they get a lot of pleasure simply from shopping and buying things

Excerpts from How to Raise an American Adult (, May 5, 2017) by Ben Sasse:

…Our nation is in the midst of a collective coming-of-age crisis. Too many of our children simply don’t know what an adult is anymore—or how to become one. Perhaps more problematic, older generations have forgotten that we need to teach them. It’s our fault more than it’s theirs…

My wife, Melissa, and I have three children, ages 6 to 15. We don’t have any magic bullets to help them make the transition from dependence to self-sustaining adulthood—because there aren’t any. And we have zero desire to set our own family up as a model. We stumble and fall every day. But we have a shared theory of what we’re aiming to accomplish: We want our kids to arrive at adulthood as fully formed, vivacious, appealing, resilient, self-reliant, problem-solving souls who see themselves as called to love and serve their neighbors. Our approach is organized around five broad themes.

Resist Consumption…In a 2009 study called “Souls in Transition,” Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith and his colleagues focused on the spiritual attitudes and moral beliefs of 18- to 23-year-old “emerging adults.” They were distressed by what they discovered, especially about the centrality of consumption in the lives of young people. Well over half agreed that their “well-being can be measured by what they own, that buying more things would make them happier, and that they get a lot of pleasure simply from shopping and buying things…But consumption is no route to long-term happiness … Although we often fail at it, Melissa and I aim to imprint in our children the fact that need and want are words with particular and distinct meanings … Parents can impart such lessons many ways. The occasional camping trip, off the grid, can teach the basic definition of shelter—and make the comforts of home look like the luxuries they are. You can shop differently too. One of our daughters is a serious runner, so we purchase high-quality shoes to protect her developing bones—but most of her other clothes come from hand-me-downs and secondhand shops. We want our children to learn the habit of finding pleasure in the essentials of life and feeling gratitude for them. We’d like to think that, when they strike out on their own someday, they’ll have a clear sense of what they really need…

Embrace the pain of work. Many of the same social scientists highlighting the emptiness of consumption point to a very different key to happiness: meaningful work. Over the years, I’ve found that just about everyone interesting I’ve ever met possesses a strong work ethic, focused on doing even humble jobs well, and they typically learned it early in life. They usually have a passionate answer to the question: “What was the first really hard work you did as a kid?”…Suggesting that our children should have similar experiences seems countercultural today. Strenuous, unpleasant work seems harsh, potentially scarring. Worse, for middle-class parents hoping to get their children into selective colleges, it might interfere with the “enrichment” activities that impress admissions committees. But character comes before credentials. If our children are to become real adults, they need to know that difficult tasks are things to be conquered, not avoided…

Connect Across Generations. Today, young people’s lives are driven by one predominant fact: birth year. In person and online, teenagers hang out overwhelmingly with friends of the same year in school. Correspondingly, senior citizens live out their years in nursing homes where they interact mainly with their age peers.  One study found that, among Americans 60 and older, only a quarter had discussed anything important with anyone under 36 in the previous six months. And when relatives are excluded, the percentage drops to just 6%. … Adolescents acquire vital social skills by interacting with people outside their peer bubble. There are many ways to make these connections. The simplest are activities like taking your children to bake cookies with an elderly neighbor or volunteering at a senior center. But the occasional visit isn’t enough. We need to encourage our children to build lasting connections—some degree of friendship and familiarity—with older people who aren’t members of the family. Perspective is invaluable: It lets your children hear about previous eras, including those first hard jobs, and gives them a longer view of what it means to struggle with hardships and persevere.

Travel Meaningfully. When we travel … we subject ourselves to the vertigo that accompanies leaving familiar surroundings, customs, language and food. It’s especially valuable for adolescents. Like hard work, it makes them appreciate not just the comfort of their own lives but the satisfaction of trying new and difficult things. It also forces them to look at the material nature of their lives. Do I really need so much stuff when I feel freer away from it? Children will obviously not all have the same experiences as they learn about travel. Some of us come from more outdoorsy families; others come from wealthier families that can afford the airfare to fly overseas. “Where” isn’t nearly as important as how.

Become truly literate. Reading done well is not a passive activity like sitting in front of a screen. It requires attention, engagement and active questioning. Unfortunately … the average American now reads only 19 minutes a day—and the younger you are, the less you read. … Quantity is important, but quality is the bigger, long-term goal. When our girls were not yet teens, we let them pick just over half of the books in their sequence. Now we have them propose a handful of books for us to select from, and if the books aren’t rigorous enough, we intervene more aggressively. They’re pretty good about wanting to stretch themselves, but we’ve also steered them to especially important books that will help them not just to learn their place in the world but also to comprehend the riches of the traditions they’re inheriting…

The analogy that we’ve embraced for parental duty is teaching children to ride a bike. I’m a decidedly “no training wheels” guy. My method: pad them in coats and ski pants, set them off down a slightly declining street and run behind them straddling the back wheel. I gently knock them side to side in the shoulders as we move along, and at some point, they suddenly find their balance, mostly by accident. And then they can ride! It’s a life-changing moment.

Read Ben Sasse’s entire essay here: How to Raise an American AdultThis essay is adapted from his new book, “The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis—and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance” which will be published on May 16, 2017.

Photo: Centro North


  1. Terrific perspective – as social pressure exerts itself in a grueling tug-o-war

    Liked by 2 people

  2. wow. wonderful –

    Liked by 1 person

  3. If I had only seen this thirty years ago….

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Reblogged this on RULE13 Learning.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. So many of our kids grow up without appreciating what they have and with no sense of responsibility. We can blame nothing but our parenting skills!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Wow this is fantastic! I needed it 13 years ago 🙂 Those are some lucky kids!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Definitely good food for thought!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Dear David,

    I have nominated you for the award “One lovely blogger award”.
    For more information click on this link in case you are interested to join:

    Best wishes

    Liked by 1 person

  9. A day or two after we arrived in Montréal to stay back in summer of 1991 my father drove me downtown,
    I was only 17, coming from a whole other world. He dropped me on Saint Catherine st.and gave me a map of the city. Told me to go apply to the two english universities here, Concordia and McGill, gave me enough money to survive. He said that he trusts I’ll find my way home. My French was not that good. No cellphone, the map isn’t easy with no sense of direction what so ever. I walked for about 8 hours that day. I did apply to both universities. I had lunch and I still remember the place, first and best potato salad I ever had. I made it back home around 5 pm. Him and my mother were napping.

    It is only a 10 minute walk between the two universities. It seemed like days that 1991 summer day.

    As a mother I’m for the no training wheel method. But it’s not easy. And if I’m napping I’m faking it. As I’m sure he was.

    Liked by 4 people

  10. another brilliant post David Kanigan! 🙂
    Each point made, is one that builds our kids and if undone, short changes them terribly.
    And all, are of course … The Hard Way.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. So, so much that I love about this (and I don’t even have kids!)

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Thank you for sharing this perspective. My husband and I don’t have kids so we avoid commenting on what we observe but it isn’t hard to see that most of today’s parents do just about anything they can to cushion their kids from any adversity. Then they seem flabbergasted that the kid is completely codependent upon them. It makes me wonder what will happen when the parents pass? Who will take care of them. I admire you greatly in taking the more difficult route to teach your children to be self reliant and strong rather than your “friend.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree fully with your perspective. Being a parent certainly has challenges but a parent/guardian one must be until the children leave the nest and then you hope the thousands of nips and tucks have left an indelible impression. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


  13. I believe there’s a middle ground, David… Not too heavy on either the salt or the sugar!
    Each to his own, though… 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Nitin Khanna says:

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  15. A couple of things came to me as I read this:
    I went to our church’s Coming of Age service yesterday where the 8th & 9th graders gave their faith statements. As Unitarians, values and beliefs aren’t automatic. This class helps kids think about and ponder what’s important to them.

    I’m not a “kid” person, so I’ve never gone to this service before. Of course I was weeping by the time it was over. All those fresh faces gave me incredible hope.

    The other thing I need to consider is that I might be an important elder in my grand-nephews’ lives per item #3 in Sasse’s piece. I need to reconsider my aversion to non-adults.


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