By Mary O’Brien, M.D.
Are you an adult? Are you sure? Young people today are taking longer and longer to grow up. Throughout history people worked hard and started families in their teens. Only a privileged few could afford the time or money for an education. Even a mere century ago, finishing high school was a relative luxury.
A few weeks ago, during the 75th anniversary of D-Day, we heard remarkable stories of 18- and 19-year-old boys fighting for freedom and civilization. These boys grew up very fast. They had no choice. Mommy and Daddy could not indulge every whim of their sons.
Growing numbers of people now realize we have a problem. Young people are graduating from high school and even college with minimal practical skills. Changing a tire, cooking a real meal, or opening a bank account can overwhelm them. This is not good. Many of us were required to take shop class or home economics in high school. Then, the “geniuses” in education had their way. The results speak for themselves.
Happily, there is hope. A young teacher at Fern Creek High School in Kentucky has begun three-day workshops called “Adulting 101.” Sarah Wilson Abell has been instructing students in real-life skills: how to handle basic food preparation and cooking; how to change a tire; how acquire the fundamentals of money management; how to read a map (in case Siri is sick); how to behave on a job interview; how to have basic table manners and etiquette; and how to tie a tie.
Parents used to teach these skills, but the days of June and Ward Cleaver and Ben Cartwright are long gone. This timely idea is spreading. More and more people in their thirties and forties realize they need these skills. I recently encountered a 31-year-old woman who didn’t know how to sign her full name because, “We didn’t learn cursive.” You can’t make up things like this.
Someone reading this is probably not a high school teacher, but many of our readers teach students in the health-care professions. Starting your own “Adulting 101” class could be tremendously helpful. In addition to the topics listed above, a few more are worth considering:
- Good, old-fashioned people skills. Professional etiquette when dealing with patients and colleagues must be taught. Translation: Put down your cell phone and look up from your computer.
- Principles of personal hygiene and dress. Don’t act outraged. Most of us realize standards couldn’t have sunk much lower. Our failure to teach and maintain such professional standards has compromised patient care and the career advancement of many students and trainees.
- Essentials of appropriate speech and behavior in the workplace. As is the case with appearance and manners, there are boundaries that separate work, play, and personal life. This comes as a shock to many young people. We do them a great disservice when we fail to correct the situation.
“Adulting 101:” It’s an idea whose time has come. It should have never gone away in the first place.