Kids (and) These Days

When adults sit around talking for a significant length of time, one conversation is bound to come up: the state of this generation. Generation Y, those born sometime between the 1980s-2000, is a complicated generation. This is the generation of the spoiled, the overparented, and the narcissistic.

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While I am a part of this generation, I have also worked extensively with children from this generation. My high school students were from Generation Y. The girls in my small group were from Generation Y. The youth group was a bunch of Generation Y kids, and most of the leaders were too.

I am not concerned right now with defending this generation (though from all my experience, I see more thoughtful kids today than narcissistic ones), but I am concerned with how the previous generation speaks of this generation and what they perceive the problem to be. The parents and grandparents of Generation Y lament the state of today’s youth, and yet they, if effect, produced today’s youth. However, overparenting–a symptom of the problem–is often seen to be the problem itself. After all (they claim), who gave Generation Y trophies that supposedly made them think they were good when they were only mediocre? Who bought into the notion that constant interaction was needed in order for a baby to grow up to be intelligent? And who throws lavish parties for one-year-olds complete with bizarre and expensive favors?

As a new parent, I am concerned with how I raise my child. I don’t want to be paralyzed thinking that babywearing or on-demand nursing will make him needy or overly dependent. I don’t want to be afraid that since he isn’t sleeping through the night at six-weeks-old he will grow up to have no self-discipline. And conversely, I don’t want to feel guilty for not enrolling him in expensive programs from a young age. However, these small things are not the issue.

My mom stayed at home with me and my siblings and interacted with us all the time. We usually played on the kitchen floor while she cooked and talked with us. This did not cause us to be in need of her constant presence or of continual input. Nor did this make her a helicopter parent in the future Rather, it gave us a safe, loving framework to grow out from. A friend and I were talking one day about the work our parents did so we could attend private colleges. We both worked during college, but this work was not as necessary for us or as intensive as it was for many of our classmates. Rather than becoming selfish and lazy with no concept of money, this propelled us to work harder in order to make their sacrifice worth it. We both have had no problem with hard work and the concept of sacrifice and saving.

Parents should not be afraid of loving or caring too much or even being over-involved. Parenting is intensely personal, and each child is obviously unique. The bigger issue to me seems to be the larger social structure–the decline of the family, the busyness of life today, the incessant input of social media. Instead of lamenting the changes, parents need to parent in light of them.

As it always does in twenty years, the world has changed dramatically. And while it is nice to sit around and think about how “In the old days, we had an after-school snack and then my mom wouldn’t see us until dark because we were playing outside with our friends,” most kids today don’t have a safe place to play outside until dark. What’s more, most kids today are so busy that they don’t get home until dark. Whose responsibility is this? How can one parent in such a dramatically changing society?

I read this paragraph in an article recently appropriately entitled, “No Generation Owns Suffering and Sacrifice.” The author says,

This generation has seen every major institution in the United States fail. They’ve watched the Catholic Church implode, the government grind to a bickering, ludicrous standstill, our corporations fleece their shareholders (their grandparents, and in some cases parents, gave us “greed is good.” How is that for self-involved and narcissistic?), the United States has been at war for over half their lives, and this generation has watched Lance Armstrong and their baseball heroes juice their way to victories.

Children also have to deal with the social media and constant information streams. As I was growing up, email was new (and came with those AOL dial-up tones). As I started dating, people had just started texting. Now email is almost a thing of the past. Students are constantly available–even to their parents! I had a student receive a low grade on a first period paper, and by fourth period, I had an email from the parent setting up a time to meet after school. This was not a one time occurrence or just one family. New studies link social media to depression, and most parents don’t realize that far from being apathetic to the world, their kids are intensely passionate about issues in Uganda or about the Trayvon Martin case. Children are also prone to misinformation due to being constantly inundated with information and opinions. Sometimes this causes them to disengage, operating from a skeptical view.

Closer to home, Generation Y comes from broken families. Kids today deal with divorce and remarriage, parents too busy to even know what their children watch on television, and parents burdened by chronic guilt because they are trying to balance family life and work responsibilities plus the busy schedules of their children that often rival their own. What the Baby Boomers and those from Generation X don’t reveal is their own brokenness and their own parenting mistakes. Many people I come across in Generation Y are from homes that have some type of brokenness. Whether it is divorce, cancer, addiction, or negligent parents, many kids today never had a safe place to start with.

These aren’t excuses, but I am concerned with how we refuse to take responsibility for our part and how we get caught up in assigning blame to one particular methodology of child rearing or one fad that comes along. We need to focus on operating responsibly and positively in a changing world.

As a teacher and someone who has worked with youth, I have to ask: do you know what your child watches on television? Do you know about the information deluge that overtakes your child on the Internet? And more positively, do you know how passionately your child cares about social issues? Do you realize your child might not do the assigned reading, but he will perk up when we discuss the election (something students did not use to know about unless they watched the news)?

The world changes. This is for good and for bad. One parenting philosophy is not the problem. Rather it is an attempt at a solution–at a way to get a grip in a changing world. Don’t be afraid of loving your child too much or about the fact that she refuses to eat vegetables more often than not.

Close relationships with parents rather than flinging kids out into the world–that’s no problem. Harshness and tough love are often overrated. Steady, loving parents produce steady, loving children which is necessary so that kids are able to deal with these days.

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