The most repeated phrase in Dr. Montessori’s writings on Adolescence is “economic independence.” By Adolescence, the child has largely achieved functional and intellectual independence, and they enter into an intense phase of development much like that of toddlers. They experience major physical changes and expansive emotions, in which they grapple deeply with their identity in the midst of society. They desire authentic contribution to the world around them, and the best way to do that is through an introduction to independent commercial and social engagement.
According to Dr. Montessori, Adolescents “…derive great personal benefit from being initiated in economic independence. For this would result in a ‘valorization’ of his personality, in making him feel himself capable of succeeding in life by his own efforts and on his own merits, and at the same time it would put him in direct contact with the supreme reality of social life. We speak therefore of letting [the Adolescent] earn money by his own work.” The Adolescent needs affirmation that she can make real and valuable contributions, and giving her the opportunity to do so through economic independence can be powerful.
IN THE CLASSROOM
The Adolescent Program provides exposure to this experience through their Micro-economy, in which each student contributes effort, both manual and intellectual, toward raising funds for their programs and trips and, more importantly, toward their genuine experience in production and exchange. As you may have already seen in our pictures, the Adolescents have been pouring (no pun intended) much effort into their honey-bottling process as a portion of that Micro-economy. In producing honey for sale, the students have experienced the manual labor required to yield a product from the land, make an informed decision on pricing, and see the result of their labor through sales at the Pumpkin Hunt and other events. Additionally, students take on specific roles in this process so that they can individually contribute to commercial and social exchange in unique ways.
Throughout the year, students plan ways to bolster their economy, delegate roles for these projects, and manage the research necessary to make it all happen. The guides are there as advisors who engage in dialogue with students as they grapple with their newfound independence and navigate what it means to be an active member of society.
Though, of course, the child in your home has not achieved full economic independence, consider ways in which your child can participate in your family’s economy in an authentic, hands-on way. As a stakeholder in family activities, perhaps your Adolescent can regularly manage a portion of the budget for family outings or her own personal expenses. Using the boundaries that you set (time, budget, number of people, etc), invite her to plan and execute a full meal or even a vacation. If there is an outdoor project that needs doing, your adolescent child is probably the one to do it. Planning and actually constructing something, even just a new IKEA dresser, satisfies both the need for intellectual stimulation and for exerting physical effort. Don’t be afraid to let your child be a decision maker and a stakeholder in your family’s regular operation as you see fit; she wants (and needs) validation that she can make an impact on the world around her.
Economic independence serves as validation for the Adolescents’ individual efforts and gives them confidence to enter into the greater social environment. When given the opportunity to practice this both at home and at school, the Adolescent grows all the more confident in her ability to be self-sufficient and more eager to step into her future.