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Kids Suck!!


People are going to see the title of this and have one of two reactions to it. One will be the knee-jerk politically correct reaction – “Kids do not suck. They’re precious little gems who should be nurtured and protected.” Fair enough. However, there will be a number of adults who will see the title and nod sagely.

We tend to over-romanticize kids almost to the point of hysteria. For the most part, kids are far from the precious little angels we like to portray them to be. Generally speaking kids are selfish and completely self-centered. They are all about themselves and their needs, above everything else and when they don’t get what they want they will either go ballistic or sulk.

Now, I get that a lot of adults are exactly the same way – kids are just more honest about vocalizing this. Incidentally, this is completely normal. Kids have always been all about themselves. There are exceptions of course – maybe your kid is a cross between Gandhi and Mozart but by and large most kids put Narcissus to shame.

I truly believe we have been doing our children a disservice for the past 20 years and maybe longer. We as parents have essentially stopped being parents and become facilitators. We read books about parenting; we watch talk shows and listen to experts. Some of what they have to say makes some sense and I’m not discounting everything that authors from Dr. Spock on down have had to say, but we have made a fundamental change in the way we raise our children.

We have become in general more concerned about a child’s self-image than we are about their self-discipline. We have sought to protect them from the harsh realities of life by telling them how special they are and de-emphasizing winning and losing to them. It’s not even how you play the game these days it’s all about just showing up.

To quote a movie (yes, my other blog persona creeps in from time to time) when everyone is special, then nobody is. While I do believe that everyone is special in some way, some kids are more special than others. That’s just the way of the world folks; some kids are born more talented, more mature and/or more blessed than others. That doesn’t make them better; it just means they have advantages other kids don’t have. There are kids able to compose beautiful music at the age of six; there are other kids who have athletic prowess comparable to athletes far more developed in musculature and experience. There is also the opposite; some kids, to put it bluntly, are dumber than rocks. Other kids are born klutzes.

And that’s okay. Not everyone can be Einstein, Michelangelo or LeBron James. What I object to is that kids who are in those leagues and should be touted as such often don’t get the support they should get in our zeal to make sure the other kids around them Don’t Feel Bad.

I just don’t get that. We try to insulate our kids from failure, but failure is the best teacher. It’s okay to fail, even fail often as long as you learn from your failure eventually. To tell a kid that trying is the most important thing diminishes the satisfaction of success. Trying is a very important thing to be sure, but success is more important. When a kid is successful, he or she should be celebrated for it. We are breeding a nation of people for whom success is unimportant, which is a recipe for disaster in a competitive global economy.

My wife and I often roll our eyes and say to each other “Kids suck” and that might be misinterpreted. We both love kids love our son and our assorted nieces, nephews and cousins. We love spoiling them, but we both have our eyes wide open about it. We are far too quick to gratify the urges of our children and teenagers. It’s much easier that way, after all. You don’t have to deal with the sulking, the whining, and the screaming. Just give them what they want.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t prepare them for a world in which gratification is not only not necessarily instant, it isn’t even guaranteed. I’ve blogged in the past about Generation Now, and how our children (and ourselves to be honest) have lost the value of working towards a goal because in this era, we place far more importance on instant gratification than on hard work and stick-to-it-iveness. Our collective attention spans have become almost microscopic. We can’t even read a newspaper anymore unless it’s got lots of pictures and graphs. Books? Don’t even get me started. Before too long, the only fiction people will be reading is graphic novels. After all, a picture paints a thousand words and we’re far too lazy to read a thousand words when a picture is available.

We’ve learned to parent by proxy. So many middle and upper class parents farm their kids out to soccer practice, scouts, tae-kwon-do, ballet and piano lessons, chess clubs, play dates. The objective is to keep them out of our hair so we can go about our own business, whatever that may be – be it taking care of the house, or relaxing in relative peace and quiet. We have become far less likely to spend time with our own kids, preferring that other adults keep an eye on them. We like to tell ourselves that this is for the benefit of the kids, but isn’t it true that it’s really for our own benefit?

In times past, we actually played with our kids. Play dates were unheard of – they just went outside and there were plenty of kids to play with and if there weren’t, they could find ways of amusing themselves. We’ve become paranoid about child molesters and other monsters that inhabit the domain of our hysterical imagination. Do we honestly think that predators of children are a new invention? They’ve been around as long as there have been children. However, in my day we knew who to stay away from, we were told “don’t talk to strangers” and in fact would not.  Kids hung out in packs, so they were far less vulnerable from being snatched and molested. They were far more likely to be abused by their own family members than by strangers.

That brings us to discipline. It’s a dirty, ugly word in our modern society. Raising a hand to our children is tantamount to selling heroin in schools. I’m not advocating beating our children until they’re black and blue – far from it. However, being the nation of extremists that we are, we’ve swung the pendulum the other way. Even giving our children a swat on the behind for behavior that is not only inappropriate its unacceptable has become uncomfortable for most parents. There is a role for physical punishment in child-raising. That may not be a popular stance, but I think the children of the era when that was acceptable are far more well-adjusted than the kids we are turning out today.

The problem with our kids is that they’re used to getting whatever they want. We have a problem as parents saying no to our children ostensibly because we don’t want to bruise their egos, but in reality because it’s just plain easier. It’s important to say no to your children. They need to learn how to deal with no. No is going to be with them the rest of their lives. It isn’t going anywhere and they’re going to hear it an awful lot. Kids who don’t know how to accept no are going to be ill-equipped to deal with the realities of life.

I do realize that all of the above mostly applies to middle and upper class families. Kids from poor neighborhoods have a whole other set of obstacles to deal with and while I’m not unmindful of them, I’m not really the person to comment on them. I’ve spent my life in the middle class, both as a child myself and as a parent and are therefore far more familiar with the issues that are endemic to that social strata.

We have a responsibility as parents to prepare our children to be self-sufficient when the time comes. It is not our jobs to be friends with our kids and it isn’t even our jobs necessarily to produce kids that are happy. Instead we are tasked with giving kids the necessary skills so that they may find their own happiness. We can’t give it to them, no matter how hard we may try.

I am sure that some folks are going to go all Dr. Phil on me and tell me that I’m being too harsh and unfeeling, that kids should be respected and not talked down to and that kids should never, ever be told that they suck. Well, to quote the good doc, how’s that working out for us, in general? Are kids turning out to be better adjusted and better prepared for life than their parents and grandparents were, or less? I think if we look at our nation as a whole, we know the answer to that question.

The solution to this is very simple. We need, as a nation of parents, to put a stop to the crap that we are doling out to our kids on a daily basis. We need to confront our children when their behavior warrants it, and also support and praise them when that is warranted. We need to stop allowing coaches, den mothers, videogames and television to be babysitters for our kids. We have to spend more time with them. Our bonds with our own children are as weak today as they’ve ever been. Throw away the books on parenting my friends, and just spend time with them. Learn how to say no, but learn how to say “let’s go out and play together.” Kick the ball with them, take them to the park, walk the dog. Hey, it’s good exercise (and our increasingly obese nation can sure use it) and the time we spend with our own offspring will be more precious to us than the time we spend chatting with our online buddies or reading blogs like this one (okay, maybe the last is going too far). 

We really don’t need advice from anyone on how to be parents. After all, we most of us had parents ourselves. If we didn’t, we know someone who did. Stop reading. Stop thinking. Just do it. It’s really that easy.

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