Parenting and “Me, Me, Me”

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Echo and Narcissus as Amaterasu and Susano in ...

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In my encounters with both university students and with younger children, I have found that the majority of young people these days are far more self-centered than previous generations. They really believe that the world revolves around them, that if they want to do something, they should do it no matter what it is, and that all that matters is “me, me, me.” University students line up side by side in the hallway and get miffed if I say, “Excuse me” and walk past them. Neighborhood children walk through neighbor’s back yards without permission, leave the fence gates open, and take whatever they can from the gardens–with no feelings of guilt afterward. They believe that it is their right to walk on another person’s property and to steal the products of his labor. They believe that everything is owed them.

This is no surprise since I have taught long enough to see such traits in people who now have college-aged children. When the parents believe that everything is owed them, and give without limit to their children without teaching about work and responsibility, it is no surprise that the children are even worse than the parents. The fundamental ethic among many Americans is “If I want it, I should have it.” Each generation from the baby boomers on has been filled with people with such an attitude.

It is probably too late for parents to do anything about children who are older–if they have a crisis in their lives they may change for the better. Parents should strive to teach the virtues of hard work, responsibility, and integrity, and set an example for their children. Selfishness permeates American society, but parents can do their part to stop the downward trend by rearing their own children not to believe they can take whatever they will. Many young people today have not succumbed to the trap of “me, me, me.” Hopefully the trend that began with the baby boomers will stop so that the next generation is more altruistic than the previous one. I am not optimistic, but hope is also a virtue.

The Pampered Generation

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Greuze, Jean-Baptiste - The Spoiled Child - lo...

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As a university professor, I teach a variety of students, both traditional-age students and older, non-traditional students. I have been blessed with some excellent students who excel. Others may not be the brightest stars in academia, but they give their all even if they make a C in the course. I respect that. There are students who are both academically lazy and lack the ability to be in college. These students do not stick around for long. But then there are students who have the intelligence and ability to excel or at least do well, but do not out of apathy–unfortunately that is what I see the most out of the current generation of 18-22 year-olds.

Sometimes this generation has been called the generation of “trophy kids.” Parents who lack the maturity to find meaning in their own lives attempt to live their lives through their children. Children are pushed into organized sports early on instead of being encouraged in spontaneous play. If they have problems in school, they are diagnosed with ADHD or some other disorder and given their drugs for the day to pacify them. Today’s children are protected from the normal hurts and pains of the real world. Many live in gated communities shut off from the outside world. Parents try to hide from them the facts of disease and death, and they do not teach their children the necessity of working for what they earn. Instead, everything they desire is given to them. When they face tragedy, such as a death of a family member or close friend, or when they face a breakup with a romantic partner, they tend to fall apart. I remember in November of 1982 when my granddaddy died. I always dreaded that day from my childhood on, when I’d dream he turned into a skeleton in front of me. But my senior year in college, the inevitable happened. I had a term paper due in Introduction to Old Testament. Despite the fact of heartbreak beyond belief, I returned to school two days after the funeral and completed the term paper (as well as my other class assignments) by the due date. It was difficult, but I understood that, as unfair as it might be, life goes on after a death.

But if the average traditional-age student suffers a similar loss, that student will be unable to function for a week or more. Sometimes the student may drop out of school the rest of the semester. Now if that student were in the work force, he or she would most likely lose a job missing that many days of work, even after a death in the family. Life has its joys, but it is also cruel. By protecting their children from the inevitable losses of life, parents have failed in their duty to prepare their children for life away from home. This, and not only economic problems, helps explain the glut of adult children returning to live with their parents. Their parents used to provide everything they desired–why not once more? The problem is that parents do not live forever, and they will leave behind someone who is another strain on the social-welfare system, someone who will contribute little to loved ones or to society.

Some students will mature despite their parents’ failures. Some students who were brought up the proper way will become apathetic and lazy. But most students who were pampered as children will desire to be pampered adults. They will do the least amount of work to pass in college, they will do barely enough to get by when they are employed (and many will not care if they are fired for inadequate job performance). They will not vote, nor will they contribute to the good of their community. Self-absorbed, they will not be able to maintain stable marriages. Two self-absorbed people will not a marriage make.

In I Samuel, God punished Eli, not because he was a bad man, but because he knew his sons were doing evil, “and he restrained them not.” That mistake cost Israel a battle and cost Eli his life. What will be the cost to today’s parents who create shells of human beings who are too lazy to work, too lazy to think, and too fragile to bear the bumps of life?

Fewer Video Games, Less Organized Sports, More Spontaneous Play

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Rural scene.

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As a child growing up in the 1960s and 70s, I often played outside. A limestone rock became a space ship, or an outcropping of rocks a mysterious planet. Sometimes some neighbors would come over and we’d play kickball, and I would go to their house and play football in their large front yard. Sure, there were the usual fights and shouts of “You cheated!” But overall, it was a wonderful experience.

Playing outside did not mean there was no time for television. I watched the Big Show on Channel 5 in Nashville at 4 p.m. many afternoons, especially when the old Frankenstein and Dracula movies were playing. And I’d watch Red Skelton with Granddaddy or To Tell the Truth with Garry Moore hosting. The world of my childhood was a world of wonder. But television was limited, and I was required to go outside–and I wanted to play outside, ride my bike, swing under the maple tree, walk through the field to a thicket of trees, hide in dark spaces where trees and bushes had filled in, forming leafy roofs.

Another part of that world of wonder was reading. I remember ninth grade—my parents would go to Fred’s on the square in Murfreesboro every Wednesday night. There was a shelf of paperback classics for a quarter each—Journey to the Center of the Earth, The First Men in the Moon, Treasure Island, The Prisoner of Zenda, King Solomon’s Mines. These adventures riveted me into  other lands and other times, both past and future. I wonder if many children today know the joy of getting lost in a book.

I am glad I am not a child today, in this world of video games and structured recreation. Video games shorten a child’s attention span and keep the child away from books. The games are in addition to constant television. And when a child plays outside, it is structured play—soccer moms and soccer dads take soccer kids to practice, play, and the child has little time for spontaneous play. It is not organized sports for children that is the problem—it is that taking away all time for spontaneous play stifles their creativity. By the time I see these children in college, they have great hand-eye coordination but many of them lack basic reading and writing skills. Very few students go outside to the picnic tables under shade trees even when the weather is beautiful. They are often holed up in their dorms or in bars. I’m sure that some college students did have a childhood with spontaneous play and adventures with reading. I’m afraid that they are not the majority. Will they realize what they have missed? Or will the new parenting become a cycle, with kids growing less imaginative and more ignorant every generation. If I could do my small part to recreate a sense of wonder in even one student in my class, teaching would be worth the effort. But I hope and pray that parents and school systems will understand the need for open play, for reading, for a sense of adventure and exploration that goes beyond a computer monitor or big screen television or soccer field.