Child rearing. Education. Mentoring. It’s all changed in our lifetime, and especially when compared to cultures in history. How did parents in different cultures train young people to assume adult responsibilities? When you examine past cultures in America, Europe and Asia, you find a handful of common markers that describe how adults led kids:
- They led by principles – Guiding maxims or beliefs determined their leadership.
- They based their leadership on the belief there was right and wrong behavior.
- They felt that discipline was the first trait a child must learn.
- They built a desire in youth to interact with adults and to become adults.
- Their greatest hope was that children become adults who contribute to society.
Today, this is just plain rare. The New Yorker reports that in a recent study of families in L.A., no child routinely performed household chores without being coerced. Many of the kids had to be begged to attempt the simplest tasks; often, they still refused. In one fairly typical encounter, a father asked his eight-year-old son five times to please go take a bath or a shower. After the fifth plea went unheeded, the father picked the boy up and carried him into the bathroom. A few minutes later, the kid, still unwashed, wandered into another room to play a video game.
In another encounter, an eight-year-old girl sat down at the dining table. Finding that no silverware had been laid out for her, she demanded, “How am I supposed to eat?” While the girl clearly knew where the silverware was kept, her father got up to get it for her.
In a third episode captured on tape, a boy named Ben was supposed to leave the house with his parents. But he couldn’t put his sneakers on, because the laces were tied. He handed one of the shoes to his father: “Untie it!” His father suggested that he ask nicely.
“Can you untie it?” Ben replied. After more back-and-forth, his father untied Ben’s sneakers. Ben put them on, then asked his father to retie them. “You tie your shoes and let’s go,’’ his father finally exploded. Ben was unfazed. “I’m just asking,’’ he said.
What have we done? Why have we changed? Let me suggest a few ideas:
1. We now want the approval of our young people more than ever. They represent what’s cool and hip and relevant. We desperately want to be that too, as adults.
2. We have few or no guiding principles. Many of us were raised when principled living was fading or old fashioned. So, we just make it up as we go along.
3. We feel a little messed up ourselves, so we have no moral authority to ask our kids to do what’s right. We’d have to say to them: “Do as I say…not as I just did.”
4. We don’t know how to train. We lead for the short-term not the long term. We want everyone to be happy today—so we surrender the idea of training kids for the future.
If you’ve read Artificial Maturity, you know I offer a game plan to overcome our missteps as adults. If you haven’t you can grab a copy by CLICKING HERE. Check back tomorrow as I offer part two of this blog theme.