It all started with a viral Huffington Post piece about Why Generation Y Yuppies are Unhappy. Several things happened simultaneously in my brain as I read the article.
I thought, “Yes, this is true!!”.
I thought, “Oh My God, this is why I find myself cringing on the sofa when I watch Girls“.
I thought, “Hmm.. I am somewhat jealous of this generation’s capacity for believing in themselves and their abilities so strongly and steadfastly that they will humiliate themselves on national television auditioning for American Idol under the mistaken impression that they have talent. But by God, they believe it and no one can tell them any different!”; and
I thought, “How do I make sure my own kids aren’t raised with the appalling sense of entitlement, specialness and, as they call it on the mommy boards, ‘snowflake syndrome’ which seems to be so culturally pervasive? The very stuff that is causing a whole generation apparent unhappiness?
Granted, that’s a lot of simultaneous thought for just one piece, but I’ve often written about what a loud and cacophonous place my brain can be. My husband and I discussed the article ad nauseam. I talked about it with friends, some of whom are a part of Generation Y themselves. I mulled it over. I tossed it back and forth like a salad in my head. Like a train wreck, I couldn’t turn away from the notion. I was fascinated and horrified, intrigued and appalled, grateful I’m part of Gen X, but also wishing I had some of the chutzpah that defines these young guns. And it was there in the back of my mind, buzzing about, when I chaperoned a field trip for my son’s 4th grade class not long after.
In case anyone has forgotten, I am an adult. My 9-year-old and his peers are not. And while I like his friends, classmates and peers, I also expect the respect due to me as the functioning adult among a bunch of kids that still have trouble remembering to flush the toilet and not using their fingers when they are eating. Let’s just say that after spending the day with nearly seventy nine and ten-year olds, I didn’t feel like there was a whole lotta respecting going on. But there was a whole lotta entitlement.
I left the school grounds that day mentally drafting a petition that the administration bring old school detention back into the mix. Writing lines, clapping erasers, stuffing envelopes, sitting with your head down on the desk, good old-fashioned Breakfast Club detention. I left thinking that many of these kids see no real difference between themselves and the adults who volunteered to get them out of class for the day. I left thinking that many of them have an innate sense of fostered entitlement and very little respect for the authority that comes with adulthood. Not all of them. Probably not even most of them. But regardless, I went on my angry way with the niggling sense that today’s children view adults more as large versions of themselves with ATM access rather than authority figures to be heeded. And if Generation Y is defined by a sense of ‘specialness’, what of these kids we are raising now, these followers of Generation Z? Are they a generation of mini sultans in training that expect a parental punkawallah at their beck and call? And are we, as parents, fostering it?
Buzz, buzz, buzz.
I am not playing holier than thou. I am worried about my own kids and the current culture of instant gratification and why should I if I don’t want to– I deserve better kind of thinking. My husband and I, though socially liberal, are pretty strict parents. I thought. But now I wonder if we are strict enough. My kids drive me nuts at times. They fight over who is the pot and who is the kettle if I feed them idioms and clichés. They compete in every regard, including but not limited to, whose socks pull up higher than the other’s (true story). But deep down, under the “IT’S MY LEGO PIECE!” screaming matches and the need for 965,823 reminders to cough into their elbow, I’ve always maintained they are good kids. They fight with each other, sometimes to the point of me threatening to find one of them another family, but they don’t argue or fight with other kids. They may personify Schadenfreude with each other, may pass one another blithely if one is bleeding on a street corner, but they are sympathetic, generous and respectful to friends. They may roll their eyes at me and need to be put back into their place when they get too big for their britches, but for the most part, they are respectful. To their friends, to their teachers, to their parent’s friends and other adults whose path’s they cross. I think. I hope.
But are they respectful enough? I am losing all perspective of what is normal and what is not. I am clutching at straws. I am even starting to regret not insisting on being addressed as Mrs. Last Name; a tradition that, until recently, I probably would have secretly made fun of.
I did not change my last name when my husband and I got married, so Mrs. My Last Name is, and will always be, my Mom. I guess I could have insist on Ms. My Last Name, but explaining Ms. to kids is tiresome. I had a hard enough time explaining to my future mother and father in law why I was keeping my name, I don’t need to explain my reasoning to a bunch of kids. But questioning exactly how my toddler’s just-learning-how-to-talk-peers should address me was never a conscious decision, it just seemed to be the way the river was running and I went along for the ride. Somewhere along the parenting trend continuum, parents went from being addressed as Mrs. Last Name to Hey First Name. This probably happened around the same time that time outs became popular, when the word play-date entered the parenting lexicon, maybe around the same time it became mandatory to invite the whole class to a birthday party and gifts stopped being opened until everyone was gone. Right around the time that parents started trying harder to be friends with their kids and not trying as hard to be parents.
And so I am left buzzing about something that seems minor but perhaps is just part of the bigger picture. There should be a separation between adult and child. Children, especially our own, are not our equals and they should not be treated as such. I am not suggesting that we bring back the rod or risk spoiling the child. I am not suggesting that we go back to the dark ages of parenting, before they knew about seat belts and safety helmets and the dangers of driving while intoxicated and second-hand cigarette smoke. But a climate of respect needs to be rediscovered and nurtured. Perhaps it is as simple as the way we are addressed, not as an equal, but as an elder.
Buzz, buzz, buzz.