Food For Thought

Words of Wisdom for My 16-year-old Grandson

by Dr. John E. Bonfadini, Ed.D., Professor Emeritus, George Mason University

John Bonfadini

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 the years.

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

What’s Your View?

Obviously, there are at least two sides to every issue. Do you have a different view? This column is meant to provoke thought, so keep sending comments. Each one is read with the utmost interest. Send e-mail to:, or send written responses to the editor. Mail will be forwarded to the author.




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