Kids These Days

BY  |  Thursday, Jan 31, 2013 11:00am  |  COMMENTS (5)

veruca saltKids these days are a lot more coddled than when I was growing up. I say that at the risk of sounding like my parents and grandparents, something we as parents try to avoid one way or another despite its inevitability. As far as coddled children go, my daughter is no exception. We cheer her every success, no matter how insignificant. Whether she reads a sentence in a new book or writes her capital letters neatly, I’m right there saying, “Good job.” I’m giving her a high-five and telling her how proud I am of her.

I’m not sure why we do this. Why we applaud and reward the ordinary. Maybe it’s because our parents—my parents—were tough on us when all we wanted was the occasional pat on the back. It is with my and my wife’s over-abundance of pats on the back in mind that I read about a recent study that shows college-aged kids consider themselves more special than ever before. They have a record level of self worth. But with that feeling of accomplishment, even though they’ve accomplished very little if anything, comes a feeling of entitlement.

That’s because growing up, they got spoiled. They received trophies and ribbons for just showing up. They received over-stuffed goody bags for attending overly-elaborate birthday parties. They never learned how to lose. They rarely if ever felt what it’s like to work hard and still lose.

Earlier this month, Olympic swimming champion Missy Franklin returned to high school swimming instead of turning pro. She is the teen who won 4 gold medals and five overall last summer in London. She decided she wanted to be a kid as long as she can, go back to school and swim with her friends. Parents of some of her competitors are crying foul. Unfair, they say. She’s too good. Their children deserve a chance to win. Since when do we exclude qualified people from competitions because they’re too good? When we’re raising a generation of entitled brats. That’s when.

Entitled brats who have access to technology at very young ages. (I’m not judging. As I write this, my daughter is watching a show on my wife’s iPad.) We are raising a generation that spends a lot of time with its head down, immersed in a virtual world when the real word is passing them by right in front of their blank faces. We live in an age when entire relationships, real or fake, can exist only online. (As a blogger, I admit to having people I consider friends even though I have never met them in person. But at least I know they’re real. I think.) We live in an age where people find it acceptable to post an apology via social media or on their websites. An apology that says, “I’m sorry you were offended” or “I’m sorry I was caught,” but never simply says, “I’m sorry.”

This is a society for which even the extraordinary is not good enough; one that yearns to believe the unbelievable. We crave fantasy and yawn at reality. Many of our children who do possess extraordinary talents are told so from a young age and grow up thinking the world revolves around them. They are coddled, protected and molded. They think tweeting an apology is acceptable. They think online relationships are more value than real ones. They value things more than people, except for themselves We can not allow the art of the face-to-face conversation to become lost and antiquated like the handwritten letter. If our children possess some extraordinary talent, we must be careful not to over-inflate them. Keep them grounded. We need more Missy Franklins. The more the better.

There are times when my wife and I placate our daughter just to avoid the drama. At bedtime, for instance, we might overlook her whining and chalk it up to her just being tired. But then there are times when we don’t. When we beat her at a game on purpose because she needs to know what it’s like to lose. Like when she can’t find Waldo and wants to move on to the next page and I refuse to let her. She needs to feel what it’s like to work at something and achieve it. There is no better feeling.

One weekend afternoon recently she was being particularly whiny and lippy. I didn’t like how she was talking to or acting towards us. I gave her a stern warning. She whined to me, “Don’t talk to me like that.” I sent her to her room. On her way, she told me, “now you made me mad at you.” That’s fine. She can be mad all she wants. If she’s not getting mad at me, then I’m not doing my job. Someday, she’ll thank me. Maybe even apologize for acting out. She definitely won’t be tweeting her apology.

Justin is a husband, dad, and writer who also finds the faults of society in his own parenting at Daddy Knows Less.

(Photo: Facebook)

5 Comments

  1. POSTED BY Gail  |  January 31, 2013 @ 1:26 pm

    My kids are in their 20′s now, but I REALLY disliked all those soccer & hockey trophies when they were younger. You DO NOT deserve a trophy for just showing up. And they got bigger every year. I always thought, “What will they get if they actually achieve something important?” A car?
    I just moved and threw all the trophies away with the consent of my kids. They really didn’t care about them. What a wasteful tradition.

  2. POSTED BY yougottalovehim  |  January 31, 2013 @ 1:33 pm

    I agree with nearly all of what you say. My kids are high school age and I still struggle daily with the whole competitive / self-esteem thing. I don’t want to be my parents, yet losing is a big part of life. And coming to terms with the fact that you are not the greatest creation G-d ever put on the earth is an important part of growing up. Hell, I know a lot of 50 year olds (particularly men) who have never been able to deal with that reality.
    While pats on the back for doing the mundane are dopey and probably counter-productive in the long run, so is the hyper competitive, win at all costs crap some parent spout. “My kid has to excel . . . ” Bla, bla, bla. I don’t tell my kids they need to win win win. Almost no one wins. I want them to punch and fight and care and do their best, but I don’t ever want to be one of those parents who when their kid comes home with a 97 says “what about the other three points.” As Woody Allen aptly said, about 90% of life is just showing up. And doing your best. Winning and being the best is not really what life is about.

  3. POSTED BY lisaromeo  |  January 31, 2013 @ 2:37 pm

    Excellent points.

    Even the kids are on to this. In 2nd grade my son came home with a certificate for being “Author of the week.” He tossed it aside, saying, “Big deal. Everyone gets to be it once during the year.”

    Maybe the whole self-esteem movement has done more harm than good.

  4. POSTED BY bioniclime  |  February 01, 2013 @ 11:42 am

    Teaching grit, determination, and character…. A great book about it is here:

    “How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character” by the appropriately named Paul Tough

    http://www.amazon.com/How-Children-Succeed-Curiosity-Character/dp/0547564651/

  5. POSTED BY fran liscio  |  February 01, 2013 @ 8:26 pm

    Our children have been burdened by life on Pleasure Island and I don’t think it makes them happy, I think it makes them anxious and overstimulated. They have been oversexualized and misled by movies like American Pie and a whole slew of other crap–movies where teens routinely humiliate, harm and wound each other. TV shows where parents spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a sweet 16 party that the other teens all pray to attend. There is a vulgarity and coarseness and hypersexualism to our society that buffets our children from a very young age. Perhaps some of the excess encouragement and praise comes from an attempt on the part of parents to compensate for the sad state of the profitable, corporate-driven world of movies, tv shows, and music that simply cheapen every single good thing in this world and subject the developing sensitivities of our families to cruel humor, explicit and drawn out violence, and crass, destructive sexual behavior. It is all so very, very sad.

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