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Teens Aren’t “Getting Ready” For the Real World—Their World Is Real

“What’s she going to do when she gets out into the real world?”

The question came in response to a lighthearted post I shared in an online parents’ group. I joked that the two most dreaded words for a grade-conscious student are “group project.” This was after my daughter had been up and in tears half the night, stressing over that very thing.

“What’s she going to do when she gets out in the real world and doesn’t know how to work with other people?” the commenter asked. “What’s she going to do if she becomes, say, an attorney and is working on a case with a team? Her employer isn’t going to care who did what if they lose the case!”

With full respect for the concern behind this comment, I think my teenager already is living in the real world. Her real world. The world she’s supposed to be living in right now. The world of a high school student, friend, sibling, child, employee, and teammate.

If by “real world,” we’re talking about an independent adult existence, then no, she’s not out in it. Nor should she be.  I want her to let her dad and me be the grown-ups while she lives out the last years of her adolescence. I know teenagers who have been thrust too early into real-world adult life, and it can be hard and heartbreaking.

My high-schooler doesn’t know how to entirely take care of herself because she isn’t entirely taking care of herself yet. And there are some things that can only truly be learned through experience.

But everything my teenager does in her world right now isn’t just meaningless make-believe. Her experiences now aren’t without value to some future life when she “gets out” of the life she’s already living and becomes an adult.

“What’s she going to do when she gets out into the real world?”

If by “real world,” we’re talking about a life lived on her own, then I imagine my future young adult will work with other people as a member of a team. I imagine she’ll collaborate with co-workers on a job or some volunteer project. I imagine she’ll do her best for herself and for the good of her partners. Much as she does right now in those dreaded-but-educational group projects. Much as she does on her school extracurricular team where every individual move serves the cohesive whole.

I imagine she’ll try to please and satisfy an employer and her employer’s customers or clients. I imagine she’ll strive to be an employee who doesn’t just go through the motions but aims for excellence. Much as she does right now at her part-time job.

I imagine she’ll invest in relationships and put in the effort needed to make those work. I imagine she’ll show she cares by showing up. Much as she does right now with her classmates and teammates, friends and family members.

I imagine she’ll manage her time and schedule in order to fulfill her commitments and still have space for rest and fun. I imagine she’ll figure out how to balance work and play and healthy habits. Much as she does right now with her homework, after-school practices, eating, sleeping, and social life.

I imagine she’ll make some mistakes, learn some lessons, and figure things out. Much as she does pretty much every day of her life right now.

I imagine she’ll be loved, supported, encouraged, helped, and cheered on. Much as she is right now.

There is a lot of talk about how our teenagers need to get ready for life in the real world. And there is no question that it’s important to prepare them for independence while they still have the safety net of home, parents, and teachers to guide and correct them as needed.

But our teenagers aren’t just going through the motions of a dress rehearsal while they wait for the curtain to open for the mainstage event.

They’re already the leading characters in their real lives—the lives they are supposed to be living right now.

My daughter doesn’t have to “get out” into the real world. She is already “in” her real world. And I am applauding her every step of the way.

Elizabeth Spencer

Elizabeth Spencer is mom to two daughters (one teen and one young adult) who regularly dispense love, affection, and brutally honest fashion advice. She writes about faith, food, and family (with some occasional funny thrown in) at Guilty Chocoholic Mama and avoids working on her 100-year-old farmhouse by spending time on Facebook and Twitter.