June 24, 2014

Other People's Timetables

By the time we become parents, we are used to counting: How many weeks along? How many pounds? How old is s/he? We start measuring: Is s/he crawling or walking on time? When does the child start to talk? Yet, we realize that there is a range of what is to be expected. Some babies walk before their first birthday; others can be closer to 18 months before the pediatrician shows any concern.

As they get older, though, we tend to expect children to fit into the norm -- unless there is a problem. We tend to veer away from the acceptance of a range of what's expected. For example, barring a birthday close to the school's cutoff date, we expect six year-olds to start first grade and to begin to sit still long enough to learn to read and write.

Now, jump ahead to high school, with its demands of long periods of study, high levels of organizational skills and a maze of social and interpersonal situations. What happened to the variability that we accepted when our children were young? Have they suddenly all migrated to the same timetable? As adolescents, are they really all developing at the same pace, hitting the ages to drive or go to college, for example, at the exact same time? What if a teen isn't developmentally ready to take these steps when his/her peers do?

Just like we understood that our children may differ greatly in when they are dry at night, or when they are ready to sleep at a friend's house, we can give our teens leeway about when they tackle the milestones of adolescence as well. Some countries add a grade 13; others require 17/18 year-olds to do community or military service before going to college. In England, a gap year between high school and university is far more common than it is here. Some students also need time to work to earn money for tuition.

No doubt, many of those "older" young people arrive at college more mature and more certain of their academic and career goals. So -- if you are at the point where the time to look into college is near, consider the timing as a decision to be made rather than a foregone conclusion. Just because other people are on a particular schedule doesn't mean it's necessarily right for your son or daughter.

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