Why My Kids Are Not Impatient, Bored, Friendless, Or Entitled

Articles that talk about how terrible kids are these days are quite prolific.  Throw a stone anywhere on the internet, and you’ll hit one:  Kids are more entitled than ever.  More lazy.  More disrespectful.  And if this latest article is to be believed, they’re more friendless too.  They can’t possibly make friends it seems, because they’re too busy buried in their electronics, expecting life to serve them with a silver platter, and avoiding all human interaction.

Aside from tiring me (I mean really, you read one of these articles, you’ve read them all), these articles genuinely confuse me.

As a friend recently noted, “Where are all these unpleasant kids? I never meet any of them.”

And indeed, it’s true.  I know quite a lot of kids.  Besides my own four, I’ve spent a lot of time with their friends (Yes!  They do have friends); my own friends’ kids; kids we know through theater and sports and homeschooling groups; kids from the neighborhood; kids that come to our conference every year.  And by and large these kids I’ve had the pleasure of knowing are wonderful humans.  Kind.  Smart.  Creative. Compassionate. Well-spoken. Confident.  Ambitious. These are kids that blow me away with their maturity and their integrity and their grace.  These are not the kids that the above author talks about.  I don’t know where those kids exist, because it’s not in any world that I live in.

The article in question blames the  – theoretical – decline in kids’ attitudes and behaviors on five main things.  And yes, these are the same five things that are cited over and over in similar articles, and the same five things that need nothing more than a perspective shift to be disproved.

  1. KIDS GET EVERYTHING THEY WANT WHEN THEY WANT IT

None of us gets everything we want, when we want it.  Let’s just start there.  An unfortunate reality of life is that sometimes we just have to wait.   By navigating these situations together when they arise, your kids will naturally learn the art of delayed gratification…. without your having to manufacture contrived and artificial scenarios in order to teach them a lesson.  The article gives the example of a child being thirsty, and the parent offering up a vending machine.  This is bad, it tells us, because the child will never learn to wait.  But if I were thirsty, and there was a vending machine nearby, I would in fact buy myself a drink.  Wouldn’t you?  It is categorically unfair to hold kids to a different standard, especially under the pretense of teaching them a lesson.  Life (particularly time, finances, and circumstances) sometimes dictates that we must wait for what we want.  Helping your kids cope when it happens is a far more preferable, respectful, and kind alternative than making them wait just for the sake of making them wait.

  1. LIMITED SOCIAL INTERACTION

The author says,

“Kids used to play outside, where, in unstructured natural environments, they learned and practiced their social skills.  Unfortunately, technology replaced the outdoor time.  (Emphasis is mine)

This incredibly common refrain is built on the erroneous assumption that these two things – technology use, and outdoor time – are mutually exclusive.  Just a couple of days ago, I saw a meme that said, “I’m so glad I grew up doing this,” {insert picture of kids playing in a stream}, “Instead of this.” {insert kids standing and looking at their phones}. As for me, I am incredibly thankful that we live in a day and time when kids can do both!  My kids, right down to the nine year old, love their technology.  They do.  They also love being outside, being active, hanging out with friends, playing games, cooking, being creative… well, you get the idea.  Appreciating technology does not preclude an appreciation of other forms of socialization or activity.  In fact, I will go as far as to say that technology has been a tremendous aid in both forming and nurturing relationships.   And having a friend at your fingertips whenever you need one?  Invaluable.

Just last week, I was at an appointment with the 13 year old – who spends a good amount of time online, playing cooperative games with his friends – and the doctor commented on how smart and well-spoken he was.  Am I worried about his (or any of my kids’) socialization skills?  No.  No, I’m not.

  1. ENDLESS FUN

This was a fun one because the author directly contradicted herself on this point later in the article.  (More on that later) She says we have made life too fun for our kids, and that they’re constantly being entertained.  This of course leads to their inability to deal with necessary tedious tasks, and/or with the aspects of life that may be boring or monotonous.  She tells us we need to do a better of job of making our kids do unpleasant things, so that they’ll get used to it, because:

This is basic monotonous work that trains the brain to be workable and function under “boredom,” which is the same “muscle” that is required to be eventually teachable at school.

I’m not going to mince words about this.  I find the above to be incredibly sad and even concerning.  Boredom is a necessary muscle for learning?  After watching my four kids grow and learn over the past 21 years, I’d say it’s actually the exact opposite.  Learning in any sort of meaningful way requires engagement, not boredom.  It happens when the person doing the learning is interested, and invested, and indeed an active and “plugged in” participant.  It does not happen when one is bored and disinterested.  You know what makes an ideal environment for learning, no matter your age?  An activity that you find fun.  Does she have a point though?  Are there tasks in life that are boring or monotonous?  Well, sure.  But like the rest of us, our kids will learn to handle such tasks naturally and easily as life unfolds around them.  Unless you deliberately shield them from this aspect of living (which, I’m honestly not even sure if that’s possible), they’ll learn.

  1. TECHNOLOGY

Again with the technology.

My best friend lives in another state.  I talk to her every day, every day, thanks to … technology.  My two youngest boys have a group of close friends that they love to play games with.  When circumstances permit (they don’t all live nearby), they get together in 3D life.  And when they don’t, they play the same games together online.  How cool is that?  Technology has enriched our lives, not damaged it.  The author worries that access to so much technology keeps us from staying emotionally connected to our kids.  But again, the two aren’t mutually exclusive.  When a parent is paying attention and putting in the effort, it IS possible (probable even!) to have a close, connected relationship with their kids, and allow and appreciate and embrace their use of technology.

Finally, she worries that the highly stimulating world of video games makes the rest of life boring, and leaves kids “vulnerable to academic challenges.”  Which confuses me, because earlier she wanted kids to be bored?  In any case, we need to give kids way more credit than they’re being given here.  They know the difference between video games and real life, between online conversations and in-person hugs, between action movies and cars on the freeway.  And in the event that those lines are blurred, the answer is presence, connection, and assistance with navigating.  The answer is NOT throwing the proverbial baby out with the bath water.  Technology has been such an incredible tool in our lives, both for reasons of practicality and enjoyability.  Could we live without it?  Well, technically, sure.  But I’m so thankful that we don’t have to.

  1. KIDS RULE THE WORLD

I think this is the part where entitlement comes in.  Something that a lot of people fail – or refuse – to understand, is that there is a marked difference between letting kids “rule the world”, and respecting their autonomy as individual and unique humans with their own needs, tastes, preferences, and ways of interacting with the world around them.  Too many parents fall into the trap of micromanaging.  Of treating their kids like robots instead of people:  In goes a pre-determined set of variables, and out comes a perfect, obedient product.  Except kids are people and it doesn’t really work that way.  But speaking from (a lot of) experience, if you dare question the status quo on the matter, you’re accused of, well, letting kids rule the world.  Like so much of parenting, and of life, this is not a zero-sum game.  This kind of black and white thinking presupposes that there are exactly two options: 1) Control and manage and limit every moment of your children’s day, OR 2) leave them completely alone, and indeed do not be a parent at all.  But there are other options.   From food to bedtimes to clothing choices, it is entirely possible – and preferable! – to take a team approach, to give them choices and autonomy and respect, without leaving them to essentially raise themselves.  The author argues that “if we leave it all up to them, all they are going to do is eat macaroni and cheese and bagels with cream cheese, watch TV, play on their tablets, and never go to bed.”  First, no one is advocating for “leaving it all up to them.”  Second, it is categorically untrue that a child would never go to bed.  Finally, extremes and straw man arguments never helped anyone get to a closer, more connected relationship with their child.  And isn’t a closer, connected relationship the ultimate goal?  If it isn’t, it certainly should be.  Giving kids a safe, secure, and happy home… one in which they are heard, respected, and valued members of the family… is a great place to start.

 


 

In my house, and my family, my kids are real.  They have moods and moments and hurdles just like anyone else.  They are also kind.  They’re considerate.  They’re smart and respectful and responsible.  They are the kind of people I would choose to be around even if they were not my kids.

I don’t need to “train their brains” (the author’s solution to today’s problem children) to be anything other than what they already are.

I don’t need to micromanage them.  I don’t need to manufacture unpleasant tasks or situations in order to teach them a lesson.

Side note:  Under a heading of “Don’t be afraid to set limits”, she suggests  “converting things that they don’t like doing/trying into fun, emotionally stimulating games.”  I’m… confused, as this is in direct opposition to what she said in point three.

I don’t need to choose between technology and emotionally connecting with my kids, because the two can and do exist simultaneously.  I don’t need to train them to delay gratification, and I don’t need to force them to do monotonous work.

What I do need to do is treat them kindly.  Gently.  With respect and courtesy and in a manner that I’d like to be treated myself.  Does that ensure that they’ll be perfect, or that there will never be bumps in the road?  Well, no.  See above about them being, like myself and their father, human.

But I’ll tell you what.  My kids, as well as the vast vast majority of other kids I have the privilege of knowing, are individuals who are lovely, engaging, and a true pleasure to be around.   Maybe it goes without saying, but I find it incredibly sad and disappointing to know that so very many people have such a low opinion of today’s young people.  These impatient, bored, friendless, entitled kids the author writes about?   Maybe they exist – if they do in fact exist at all – because no one believed in them.

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1 Comment

Filed under gentle parenting, mindful parenting, parenting

One Response to Why My Kids Are Not Impatient, Bored, Friendless, Or Entitled

  1. Noor

    thanks for writing this! very well said.

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