Five Ways to Raise Responsible Adults

Five Ways to Raise Responsible Adults | HSLDA Blog

How do we raise our kids to become responsible, compassionate adults?

Well, now, that’s a big question, isn’t it?

Recently, Darren read an article by Ben Sasse entitled “Perpetual Adolescence And What To Do About It” (note: The full article is available only to Wall Street Journal subscribers; if you aren’t subscribed, ask at your local library about accessing it through their system). Making no statement either way about Sasse’s politics (he’s a U.S. senator from Nebraska), Darren thought it was an important question to ask and wanted to discuss it with the family.

He printed off four copies—one for me, each of the older kids, and himself. We read it, made notes, and gathered in the living room to talk it over (Sparkler hung around for the discussion too; she’s refused to be left out of anything since she was born).

Sasse identified a problem of “perpetual adolescence,” one of “seeing so much less difference now between 10-year-olds and young adults in their late teens and early 20s.” I think he overstates the case, not to mention overlooking economic and cultural shifts that change the way adulthood looks and behaves. However, his solutions generated a lot of discussion.

He outlines five broad themes that inform how he and his wife raise their children. Below, I’ve summarized Sasse’s points and added my family’s commentary.

1. Resist consumption: teach children the difference between need and want.

Our commentary: Darren marked this one as very important in becoming an adult. Not just to spend money wisely and to be content with what we have, but because it teaches us to look beyond ourselves. If we resist turning to materialism to make us happy, we’ll have more resources to help those who have real needs.

2. Embrace the pain of work. Sasse emphasizes that hard work teaches children that difficult tasks are to be conquered, not avoided.

Our commentary: Both Bookgirl and Gamerboy named this point as “the most important one” for becoming an adult. They were surprised when we explained that the reason they had to consult a chore list every day at 4 pm was in preparation for adulthood. “Oh!” they said. “Chores count?”

3. Connect across generations. Sasse quotes a 2014 Boston Globe article which reported that among Americans 60 years and older, only a quarter had discussed anything important with anyone under age 36 in the previous six months. Adolescents, he says, acquire vital social skills by interacting with people outside their peer bubble.

Our commentary: We agreed that this was a lack in our family’s life. While the grandparents visit us as often as they can, we don’t live near any of them. We named people from church or the neighborhood who might be interested in coming over and talking to us about their experiences.

4. Travel meaningfully. Don’t just “tour,” says Sasse, but go out “in search of people, of adventure, of experience.” Whether it’s camping or flying overseas, “where” isn’t nearly as important as “how.”

Our commentary: Bookgirl and Gamerboy thought we did just fine at this. They like our trips, whether it was the big cross-country road trip we took last year or the day trips to local museums. Bookgirl even put in a plug to go back to the indoor water resort Great Wolf Lodge, which has uncertain educational value but sure was a lot of fun. Nice try, Bookgirl.

5. Become truly literate. Sasse and his wife encourage their children to become “quantity readers,” namely by a challenge called “The Century Club.” He says, “Quite a few people can read two solid books a week, but knocking out almost two a week for an entire year is daunting.” In addition to quantity, they also monitor their children’s reading choices for quality.

Our commentary: We all thought the idea of a Century Club, while kind of fun, did not suit our family. We’d all rather read fewer books that we really enjoy. However, we do believe in quality books along with mere enjoyment—Bookgirl has a big project underway to read all of the Newbery Medal winners. For the record, I named this point as one of the most important steps to adulthood. After all, most people can do hard work if they have to, but reading allows you to understand people and places that you may never see.

If Darren and I were to write our own thoughts on this subject, our points would be a little different. For one thing, our family prizes creativity, which these five themes didn’t really take into account. But it was a catalyst for us to sit down and talk about our hopes for our children’s future, and why we make the decisions that we do.

It also provided for one of those real pleasures of parenthood. We were able to say to our two eldest (and the third one who was listening in):

“You’re doing very well. We’re very proud of you.”

Which do you consider the most important theme for raising children into adulthood? Or what would you add to this list?

Photo Credit: Graphic design by Charity Klicka.

13 thoughts on “Five Ways to Raise Responsible Adults

  1. Sara, These are some really good points. I think I will reference your post in a new workshop I’m giving at a conference in August on how to make the most of middle school. Thank you for a great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • What a great idea for a workshop! Middle school is, to be Jane Austen about it, “the most trying age.” I really appreciated the way Darren invited their thoughts and discussion, instead of using the ideas to lecture them on how they need to shape up.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Well, I’m sort of new at this. My daughter is only 6, but I would have to say I think the first two are the most important. Embrace the pain of work. And resist comsumption.


    • We have to start pretty early on teaching our kids about hard work — and good heavens, the consumption mindset sets in all too soon, doesn’t it? Thanks so much for your thoughts.


  3. I believe 1, 2, & 3 are important. Though three may be the most important. This my grandmother taught as the most meaningful, as when we entered a home as a guest it was the time to sit quietly, listen to the conversation, be respectfull and never ever, ever interrupt. You had to be excused and if not you better be very close to perishing. Discipline was first on her list, then her love. She did not give wants but needs. She worked very hard, and her children along side her
    To provide for her children. She was a strong women, who had a wealth of love, and she expected respect from those she loved. Travel was just living, as she was born in 1912. School was something the children did daily and reading was a love God instilled in my mother
    And her two sisters.
    As a homeschooling family on a
    Very fixed income, our needs are met, we work hard for what we have, we listen to our elders (caring for those around us), we make all trips outside our county meaningful, and we keep the bookstore in business.


    • You make a good point. Not too much can rival our grandparents’ generation for sheer hard work. I’ve recently realized how much I owe to my own grandparents.


  4. My husband and I read the same article in the WSJ. We were pleased to see that we already do most of those recommendations. In our house though I really try to emphasize accountability for one’s actions and early independence. There were so many 12 year olds in history who have accomplished amazing tasks I think we have a tendency to misjudge our own children’s capabilities (think about Dave Farragut captaining a sea vessel halfway around the world!). One way to help this happen is to make a child responsible for a pet or younger sibling. Chores are critical, but so is managing one’s time. I will leave a list on a chalkboard for the day of everything a child needs to get done before dinner, including the pleasure items they want to do along with chores and tasks like practice piano, homework, etc. then it’s up to them to structure their day. By the time they are 10 they should be able to make fairly wise time management decisions without too much prodding or interference from an adult. I also think “willpower” decisions need to be carefully monitored and guided to form good early habits – this means limiting electronics, unhealthy foods, and enforcing sports and a physical lifestyle. There is only so much willpower to go around in a society gluttonous in processed foods, devices. Sports offer one of the only opportunities for real adversity in an otherwise stable home. Kids need adversity to help develop string character. Nowadays It’s a parent’s key responsibility to impose these guidelines on our children until they are old enough to have developed the proper habits and understandings of the dangers of negative lifestyle choices. So many parents don’t have the guts to say “you will do a sport. You will do a musical instrument every day” or “you will not eat any junk under this roof.” Kids will still live and respect you if you are leading by example. Thanks for posting your commentary.


    • I hadn’t really thought about it until you articulated it, but independent work is very important to us, too. Starting from a fairly early age I begin teaching our children to do their schoolwork on their own. Now, the older ones merely check the planner and know they have the day to get it done, plus chores. I come through with one or two reminders, but they know they’ll answer to Dad at supper.

      In fact, I’m pretty big on natural consequences. We’ve introduced our children to a variety of activities, and usually require them to stick with it for a set time. If they choose to abandon it after that, well, it’s their regret when they get to adulthood.

      As I said in the post, Sasse’s list almost completely neglects creativity, which is very important to me. It requires patience, wide reading and thinking, and a lot of white space to tinker with ideas. So we are less likely to engage in a lot of outside activities, and more likely to leave lots of unstructured time in our days.

      I love hearing different perspectives. Our methods are different, but we all see the importance of guiding our children into adulthood.


  5. Thanks, Sara. I really enjoyed reading this helpful summary and discussion. I am over halfway through Ben Sasse’s book, “The Vanishing American Adult,” and I think he highlights many important discussion topics.

    I would say resisting consumption, embracing hard work, and becoming truly literate are my top three (in that order). Our kids are still young, so we are primarily focusing on embracing hard work at the moment. It is satisfying to see our 5 year old make the conscious choice to work hard or make choices that lead to delayed gratification.


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