Social scientists love to study trends. These trends, whether short- or long-term, are recorded in articles or lectures, and they add to our general knowledge of ourselves and the world. Families, marriage, children, and parenting are among the topics most frequently studied. That’s a very good thing. Problems can arise when writers translate those carefully developed statistics, trends, or curves into newspaper and magazine articles, radio stories, or full-length books. Trends become final truths; small changes become the latest evidence of irreversible change.
I’ve been interested in what writers have been saying about parenting in the last few years. Perhaps you have read a story in a national magazine or seen a front-page series in your newspaper. Among the most serious of concerns is the notion that the children of the baby-boom generation (my son and daughter among them) have been raised by anxious parents who have been so protective, solicitous, and giving that their children are hopelessly incompetent.
This generation of children, who now are teens and young adults, have had an unusual childhood. They were surrounded by safety growing up: protected in the home with bumper pads and gates, in the car with car seats and air bags, and in school with teacher background checks, they had less dangerous childhood environments than their parents. On the other hand, the whole world has been at their fingertips as they have grown up with the Internet and other technological advances, such as cell phones and GPS. While parents spent their paychecks on their kids’ physical safety, the children were launched into the cyber world. Most parents probably saw this strange dichotomy but knew there was nothing much they could do about it. Parental controls on the home computer didn’t do a thing for the computer in their son’s friend’s bedroom or for the violence of PlayStation games.
Whereas their parents may have worked since they were 15 or joined the Army to pay for college, these children have been provided for. In our current recession, it may be a very long time before most teens work again. For those raised in the country or suburbs, a car is a necessity to get to sports practices, college courses for high school credit, or part-time jobs. These children of the baby boomers have been handed the things for which many of their parents struggled, and they may enter into college, technical school, or even grad school never having worked or paid a bill for themselves.
So here they are—children who have been physically protected, but mentally barraged. I see today’s youth with fewer social skills as girls who could pass for young adults insult and threaten their schoolmates on Facebook daily, and boys who spend hours playing video games are unable to comfortably interact face to face. Their parents have been called helicopter parents: those who hover. I know why. Technology made their children worldly, but not practical. It will take years to catch up emotionally.
But I have confidence they will. Life demands it. And soon enough, this generation will become the newest wave of young, married couples having children of their own, struggling to raise their children as best they can in a world without an operating manual.
Parenting is one of the most thrilling, exhausting, and fearfully good things that human beings do. It takes courage and years and years of applied self-control. Some who become parents shouldn’t; there are many ways to completely fail as a parent. It doesn’t take any effort to fail. It takes a lot of effort to get it right, and in this way, everyone who succeeds is an artist—someone who is passionate enough to keep trying to improve their skills and learn from mistakes.
Every generation in recorded history has mourned the next generation as difficult at best, and inept at worst. Adults, with the benefit of experience, worry about the amateurs who will soon run the world. Take time to read those articles on the study of family and parenting, and think about how you can improve your own skills. But don’t give up on the next generation just yet. These young people are works of art in progress, struggling to become what they are meant to be, with or without our help.
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