Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Kids Rule, Adults Drool?

Daddy's Gonna Pay for Your Crashed Car - U2 (mp3)
Alison Foley - Better Than Ezra (mp3)

Old dude writes a lengthy Weekly Standard column complaining that the world now revolves too much around them damn kids. Parents are too attentive, too nurturing, too overprotective, too omnipresent. Kids are too coddled, micromanaged and supervised. Back in his day, he had to combat rabid dogs for scraps of meat, and his parents would disappear for weeks on end when he was an infant, forcing him to fend for himself. It's not that his parents didn't love him, 'cuz they did. They just had better stuff to do with their time. Like, everything else.

He gives this theory a brilliant name, though: The Kindergarchy.

Unfortunately, as "Back in My Day" curmudgeonly as his writing seems, I can't help but think his central point is dead-on: for all the extra attention, time and cuddles we invest in our children, does it really produce better adults? Less selfish adults? More considerate adults?

Last I checked, employers are saying today's college grads need more praise, more incentives, more rewards just to do the same job their elders did just 'cuz that's what jobs are. That's the price of growing up with parents who convinced them they're the center of the universe: they actually believe it.

You're special.
Hell yes I am!
You can do anything you want to if you want it bad enough.
I'll be the first 5'3" NBA center!
Your place in the world is on top!
Duh! Now get the f*#k out of my way and fix me breakfast!

Reading Epstein's article splits me in two. Part of me feels sorry for the guy for not even knowing what he was missing. Poor kid, his parents weren't particularly nurturing, and they were only mentors in the abstract. But the other part sees my own childhood in his descriptions... (cue personal flashback)

By the time I was in fifth grade, I regularly rode my bike, along with one other friend, five miles, some on traffic-congested roads, to a movie theater. I rode it to school some three miles away. I had a TV in my room by the time I was 10, fully equipped with HBO and Skinemax. My parents didn't go to all my baseball games, nor did they spend tons of time training me in athletics (but then, I wasn't very good... which begins a chicken/egg debate). In middle school, my curfew was hardly enforced, and I would frequently come in at 3 a.m. from a late night role-playing extravaganza at a neighbor's house.... and I'm forced to acknowledge that we grew up with a less heavy parental guiding hand yet somehow emerged mostly OK.

None of these things were examples of stellar parenting, but I never thought of my parents as anything but wonderful, loving parents. Once in a blue moon I somehow felt my parents fell short of their obligations, but for every one of those moments I had 30 where I was grateful my parents were soooo much better, more loving, more caring, than someone else's.

Will reading this change my philosophical approach to parenting? No more than Supernanny, frankly. That show -- arguably the most valuable (and overlooked) public service commercial TV has offered in a long, long time -- should serve as the central reminder that the behavior of a child is the direct reflection of how their mother and father have raised them. For a while there was talk about how little parents influenced their children in comparison to peers and other external factors, but increasingly, common sense and surveys point to parents as the most important influencers (cute little small-town column) on their children's lives.

So what are we to do? We have great influence over our children, but we can also abuse it by overusing it. Damned if we do, damned if we don't, to some extent, which makes the intentionality of choosing our battles all the more crucial. Worst case, it seems picking fewer battles will rarely hurt the kids as long as we stay in the fight.


jbradburn said...

It's a fine line isn't it? I would argue to Mr. Epstein that part of the emphasis he sees is the distinctively Type A American gene kicking in. We all want our children to live up to their God-given potential...We want them to go to the best possible schools, have the best possible educational, athletical and cultural instruction.

Of course, you don't want to be Mr. Maranovich either.

Personally, I think a lot of the challenges of child-rearing arise out of guilt. Guilt over divorce, guilt over outsourcing a significant portion of a child's rearing to a day care. It's natural for a parent to feel bad about these things and to heep more praise and pay more attention as a result - and in effort to not believe that they are scarring the kid for life.

And who can blame a parent for being confused these days? Isn't your life supposed to revolve around children? Isn't that the right thing to do?

I don't know. I do know this - it's more important to be an effective authority figure than it is a friend for your child. (I think a lot of the problems start there.) A child should be taught to be respect those in positions of authority and their elders.

As for the world revolving around the child - well, that's a tough one..I've gotta believe that if your child respects his/her parents, and others, that's probably not a big deal.

jennifer said...

I just spent my whole day in a professional development presentation/guest lecture, and the speaker would agree with you. He calls kids today the "trophy generation"...they (and their parents) are used to them winning, being rewarded no matter the effort or talent. And he says schools will have to change in order to deal with this, with advancing technology, and with the world we live in today.

I feel good about how my kids are turning out. They're funny, do well in school, have a variety of interests, act mostly respectable around other people. I think they're going to be all right.

jennifer said...

Upon reading the whole column from Mr. Epstein, I agree that he's curmudgeonly. Maybe a little bitter that he had to wait until his old age to be able to spout off his opinion to everyone and talk about himself so much. Ha! But I still agree with him (and you) that there seems to be a generational difference in childrearing and that's it having some kind of effect on the kids.

This is unrelated to your central topic, but has to do with generational differences, but don't you think using the excuse that someone is "just old" to explain why someone may be prejudiced/racist/sexist is not good enough anymore? I've been pondering this for a couple of days.