presence of jealousy and bitterness within them, even when I say them. I suppose it’s inevitable. I try my best to explain to my kids (i.e., your kids) that one day soon, they too will end up in some mall they don’t want to be in with squinted eyes but an otherwise dazed expression asking themselves, “What is wrong with these kids today?” I tell them this will happen- to which they cleverly respond, “Whatever”.

In our society we marvel at youth, the wonder and ease of it, the possibilities it represents. But we view it the way we might view a billionaire whom we are certain is misspending his or her money. We think of all the charities, all the good that could be done. We think of all the ways in which that money could be effectively channeled to do the most good. We have to think of that stuff first; otherwise, we’d be just like this person who doesn’t deserve all that money. You bet we’d all have some nice houses and cars, but ours would be tasteful, not ostentatious. And Lord knows we wouldn’t let the money change the person we are inside.

Now, let’s think about that for a moment. Do we really believe unequivocally that the money wouldn’t change us? Well, what does that money represent? You can argue, (no, I guess you really can’t) but I think it represents freedom. I’m saying that because I think we’d all agree that being broke represents a prison of sorts- a limitation on the ways in which we can express ourselves materially. But the varying degrees to which we are limited are, in a sense, rules that we must discipline ourselves to obey. This discipline has its own value. It can’t purchase cars and boats and homes, but it can, however, purchase a reduction in stress from barely owning those things. Billionaires don’t have to concern themselves much with discipline. Neither, it would seem, do many of our children.

This is no phenomenon. It is a perfectly natural response on the part of your children to growing up well, in a well off city, in the most well off country in the history of our planet. Also, owing to the on-going construction of vast swaths of their brains, your kids believe youth to spring eternal. How could they not feel like billionaires? They spend and spend and spend. Their boats are poor grades. Their cars are attitude and dismissive-ness. Their homes are alcohol and drug use. Some are building castles.
They are largely unaware that they’ve all been investing with Madoff. We, of course, know this, but don’t you think that friends of Madoff’s investors expressed concerns about things sounding a little too good to be true? I mean, I even invested a llitle bit with the guy when I was younger.

And that’s more of my point here. If youth is wasted on the young, then by logical extension, it was, to some degree wasted on us. We can all think of ways in which we invested with Madoff rather than discipline when we were younger. I try everyday to shake that impulse out of teenagers. It’s frustrating work, as I’m sure you know. We can never reacquire our teenage brain chemistry. We can’t put ourselves in our own teenage shoes much less those of our kids. I mean, try it out. Think of a specific teenage experience you had and map out your thought process during its progression. You probably can’t, but if you could you would be dismayed at how radically your mind has matured. My favorite example of this is the all too common, “I want you to want to do your chores.” Good luck with that, mom. The truth is, you’d rather have your kids hate to do their chores and do them regardless because that is an indication of your child displaying self-discipline. Our job is to get our kids to adulthood with as few regrets and as much self-discipline as possible. Our reward for our efforts is a reduction in stress and, ideally, to be next to them that day in the mall.

Quinton is a Licensed Professional Counselor at Edmond Family Counseling and can be reached at 405-341-3554.
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