Un-Preparing Our Teens for Life

Every few months, my parents and I pay the horrendously expensive bridge fare to leave our precious Prince Edward Island and drive a few hours to Moncton, where my brother is currently studying to be a chemist. During his first semester, he lived on campus residence in a small, bland apartment with a phone booth for a shower, a bed made solely from the squeakiest springs and a roommate chosen from an algorithm presumably designed to pair the cleanest person with the dirtiest. His room was the unsalted boiled egg of places to live: bland, tasteless and smelly after a while. He had five textbooks open from five different classes. There were no upcoming exams, this was his regular Friday night. Though we may not admit it, the way in which we treat our students during their high school years will not prepare them for the strict, real-life conditions of a university lifestyle.

Much like the stench when I walked into my brother’s room, this reality hit me like a brick wall. We advertise so heavily that university is the next step in our education, yet the previous step prepares them for the opposite. In high school, I’d hand in, on time, my gargantuan essay of 500 words on which I had spent one week preparing, only to discover half the class is given an extension for no apparent reason other than their reluctance to submit papers on time. They wouldn’t even lose points for their tardiness. While it may be intended to provide adequate time to finish a certain project, this won’t prepare them for university, or even for real life.

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For example, my brother at university also had an essay due that day. He was given a similar timeline for his work, but his word count needed to exceed 5000, compared to my 500-word requirement. Any late papers returned after 9:00 AM were stamped with a 0% mark. No extensions, no exceptions. We create this atmosphere of coddling for our teenage babies and never show them discipline. God knows the culture shock they will face once they see the 0% mark on their paper after a night of partying and lack of responsibility.

In school, we’re given plenty of time during class to write essays, finish projects and Snapchat to our heart’s content, unlike university, where your time in class will be spent writing notes, writing more notes, and cramming to take even more notes. Your evenings – and sometimes nights – will be for studying and essay writing. Should you have any questions regarding the material from your courses, you ask a friend or check your textbook. Professors will only teach during the time allotted in their classroom, and won’t stay after school to tutor for free. They say for every hour of class, there are three hours of studying. This, contrary to high school, where for every hour of class, there are three hours of Netflix. Should we ever need help reviewing our work before handing it in, the teacher is there for us. In some cases, teenagers rely heavily on their teacher to help them with their work. Independence is an important attribute to master before shipping off to college or university. Out there, it’s only you: no teachers on whom to lean outside of their two-hour classes. All of this is without mentioning the issue of students and their financial struggles.

For many students (particularly those in the French language school system such as myself), we often leave our mother’s nest to study away from home, living with roommates either in an apartment or campus residence. Contrary to living under your parents’ roof, this entails requiring to pay for your own groceries and rent, a major financial setback for those whose only income is a summer’s worth of minimum wage. Subsequently, failing to economize money is a common shortcoming among high school students who, for their present situation of feeding off parental subsidies, don’t need to save their money and waste it all like a rapper “makin’ it rain” in a music video. In addition, the technical side of finances also eludes our teenagers. Ask them for the definition of a credit score, a mortgage rate or predatory lending. Could they give it to you? Odds are, no.

Nowhere in school do we ever indulge in the basics of personal finance, but at least we can find the air of a cylinder. The rudiments of paying your taxes are never explained, but we know that John A. MacDonald was born on January 11th, 1815. It’s true that the education system is teaching them, but are they teaching them the right lessons? In grade eleven, most students are sixteen or seventeen years old. I was shocked to learn that among my classmates at this mature age, trotting down the home stretch of adolescence, some do not pack their own lunch for school, let alone do their own laundry. For a relatively independent teen as myself (I don’t mean to brag), it’s quite stunning to see someone incapable of doing such a benign task as cleaning one’s clothes.

Everyone can bake cookies and pancakes, but can they season a steak, cook pasta or even make a hamburger? Parents need to learn a balance between coddling our teens and letting them be. Near the departure of our teens from our homes, we need to teach them how to do these imperative, basic responsibilities to assure their survival in the real world. Let’s face it: kids won’t be kids forever. At some point, just like everyone, they must fly away from the nest and experience life on their own. If we want to ensure a bright future for our youth, let’s prepare them for it.

Explain taxes to them, show them discipline, and teach them how to cook. For their own sake.