Why we need to let teens do stuff for themselves (aka the case of the teenager and the birthday cheque)
It’s easy to forget how little teenagers know about the world. Partly because they look so grown up and partly because they have that know-it-all attitude. But, in reality, they are only half emerged from the cocoon of childhood where parents did everything for them.
I was reminded of this remarkable lack of real-world knowledge a few weeks back when my teenager got a cheque from his Grandmother. When the cheque fell out of the birthday card, he picked it up and looked at me with that “I have no idea what this is” look on his face.
It wasn’t the first time he’d received a cheque. When they were younger, Grandma used to send cheques addressed to me and I would deposit them in my account and give the kids cash in return. Last year, Grandma had a bit of a senior moment and forgot to post a card in time. So I texted her my son’s newly opened bank account details and she did a quick bank transfer instead.
This year, she wrote the cheque out directly to my son. And he looked at it, completely blankly. “What do I do with this?” he asked.
I had a choice. I could easily have taken the cheque to the bank for him. I was going into town at lunchtime anyway and I knew he desperately wanted the money for the weekend. But (and I’m not proud of this) my son had been utterly obnoxious that week so I wasn’t feeling very co-operative. So I told him that he needed to take the cheque along with his debit card to the bank and they would show him what to do.
The day continued uneventfully, with a bit of cake and a lot of Xbox. At about 2.30pm, I reminded the birthday boy that banks close early. “I’ve looked it up,” he said confidently. “It’s open until five.” I explained that he needed to get the cheque to the bank before 3.30pm or it might take longer for the money to go into his account. He looked at me as if I was talking Greek and went back to his Xbox.
At 3.25pm I was on the phone (ironically to a journalist talking about parenting teenagers!) when my son came in gesticulating and mouthing words to the effect of what have I done with his cheque? He’s angry because he can’t find it. I manage to mime back a polite suggestion (while spouting confidently about the importance of maintaining good relationships with teenagers) that it is most probably with his birthday cards where he left them on the table. I hear the front door shut.
At 3.35pm I get a phone call. He’s in town. “Where is Barclays Bank?” he asks. Which is odd, because he banks with Lloyds. “Why do you want Barclays Bank?” I ask. “It says Barclays on the cheque,” he replies. I just about manage not to laugh. I explain that he needs to go to his own bank in order to put the cheque into his own bank account. “Oh,” he says. And pauses. “So where’s Lloyds Bank then?”
The moral of this story? Teenagers don’t know how to do stuff unless they are given the opportunity to practise. Life skills only come from having a go. We need to let kids do things for themselves and, if we don’t, they end up with a lot of holes in their knowledge. Teens always think their parents are WRONG about everything. Sometimes, the best thing to do is to stop trying to explain or tell them and just let them get on with it. Let them work out for themselves what they don’t know (and how to do it).
And, no, the cheque hadn’t cleared when he wanted money at the weekend!