Yesterday, I launched a two-part blog series on how leading kids has changed through history. I shared what’s changed and why I think we’ve shifted. It seems we, adults, really want the approval of our young people and we just won’t sacrifice their temporary happiness for anything—including preparing them to be disciplined adults themselves. It’s all about current happiness and pleasure not future fulfillment and wholeness.
This is not how it’s always been, nor how it is in some cultures today. A few years ago, Izquierdo and Ochs wrote an article for Ethos, the journal of the Society of Psychological Anthropology. They posed cultural questions like: Why do Matsigenka children “help their families at home more than L.A. children?” And “Why do L.A. adult family members help their children at home more than do Matsigenka?”
With the exception of the imperial offspring of the Ming dynasty, contemporary kids in the U.S. may represent the most indulged young people in the history of the world. Writer Elizabeth Kolbert notes, “It’s not just that they’ve been given unprecedented amounts of stuff—clothes, toys, cameras, skis, computers, televisions, cell phones, PlayStations, iPods. (The market for Burberry Baby and other forms of kiddie “couture” has reportedly been growing by ten percent a year.) They’ve also been granted unprecedented authority.”
“Parents want their kids’ approval, a reversal of the past ideal of children striving for their parents’ approval,” Jean Twenge and W. Keith Campbell, both professors of psychology, have written. In many middle-class families, children have one, two, sometimes three adults at their beck and call. This is a social experiment on a grand scale, and a growing number of adults fear that it isn’t working out so well. According to one poll, commissioned by TIME and CNN, “two-thirds of American parents think that their children are spoiled.”
But who’s really to blame? Hmmm. We can’t just say it’s the kids.
Let me suggest some key ideas for teachers and parents to follow as you lead young people:
1. They need to hear the word “watch.”
They need an example from you more than they need entertainment from you. When kids lack direction or discipline, they don’t need more diversion. What they need is an example that demonstrates how to grow wise as they grow up.
2. They need to hear the word “practice.”
They need long-term preparation more than short-term happiness. Kids have plenty of amusements that offer pleasure; they need help getting ready for a not-so-pleasurable future where they’ll need to pay their dues on a job for a while.
3. They need to hear the word “no.”
They need a mentor more than a buddy. I decided years ago—my kids have lots of buddies. They have only one dad. That’s me. So I must play the card that isn’t always fun, but it earns their love and respect in the future.
4. They need to hear the word “wait.”
Most things happen quickly, with little wait time. Our ability to delay gratification has shrunk. I think it’s important for parents, teachers, coaches, employers and youth pastors to build wait time into the game plan for their young people, as a rehearsal for adult life.