Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Smothered

“Research shows that people get more satisfaction from working hard at one thing, and that those who always need to have choices and keep their options open get left behind,” Schwartz told me. “I’m not saying don’t let your kid try out various interests or activities. I’m saying give them choices, but within reason. Most parents tell kids, ‘You can do anything you want, you can quit any time, you can try this other thing if you’re not 100 percent satisfied with the other.’ It’s no wonder they live their lives that way as adults, too.” He sees this in students who graduate from Swarthmore. “They can’t bear the thought that saying yes to one interest or opportunity means saying no to everything else, so they spend years hoping that the perfect answer will emerge. What they don’t understand is that they’re looking for the perfect answer when they should be looking for the good-enough answer.”

The message we send kids with all the choices we give them is that they are entitled to a perfect life—that, as Dan Kindlon, the psychologist from Harvard, puts it, “if they ever feel a twinge of non-euphoria, there should be another option.” Mogel puts it even more bluntly: what parents are creating with all this choice are anxious and entitled kids whom she describes as “handicapped royalty.”

As a parent, I’m all too familiar with this. I never said to my son, “Here’s your grilled-cheese sandwich.” I’d say, “Do you want the grilled cheese or the fish sticks?” On a Saturday, I’d say, “Do you want to go to the park or the beach?” Sometimes, if my preschooler was having a meltdown over the fact that we had to go to the grocery store, instead of swooping him up and wrestling him into the car, I’d give him a choice: “Do you want to go to Trader Joe’s or Ralphs?” (Once we got to the market, it was “Do you want the vanilla yogurt or the peach?”) But after I’d set up this paradigm, we couldn’t do anything unless he had a choice. One day when I said to him, “Please put your shoes on, we’re going to Trader Joe’s,” he replied matter-of-factly: “What are my other choices?” I told him there were no other choices—we needed something from Trader Joe’s. “But it’s not fair if I don’t get to decide too!” he pleaded ingenuously. He’d come to expect unlimited choice.

When I was my son’s age, I didn’t routinely get to choose my menu, or where to go on weekends—and the friends I asked say they didn’t, either. There was some negotiation, but not a lot, and we were content with that. We didn’t expect so much choice, so it didn’t bother us not to have it until we were older, when we were ready to handle the responsibility it requires. But today, Twenge says, “we treat our kids like adults when they’re children, and we infantilize them when they’re 18 years old.”

How to Land Your Kid in Therapy - Why the obsession with our kids’ happiness may be dooming them to unhappy adulthoods. A therapist and mother reports. - The Atlantic

Great article via @Maccanow

3 comments:

James said...

Kids should be treated like terrorists - Never negotiate with them and never recognise them as a legitimate power. When dealing with them shock and awe should be used and only when they are prepared to come to the table with legitimate demands should they be treated otherwise. Legitimate demands mostly come hand in hand with the ability to vote, consume alcohol legally and pay rent and bills.

However this is a case by case scenario and special treatment can be award for such activities as, washing up, completing homework, keep living quarters tidy and biohazard free.

Never on any account trust them.

Joli said...

Really enjoyed reading this article, but JM's comment above when I came to comment was an excellent surprise--and I believe both the article and the comment are spot on....

James said...

Joli,

It's how I was raised.... I remember my dad walking in to my bedroom one day (didn't knock as I didn't pay rent) with a pair of wire snips.

He unplugged the TV, stereo and VHS recorder (I had bought them with paper round money I had saved - no way would they have bought me them) and cut the plugs off them all.

You see my grades were bad and therefore to receive power I had to achieve a certain academic level.

No negotiations, no options, no ranting or screaming… the rules were the rules and they were fair.

Once my grades had improved the plugs were returned… I had to install them myself.

Still thought he was a git though