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I woke up early one morning shortly after Christmas and lay in bed, worrying. You know what that’s like. Things always seem darker and more dire during the wee hours of the night.

I was worrying about our older daughter’s future. She just turned 16, you see, and now we’re facing things we haven’t had to worry about before. How to get her driver’s license; making sure her homeschooled academics are suitable to achieve her future plans; making sure she continues to hold her moral standards high and clean.

And that’s just the immediate future. I also worried about her long-range future. Will she be able to avoid some of the pitfalls common to young people these days? Will she find a worthy young man to marry? What kind of personal choices will she face that could have a long-term impact on her future?

This early-morning worrying was exacerbated by a tragic situation that has left our small and close-knit community reeling. A young 18-year-old woman (who graduated last year with our neighbor’s son) made the mistake of dating the wrong kind of man – older and jealous and obsessively controlling. She was killed on Christmas Day, shot in the head.

Three days before her death, the young victim assured her worried mother that just because her boyfriend choked her and held a gun to her head, it meant nothing. “I know he really loves me,” the victim said, dismissing her mother’s concerns.

My worries for our daughter’s future receded with the light of day. Our teen is a young lady of excellent common sense. She recognizes many of the mistakes her peers make and is determined not to follow those paths. Instead, she’ll blaze all new paths of mistakes and woes of her own. We all do. That’s life.

But unquestionably some paths we blaze are more destructive than others. It’s one thing if the wrong path leads to, um, a bad grade on your history test. It’s another thing if that path leads to drug addiction or out-of-wedlock pregnancy. Or dating a controlling older man who later kills you as a method of ultimate control.

This week I saw an article entitled “Six Tips From Your Future Self” by Dr. Karl Pillemer. The premise was that if you could meet your older and (presumably) wiser self (say, 50 years from now) and ask for advice, what would it be? Since clearly such a scenario is impossible, Dr. Pillemer did the next best thing: He canvassed 1,200 older Americans (ranging from 60 to 108 years) and asked what advice they would give the younger generation. Specifically they were asked, “What mistakes should younger people avoid?” and what are people “most likely to regret when they get to the end of life?”

What I liked about this article was its logic and good sense. For heaven’s sake, if anyone has been-there-done-that, it’s the older generation. Yet in keeping with human nature, the younger people in our society continue to dismiss the older generation as a bunch of fuddy-duddies who can’t possibly have any knowledge or insight about today’s issues, problems and woes.

Right.

So what are the six things the elders advised against? 1) putting too high a priority on money; 2) getting into debt; 3) worrying too much; 4) excessive drinking and drugs; 5) rushing into marriage before you’re ready; and 6) passing up opportunities.

These are, I think you’ll agree, sensible and logical precautions. So many of life’s problems can be linked to one or more of these mistakes. If only our society were in the habit of heeding our elders, how much misery could be avoided?

But no, too many people are blind to their wisdom. “You blame everything on our generation,” my younger daughter recently read on a teen forum. “But stop and think: who raised us?”

This unknown teen is right, of course – up to a point. The older (or in my case, the middle) generation must continue to use due diligence in raising our children. We must caution the younger generation entrusted to our care about the perils and pitfalls they may encounter. Or, as I’m fond of phrasing it, we must teach them to use the right tools.

But at some point it’s time to hand them the toolbox and wish them luck. And that’s what this online teen is missing: the tool of personal responsibility. In other words, at what point must people begin to take responsibility for their own actions, decisions and behavior? As an adult, you can try to blame everything and everyone else for your woes. But in the end it’s up to you to overcome them.

 

But frankly that position is not encouraged in today’s society. Rather than reward intelligent choices and mature behavior, we reward dumb choices and immature behavior. We elevate victimhood to a godlike status. We make heroes out of people who do dumb things. We pay them unearned money, give them reality TV shows and otherwise kick that toolbox out of sight.

But the millions of young people who grow up to become mature and responsible adults are not lauded. They quietly live their lives, going about their business, contributing toward the greater good, without making news headlines. These are the real (if unsung) heroes. These are the younger generation we should be applauding and encouraging.

I can’t help but wonder – if that young lady who was killed on Christmas Day had heeded the advice of those around her (concerned mother, concerned friends), would she be alive today? If she had lived into her old age, what kind of advice would she have been able to offer a younger version of herself?

As we head into the New Year, perhaps it’s time to stop making unfulfillable resolutions and decide instead to take a simple course of action: Fill the year with good, sound choices and decisions.

Let’s make our elders proud of us. Let’s make ourselves proud as well. Happy New Year.

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