of Wisdom for My 16-year-old Grandson
by Dr. John E.
Bonfadini, Ed.D., Professor Emeritus, George Mason University
My grandson turned 16 last month and his
parents asked friends and family members to write a few words of
encouragement and wisdom for a scrapbook.
Most 16-year-olds think they already
have all the wisdom they’ll ever need, but as a grandfather wanting to
keep peace and harmony in the family I decided to write a few choice
sentences. I’ve enjoyed sharing my thoughts with readers of Cooperative
Living and look forward to reading your response letters. Maybe a
16-year-old in your family will enjoy reading this article.
Zachary, one of your
great-grandmother’s famous sayings to me was, “John, you think you’re
smart, but you never learned what I wanted you to know.” She always
thought I was a bit disrespectful. Respect for your elders was high on her
list of important characteristics that she expected her children to display.
She was more concerned with how I spoke to her than she was about my ability
to do math and trig problems. I thought her ideas were old-fashioned and she
needed to be more in tune with today’s world. I’m sure you feel the same
way about some words of wisdom I and other adults may have given you over
Zack, you’re a good kid and I’m
looking forward to the day when you become a good adult member of society.
Having made that disclaimer, I think these words would have been good food
for thought for me when I was a 16-year-old. In the U.S., reaching the age
of 16 for most kids means they soon will be permitted to drive. Your mind is
probably working overtime on how to get enough money to buy a car. At this
point in your life, your first choice is a Beamer. A Mustang is probably
your second choice, and if push comes to shove, you’ll take anything with
four wheels. Now comes the hard part, finding a “soft touch” to buy it
for you. You could work and earn it yourself, but that isn’t the way
things are done in today’s world. Most parents or grandparents buy their
kids cars. How else are you going to get to school? What ... Ride the bus or
walk? ... Are you kidding? You don’t want to embarrass the family? You
need wheels, not embarrassment. Besides, you have worked hard attending
school for 10 years and you’ve suffered enough having your mother drive
you to school in the family van. It’s time for you to have control of two
tons of steel that can go 100 m.p.h. You have earned it by getting to the
age of 16.
In other parts of the world reaching 16
can have far more serious consequences. Many young teenagers must work to
support their families or may be carrying a gun fighting for some military
cause. Some, like the young man we support through a Christian Foundation in
Kenya, are happy to receive a goat. The goat has the same status as your
Mustang, but contributes far more to his family’s survival. One of his
major concerns is whether the family crops will get enough rain so the
family can have food for the year. He just qualified to attend high school.
In his country, it’s not a “right.” You have to earn your way, and
most students in his country don’t make the grade. Your grandmother sends
him far less money than she sends to you, but for some reason he writes her
more often than you do. She realizes you’re too busy writing research
projects for high school courses and just don’t have the time to write to
her. I’m starting to think your great-grandmother was right — maybe kids
just aren’t learning the right things in school.
About this time in life you’re also
getting more involved with girls. I know you already understand about the
birds and bees and may already have been bitten a few times. Some of the
other males that you come in contact with are saying, “Way to go, Zack”
every time you tell them about your dating progress. Your sister will soon
be 16 and I’m wondering how you’ll feel when one of your friends wants a
“way to go” after dating her. How you handle this part of your life will
probably have more to do with your overall happiness than the rest of your
formal education. This brings me to my next point.
You have taken a lot of tests so you can
get into college. Your parents have established an education fund so, unlike
your car-financing problem, you won’t have to worry about the money. One
question kids are often asked is, “What do you want to be?” Most answer
doctor, lawyer, astronaut, teacher, or other professional occupation. Seldom
are you given a good look at the real world when it comes to choosing an
occupation. Your qualitative characteristics will have a significant
influence on your success in the real world. Your great-grandfather said to
me, “Son, one day many people will have a college education and your
success is going to depend more on how you use the knowledge you’ve
obtained, rather than just having the knowledge.” He also taught me that
knowing how to correctly “dig a ditch” was as valuable as knowing how to
write a doctoral thesis. I take pride doing both tasks and hope you will
also see the value in all work.
You have experienced first-hand the
reality that things don’t always go as planned. The pictures of your
sister Madison, who passed away at a young age, are a constant reminder. If
you ever feel sorry for yourself, just look at what your sister Rachel must
do to enjoy each day of her life as she battles cystic fibrosis. Nothing in
this world is guaranteed — you must earn your way. The picture
accompanying this article stays on my computer so that I’ll be reminded of
an important fact of life — enjoy the sunrise.
Finally, a car transport will be showing
up soon. It has my 1995 Camry, which is your sixteenth birthday present.
Another important fact in life is — GRANDMOTHERS RULE.
God Has Given You This
Beautiful Sunrise. Enjoy The Day That It Also Brings.
— John E. Bonfadini