Saturday, September 08, 2007

The Worst Parents Who Suffer The Little Children A Little Too Much

Parenting must be on everyone's minds with school starting up again. I just finished reading the article The Worst Parents Ever by Tom McGrath in the most recent Philadelphia Magazine. Basically, it's covering some of the same turf that's been tilled recently about "hyper parenting". Parents are raising narcissistic, entitled little pigs (do I sound too much like Alec Baldwin?) who end up crushed under the weight of ridiculous expectations at college time. Kids these days are long on indulgence and extreme achievement expectations and short on character:

No less important, though, is that a generation of kids who’ve been overindulged, overprotected and generally over-parented seems to be overwhelmingly underprepared to live in the real world. “They’ve been exposed to so much more, and on one level, they’re so much more sophisticated than we were,” says Janet Walkow, a business consultant in Wayne and the mother of three college-age girls. “But they’re less sophisticated when it comes to street smarts. They’re not as mature.”

Not that you can tell them. A study released earlier this year found that the current generation of college students is the most narcissistic ever. In the study, psychologists asked students to respond to statements like, “If I ruled the world, it would be a better place,” “I think I am a special person” and “I can live my life any way I want to.” Two-thirds of the kids showed elevated levels of narcissism — 30 percent more than when the study was first done in 1982.
And it's all the parents fault. The parents raising this generation, says McGrath, are the "worst parents ever."

Father of four boys, Tony Woodlief explains in a Wall Street Journal editorial Don't Suffer the Little Children that there has long been tension between two parenting styles: the Rousseauians and Hobbesians. That is between Utopians and Realists. In one camp, those who believe children are sweet, perfect tableaus written on by a black, diseased society. In the other camp, people like Thomas Sowell realistically believe this:
"Each new generation born is in effect an invasion of civilization by little barbarians, who must be civilized before it is too late."
As a mother presiding over a house filled with pint-sized barbarians who have lots of barbarian friends, the tension between the two camps is all but lost. The Rousseauians have won, hands down. Between aggressive parents who defend their cretins misbehavior and the over-indulgent teachers working on self-esteem and imparting all the moral relativism that can be mashed into one lesson possible, the war is over.

The losers in the war, rather than surrendering have retreated. They've gone home. My kids are home, for the first time this year. And many friends kids are at home being taught by determined parents. I recently met a family with eight children ages 19 to 3 who were lucid, well-spoken, disciplined, helpful, obedient to their parents, dressed smartly and home schooled. Their father is an electrician, self-employed. Their mother is their teacher. They have done an impressive job. These kids will be successes not because they go to Harvard, though some might, but because they have character. Whether installing electrical systems, doing computer programming, becoming a nurse, or whatever their goals, they'll have the character to stick with it.

But what of the barbarians bred for superstar status? A friend is VP of human resources for a Fortune 500 company. I asked how the inter-generational workplace is fairing. How are those Gen Y 20-somethings working with their parent's generation the Boomers? She said that it's interesting how the younger people need excessive hand-holding, they embrace technology, but are almost incapable of seeing a project through on their own. The only model of work is team work. Individual contribution is too much pressure. The Boomers, who raised this generation, dislike the traits they imparted in their own children and complain bitterly to HR. Ironic, isn't it. She said, "They don't see it in their own kids, but they hate it in a co-worker."

I'm wondering, too, if the consequences won't come home to roost. Mr. Woodlief notes the eventual outcome:
Perhaps the fundamental purpose of schooling should be to liberate parents from the necessity of supporting our kids well past our retirement years. But regardless, this notion that humans are inherently angelic, and that it is society that corrupts them, is at the heart of much bad parenting, as well as inept schooling.
The parents who over-indulge may end up paying, and paying, and paying. Our society is so wealthy, a whole generation of rich children (and even the poor are rich) will live deluded and disappointed lives. Everyone will be like a trust-fund baby: soft, entitled, ignorant, arrogant, overindulged and hopeless. Imagine, a whole generation of Paris Hiltons and Lindsey Lohans.

And the proportion of disciplined, hard-working, patient, cooperative, intelligent children who grow up to be adults of good character will further diminish. At least, that's the pessimistic view.

No matter what, it seems to me that the parents who over-indulge ultimately end up ensuring that their child learns in the school of hard knocks and that's a tougher school than a tough, but loving parent.


Anonymous said...

Is there anything positive at all to say? This is so discouraging!

Anonymous said...

Does it have to be a dichotomy? Barbarians or angels? One certainly breeds narcissism, but the other undervalues the child as a human being.
Although children must be taught proper behavior, I've yet to meet a child (though I'm sure the oddball exists) that desires to grieve his parents.

Melissa Clouthier said...

Children do want to please their parents. They also want their attention. They also want what they want when they want it. Who doesn't?

The parents are doing their kids no favors by living through them, encouraging the narcissism and putting adult pressures on children.

Does it have to be a dichotomy? No, but more and more it seems there is one.

David said...

I bet that a little demographic analysis would find that narcissism, even within a specific age range, is highly dependent on individual background, in predictable ways. Hypothesis: a person who has ridden the K12-to-grad-school conveyor belt without any intermediate stops is likely to be more narcisstic than the person who has gotten off for work or military service.

Hiring people with the right character attributes is more important than ever, and companies would do well to diversify their sourcing. See my post A Note for Hiring Managers.

sandy said...

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