A while back one of my city friends asked, in response to reading about our plans, if I was concerned about what life would be like for my kids when they get to be teenagers if we aren’t in the Big City. It’s a fair question. I grew up in the suburbs, fairly close to the city (though distance is relative when you can’t drive), and hated every minute of it. I looked across an inlet to the bright lights of downtown and felt like everything exciting in the world must be over there.
The idea that teenagers are bored out of their minds in a rural setting is prevalent. We have visions of kids riding their ATV’s to the local drinking spot, having monster truck races and shooting at cans, all while imbibing vast quantities of cheap beer and perhaps accidentally conceiving a few children while they’re at it. This may be a very unfair stereotype but I have given it some thought over the last while and here is what I’ve come up with.
I think there are many factors that contribute to “teenage delinquency” (for lack of a better term). I knew kids who never got into trouble because they were actively engaged in activities they enjoyed and felt passionate about. Whether it was riding horses, playing hockey, mountain biking, or whatever turned their boat if they were into it and involved in it there was less time to be bored. You’re not interested in getting drunk and staying up ’till 2 am if you have a big horse show early the next morning that you’ve been training towards for weeks, kwim? And as far as these engaging activities go, I don’t think there are many you can do in the Big City that you can’t also do in a smaller town (again, we’re talking a town of about 40,000 here).
I also think that “teen delinquency” is a byproduct of societal and parental factors. Teenagers are at an age where they are driven to take on some adult responsibilities but are prevented at every turn. They can’t drive, drink, have sex, get married, hold a full time job, run for city council, sit on volunteer boards, etc. They are forced to go to high school until they are 18 which eats up most of their day (including evenings doing homework and studying for tests). Their time is not their own to manage so they have no skill in doing so. We don’t allow our children to take manageable risks when they are young, so when they are older and naturally wish to engage in risk taking behaviours they have no skills or experience in this regard, either. Basically, teenagers are not allowed to be part of adult society so why would we expect them to feel stewardship over it? Why not just go hang out in a park somewhere and see how drunk and stoned you can get?
It is my desire to give my children experience in taking risk, and to give them added responsibilities as they mature. Since they are unschooled, they are already figuring out who they are and what they want to be/do by taking the lead in their education. Most kids don’t get much say in what they are learning until they hit college, and then – no surprise – many flounder around for a couple of years before they figure out what turns their crank. By the time my kids are teenagers I suspect they’ll have a far better idea of what direction they wish to go in, and that alone should keep them from feeling bored and restless. And since I am not working and, if all goes according to plan, Husband will have a very flexible schedule, we can go with the kids to “see the world” and work against that feeling of being “trapped in a small town”. Finally, they won’t be straining against parental authority (I devoted virtually all my energy towards that as a youth) because I don’t believe you can punish, coerce, bribe, or otherwise force kids to be a certain way. If my kids haven’t established some core values by the time they are teenagers then I’ve failed at my job and no amount of grounding and removing privileges is going to change that.
Now this all may be wishful thinking and none of it might work out the way I hope it will. I’m sure many of you with teenagers are chuckling to yourself the same way I giggle internally when newly pregnant couples plan out how their lives are going to be after baby arrives. But I do believe this: if my kids end up hating where we live, engaging in irresponsible activities, and generally getting themselves into trouble…it won’t be because we moved to a smaller town.