The recent article in the New Yorker
by Elizabeth Kolbert has stirred up a lot of controversy. Many were sad to read such a disparaging article about an entire generation of American kids and responded with anecdotal stories of heroic youths or children who dedicate their time and energy to helping others in their community. Most parents I know nodded in agreement with the sentiments expressed by this article and asked helplessly to themselves, or out loud, “but what can we do about it?”
The article compares American kids to children of the Matsigenka tribe in the Peruvian Amazon. These tribal children are able to gather food, prepare it, clean up and assist the family in various ways – all by the age of 3. The text also sites examples of French youth who as toddlers can sit quietly in a restaurant and even bake cupcakes on their own. So what are we doing wrong? According to the many authors on the subject we are helping our kids out too much. We are creating a nation of “adultescents.”
There are some glaring omissions in this story of kids who cut grass and wood with a machete at age 3. I’m not convinced that a kid engaged in these types of tasks is necessarily a good thing. I do get the point though, and I acknowledge that in general, American parents are over concerned with the safety of their children, but this is the pendulum swinging too far in the other direction.
Admittedly, we have become a nation of over-parenters. Fear and a deluge of information have caused us to pull our children in even closer and to believe that they are eminently more vulnerable than ever before. But our pendulum as well has swung too far in the wrong direction. Our over-protectiveness and concern for our children’s future has robbed them of the mastery of their present. As the article states, many parents wait on kids hand and foot and preform tasks such as tying shoes long after it is warranted.
Every family has their unique story and every kid falls somewhere on the continuum of being a productive member of the family to spoiled rotten. But in general, what I have witnessed is a dumbing down of our youth. We have lowered our expectations to such an extent that the requirements for being a helpful and self-sufficient kid these days are pretty minimal. Has this been done to protect us from disappointment or is it just a wave of American culture that most parents have jumped on for fear of getting left behind?
I don’t think all is lost. There are some wonderful attributes of this generation of children, and parents can change their ways at any stop along the parenting ride, and those changes can and will make a difference.
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