"Deteriorating work ethic and massive sense of entitlement," my friend posted on Facebook yesterday, linking to the Deborah Kolben article in the New Yorker about how we're all fucking up our kids by spoiling them. The example set forth in this lazy, shitty piece of journalism not up to the usual standards of either Kolben or The New Yorker, was a straw-dog comparison of spoiled little shits in Los Angeles v. a 6-year-old girl from the rainforest who was awfully helpful and very good at housework.
The conclusion, assumed as foregone before the first paragraph was done, was that our kids are completely screwed, and the fault lies with us, the loving but inept parents who've botched the job of raising them. And thus, goes the entirely unproven argument, we have raised a generation of "adulescents" who don't want to get up early in the morning or buckle down to jobs.
Oh for fuckity fuck's sake.
This is only the most recent in a long, long line of "these kids today!" and "parents are to blame!" memes that interlock and whorl together back through time to Ancient Greece and beyond. "I'll tell ya, these kids today don't know how to kill a mammoth! All my kid cares about is looking at cave paintings and planning her Sweet Six!"
Meanwhile, we go through the high mass of citing all the usual suspects. A Nation of Wimps, which I like to subtitle A Bookful of Hysterical Anecdotes With No Basis In Reality. The Free-Range Kids Blog, which is all well and good within reason, but which is cited way too often by people who don't seem to actually read it (the author is much more nuanced than the polarized conversation allows). Miserably, I pointed out that my friend's son is perfectly capable of doing all the things "kids today" supposedly can't, and that she was judging people she had know personal knowledge of -- just this mythical set of shitty parents out there. "Worry about your kids rather than judging other parents based on bad science," I lectured her, and she (being a gracious friend who understood my passion was more about feeling than being as assy as I sounded) agreed that "these kids today" wasn't a productive approach. What she worried about, she said, was a societal shift away from accountability, and THAT is something I can get behind. But I'm not going to blame parents or say only young adults are responsible. This isn't a parenting issue, and it's not the result of too much kindness or love. It's bigger than that, and harder to solve.
I knew a kid whose mom worked the night shift as a nurse, and whose dad worked the day shift as a doorman. He was about the same age as the little girl from the rainforest cited in the New Yorker article. He was alone most of the day, and would come wandering down the back alley between our houses looking for something to do, something to eat, someone to wipe his nose. "Mom's asleep," he'd explain. These were working-class parents, they were doing their best and I am not shitting on them. I'm just pointing out that this little guy wasn't learning self-reliance, he wasn't becoming some amazing work-ethic-imbued superdude, he wasn't sweeping the campsite and asking how he could pitch in. He was lost and -- having dated my share of former lost boys -- I predict he'll spend his adulthood looking for the attention, care, and love he missed. In fact, the biggest "adulescent" I ever met was the product of a mom who largely emotionally ignored him in favor of non-helicopter parenting.
Meanwhile, I'm not going to apologize for noting that the atmosphere of benign neglect that stood for parenting in the '70s left most of my friends with pretty hideous stories to tell -- of being bullied, molested, or beaten up on the way home from school, stories that are sad, open-ended anecdotes rather than character-creating origin myths. Yes. I want to be present, available, and involved. Suck on it, Hara Murano.
And by the way, in the New Yorker article, Kolbert whines that she triiiiied to make her kids do chores, but they were baaaad at it and she had to clean up aaaaafter them. Boo fucking hoo. You really thought they'd get it the first time? You really think parenting is about setting rules and watching your kids run at them like hurdles in the 100 meter hurdle race? You put the hat on. Your toddler takes it off. You put the hat on. You repeat until you want to scream. Finally either your toddler gets it, or you get a hat with a strap, or his ears fall off. Similarly, you show your kid how to do a chore. He gets it wrong. You show him again. You have him clean up after the chore done wrong. You help him do this, you do not do it for him. You do this until you want to scream. Finally, either he gets it, or you change tack. If it were easy, Elizabeth, there wouldn't be parenting books.
There is no Nation of Wimps. There is a Nation of People Who Don't Check Their Sources, but that's not a function of bad parenting.
(And p.s., this Matsigenka tribe with the 6 year old who's good at housework ... "The average tribal woman marries around age 16, and women have an average of eight to ten pregnancies." So while you're wishing your daughter would be more like a rainforest child, stop to consider whether you also want her to be a Quiverfuller.)