Incapable Adults

My friend Marcus Wenner teaches self-defense. He has a series of slides that talk about the “Fear Loop” and he explains how people freeze up when they are afraid, caught in a violent attack without a pre-prepared plan of action. He says, “Experience is something you get shortly after you need it.” It’s much more effective to have a blueprint of your strategy before you’re under attack. That’s why kids practice fire drills at school. 

After spending my Saturday at Marcus’s self defense for health professionals class, I began my Monday morning talking with a Mom about how her 20 year old daughter Nicole is stuck in life, caught in a chronic fear loop, feeling under attack by the responsibilities of adult life. Nicole’s Mom thinks we are failing to provide young people with a blueprint for adult life. Schools don’t provide them with relevant skills for the real world. Parents shield them from discomfort, from mature situations, and even from solving problems. 

Nicole is overwhelmed and lacks skills. Her first course of action when she gets a flat tire, is lost, or has an appliance go out: call Mom and Dad for advice or instruction. She even asks for their input on how to do her job. She wants her parents to run interference with college professors and supervisors. When things go wrong Nicole is looking for someone else to find a solution because she freezes up and finds herself unable to think clearly. She is caught in a constant cycle of fear that incapacitates her, because designing a blueprinted strategy for adult life was not Nicole’s or her parents’ main objective in childhood and adolescence. 

Nicole’s parents saw childhood and adolescence as a time for fun and play. Childhood was about creating experiences of wonder and joy. Her parents wrapped Christmas gifts and hid eggs at Easter for the pleasure of watching her eyes light up. Childhood was about creating magic. The teen years were about academic achievement, getting into the most prestigious college, and developing last memories with peers. 

Nowhere in their parenting priorities was skills building. Now they are wishing they had understood that preparation for adulthood was a big priority. By making sure her childhood was easy, her parents ensured that beginning adulthood was very, very hard. 

Now at age 20, Nicole will have to double back and become a more effective problem solver. She has to learn to trust herself to manage difficult situations and tolerate the frustration of sometimes not having parents tell her what to do. Her Mom vows to back off and let her learn, something she wishes she would have begun doing years ago. The next few years are likely to be full of painful lessons that rightfully should have been stretched over a longer period. Turns out childhood is a time for making a blueprint kids will need later, not just a time for fun and play.

Posted on June 13, 2016 .