Raising Kids in 'Merica

I recently stumbled upon 'Why are American Kids so Spoiled?" in The New Yorker and have been thinking about it a lot since.
The premise is that today's American kids are spoiled with too much stuff and too much authority. Parents have over invested in their children in almost all aspects of life, including trying to clear every obstacle in a child's educational career and making sure their kids are never bored or frustrated. This has led to a large number of kids who have a dangerous combination of incompetence (in terms of everyday living, since they were not expected to pitch in) and a sense of entitlement. This has been referred to as "adultesence."

The article goes on to compare American parents from France, England, and Matsigenka, a tribe in the Peruvian Amazon. There is a stark difference in the amount expected from kids, as well as how far these parents go to teach their kids how to deal with frustration and not getting their way.

Madeline Levine, a psychologist, on American parents:

“Never before have parents been so (mistakenly) convinced that their every move has a ripple effect into their child’s future success,” she writes. Paradoxically, Levine maintains, by working so hard to help our kids we end up holding them back.

I've been fascinated by this topic, since our kids are getting to an age where they are starting school and we'll have to start dealing with many of these issues as they grow up.

Luckily, Melisa and I have similar goals for what kind of skills we want to foster in the kids: independence, creativity, and good critical thinking/decision making/problem solving skills. I am really convinced those three areas are keys to success in what ever you choose to do with your life. Combine those traits with some aspects of Buddhism (empathy, discipline, and self awareness) and I think our kids will have a solid foundation for their future. After all, I think that's our job as parents: give them a solid foundation, love them unconditionally, and get the heck out of the way.

To date, there's no doubt we've been inconsistent while working toward these goals (with three kids so close in age, the quest for sanity prevails most often), but I do think we're getting better at focusing our efforts and how we teach these skills.

This summer's focus has been pitching in, as well as doing things for yourself. We've also been working on the big three behavioral issues that have cropped up over the years:

  1. Using words and a normal voice (no whining, screaming, or moaning!)
  2. Politeness (using your manners)
  3. Patience (waiting for your turn to speak and not expecting instant results)

We're slowly making progress on all three fronts, as well as encouraging the girls to make their own fun, rather than relying on us (or anyone/anything) to entertain them all of the time. It has been a transition, since we've dedicated so much time and attention to the girls over their lifetime, given how close in age they are.

In the end, it's all a learning process. Parenting requires an enormous amount of inner strength: patience, humility, and flexibility. I think good parents are the ones that persistently work on improving those skills and are interested in being a better person/parent. It's certainly the most difficult (and rewarding) challenge I've faced so far..

If you have kids, how do you balance the urge to protect and advocate for your child in all circumstances versus allowing them to fail, struggle, and learn on their own?

Author: Jason

I am a patient boy.