Jar of Marbles – The “Life Perspective” Talk

By May 12, 2015 January 11th, 2019 Adolescence, Education, Parent-child Communication

The sound of the front door shutting announced that Ricardo was home from practice. His dad met him in the hallway.

“How was it today?”

“It was okay. We did a lot of conditioning drills and I’m beat.”

“Good stuff. I’ll bet you’re thirsty. Come on into the kitchen and let’s have a soda. I want to show you something.”


Ricardo’s dad got two cold cans from the refrigerator.

“What do you want to show me?”

His dad grabbed a big Mason jar from the counter and set it on the table.


“What’s this?”

“It’s a jar with 90 marbles in it.”

“Where’d you get it?”

“I bought the jar and the marbles at Wal-Mart. Something you said the other day got me thinking. I wanted to talk about it, and I thought this would help.”

“What? Am I in trouble?”

“No, Ricardo, not at all. What you said was, ‘I’m not a kid anymore.’ I got to thinking about that, and I decided I agree with you.”

“Cool. But what’s with the marbles?”

His dad reached into the jar, retrieved 12 marbles and set them on the table. “The 90 marbles represent 90 years – a long, healthy lifetime. I hope I live that long, at least. I hope you do, too. These twelve marbles here are your first 12 years – your early childhood. You’re right. You certainly aren’t a kid anymore. Those years are behind you now.”

“I get it,” said Ricardo.

His dad retrieved six more marbles and set them next to the twelve. “These are your middle school and high school years. Your teen years. You’re not a kid anymore, and yet you’re not an adult either. You’re in between. Adolescence. You’re growing up and you’re preparing for your future life as an adult. This is what’s happening right now.”

Ricardo smiled. “Uh huh.”

His dad fetched four more marbles and set them next to the group of six. “Here’s something you may not know. After high school, adolescence continues for four more years. You’ll continue to grow physically and mentally for at least four more years after high school. Your body and your brain won’t be fully mature until you’re in your early twenties.”

“Hmmm. Hey Dad.”


“Why are you telling me this? Couldn’t you just tell me without the marbles?”

“Oh sure. But the marbles make it seem more real. Why do you think I’m telling you this?”

“I have no idea.”

“Well, think about it for a minute. What’s the lesson here?”

Ricardo smiled and looked at the marbles.

“Like you said. I’m not a kid anymore. But I have a ways to go before I’m grown up.”

“That’s right! Any other thoughts?”

“Hmmm. I’ll still be growing up after high school?”

“Right. But take a look at the jar. What do you see?”

“A whole lot of marbles.”

“That’s right. A whole lot more than what’s on the table, right?”


“Fella, the marbles in the jar are your adult life. Take a good look at it, Ricardo. That’s a lot of marbles. A lot of years.”


“By comparison, your time in high school is going to seem like a pretty small slice of your life. I know all the stuff going on in your life right now is huge. But the big show is what comes after that.”

“I guess so.”

“How many marbles are left in the jar?”

“I don’t know.”

“Guess. Do the math.”

“Okay. Twelve and six and four, that’s 22. Subtract that from 90 and that leaves 68.”

“Exactly. Sixty-eight years as an adult, plus or minus. That’s all you’re going to get. It’s a lot, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, I guess so.”

“Sixty-eight is definitely a lot, but it’s not 100. I’m 43, so that means I’ve only got 47 more adult years left. At least I hope I get that many. I’m not going to live forever. And neither are you, Ricardo.”

“So? I know that. Why are you making a big deal about it, Dad?”

“Because when you say you’re not a kid anymore, you’re absolutely right. What that means is that you’re putting kid stuff behind you and getting on with being an adult. You can see that high school is only a brief period in the grand scheme of things, so you have to take getting ready to be an adult seriously. You have a lot to learn, and there’s not much time.”

“I make good grades.”

“Yes, and I’m proud of you for that. It means you take learning seriously. Along the way, you’ll be learning how to learn, and how to think. Social skills, effective ways to deal with people. And there are quite a few life skills it would be good to have before you leave home. I can help you with some of that. And you want to be strong as a person. I’ll bet being on the track team is making you both physically strong and stronger as a person.”

“I like it.”

“And you have those four years after high school, too. We’ve been talking about college. Maybe that’s what will happen. It’s not the only way to keep growing, but it’s what we want for you. Some kids will go right into a job, a trade or something. Others will go into the service. It can be a huge growing up time, if you make the effort.”

“Don’t you think I will?”

“Yes, I do. But a lot of young people don’t. You know plenty of kids in high school who are just coasting. Some won’t even graduate. Even in college, you’ll see kids who are mainly just having a good time and doing the minimums.”

“I guess. So what are you going to do with these marbles?”

“Well, you’re 15 now, so let me take these 15 marbles and put them in a plastic bag. The rest will go back in the jar. Seventy-five marbles in the jar.”

“The rest of my life is a jar of marbles,” Ricardo said, smiling.

“Well, it’s a reminder. So here. This baggie and the jar are yours. Put it in your room somewhere, and when you look at it remember that you’re not a kid anymore, but a really good guy who’s becoming a man. It’s your life, your journey, and you’re in charge. What you do is up to you. Your mom and I want to be there with love and support, but what you actually end up doing is really up to you.”

In another post, I feature an excerpt from the book, Conversations with the Wise Uncle, in which another adult takes a different approach to this conversation.

More truth-telling about adolescence.

More about this in my new book: How Your Teen Can Grow a Smarter Brain.

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