Kids 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.