Have we have raised a generation of princes and princesses? Possibly a generation who will one day blame us for their lack of, or struggle to gain, success?
The generation that thinks we had it better because every generation blames the one before, as poignantly sung by Mike and the Mechanics. We raised them this way because like most decisions people make, it was made with the knowledge and tools possessed at the time.
For modern day parents, growing up when future possibilities were endless and the world was your oyster, made it excitingly challenging for some to strive for the heavens and the rest to at least live better than their parents did. But somehow we got the formula wrong.
Where our parents provided basics and values plus a sprinkling of affection, we gave luxuries, lifestyles and uncapped adoration. Where they gave us education, roofs and satiated stomachs, we’ve been overbearing carpark parents, providing extra servings of breakfast, lunches and suppers. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with providing for your family according to your abilities, but there is a thin line between giving and stifling.
The children have a right of reply, a blank slate to write their own script. What we forgot however, was the bare bones life they would need to be able to think for themselves. We thought by given them room, we would raise independent, broad minded thinkers of the future. I do not doubt that they have this in them, but we may be robbing them of the ability to challenge themselves and each other.
The transition from community to the nuclear family
Gaining independence from extended family and community forces has created smaller family units, walled in by the hope of a strict, proud and identifiable sub-culture. In seeking to be different however, family units have remained remarkably similar. They’ve somehow managed to produce copycat offspring who try daily to outdo each other on the one hand and also conform to one another’s miniature routines.
The more the children try to be different, the more they are alike. This break away from the way we grew up, in community has restricted children to indoor play. Their world views are blinkered as they shy away from what’s vital, community.
Because of this morphing into copycats, a group think mentality has emerged and in so doing, a lack of challenge, of healthy competition in each other’s talent. They now compete to be the best of their sameness and the older they get, they adopt a similar blueprint.
This self-made privacy is a kind of hypocrisy. Without relaxed outdoor and community play, private groupings are the new normal. Occasionally, they do spend time with extended family and close friends.
Entitlement sets in
Somehow, by providing so many guard rails and fewer opportunities for diverse interactions, over-parenting set in. Mom and dad are the center point. It’s kind of a Frisbee effect, the parent lunges the child forward but only to a point and he swiftly comes directly back.
There’s some warmth and comfort because for example, both mother and child have a loving and affectionate bond, but as the years go by, the independence and exploration that should come with it is hampered. It’s hampered by moms need to micromanage and by the child’s inability to make her own decisions.
When homework or sports kit is left at home, mom worries and when the phone rings requesting to bring it to school, she rushes to deliver it lest her daughter gets detention. If she gets into a fight at school, mom comes in to make a plea to the teachers, vehemently explaining her follies are a result of the ‘fact’ that no one understands her. The child’s overwhelming good intentions leave her smothering friends who take it the wrong way. Perhaps mom needs to let her be disciplined for her transgression?
The cycle continues. It becomes a pattern of an overbearing parent and a lack of accountability in the child. As the teen years settle in, the child’s once easy to handle requests become massive tantrums. Mom can no longer use the soothing voice and rare time-outs to appeal to her because she never learnt what it means to fail and not get her way.
This is when we realize that getting just enough love, comfort and support to survive was worth it. It made us work harder for the rest. Our children don’t need to work harder because everything is done for them. They just need to wake up and show up.
How then does a parent teach their child the ability to successfully manage life? To adapt to change, stressful events and to at times live with uncertainty in healthy and constructive ways?
Well, the first step is modeling resilience. Children learn what they see and you are it! Let them see you struggling to figure things out, failing and getting back on your feet. Unveil life for them so they see that sometimes things just don’t work out. There’s no one coming to the rescue but there is support during those difficult times.
As soon as they are old enough and can make sense of their surroundings using all their senses, experiences become their teachers. Be there to see them fall but hold back from always picking them up so they feel the normalcy of distress and discomfort. Tears and feelings of frustration come out when challenging situations happen and expressing them is part of going through it.
When the teen years are approaching, start discussing and debating about the world, give perspective and guidance and encourage them to explore outside environments, finding something beyond themselves to believe in. Selfishness and narcissism are scourges degrading our children’s ability to love others and build lasting bonds.
The more they see they are a part of a larger vision and goal, the more they can participate wholeheartedly in building a future. Habits are formed through repetition. Encourage structured habits that become routines over time, allowing flexibility when times are overwhelming but always reminding them to get back on track and achieve their simple goals.
Help them to understand that self-consciousness is important but it can stop them from seeing and helping others. Being part of the world means having the freedom to dream big, go for it while embracing humanity for the benefit of all.