My answer is a resounding – NO!
Not any more than our parents or the parents of our parents did!
I am in touch with a nice cross-section of 9-29 year olds and I will say this as strongly as any truth I can say: they are not any flakier than we were, not any more prone to lie, cheat, fail a test, cry over lost boyfriends, complain about their junker cars, obsess over their futures, think their teachers are useless, their chores stupid and their friends more important than we did. They do not have raging hormones any worse than we did nor do they have entitlement issues that life, in its grand justice, won’t take care of soon enough.
I say that parents, usually out of love, do the best they can with what they have available to them. Most parents want to give their kids the best opportunities and the best chance at a happy life as they can.
The problem with sweeping generalizations about an entire generation of poor parenting is this: the argument is general and sweeping and usually takes specific and individual examples to support said argument.
So what was wrong with the parents of the baby boomers that their kids turned out so crazy? What about the parents of the radical flappers and gin-swillers of the 1920s? Was it cultural? Spiritual? Where was our Federal Government during those decades? Man, what a let down!
No, I say a generation cannot produce the faults of a generation any more than a kid can completely blame his parentage for his own failure in life. This is just unfair logic and, truly, might I add, compounds the problem by even permitting this unbalanced thought.
In 1989, I got a D- in Music Appreciation, a requirement for my general studies in college. There it was, typed boldly on the yellow printout. I might as well have been stamped on the forehead with FAILURE in red ink. I was furious. It wasn’t my fault! The professor was a dweeb, his out-of-class requirements to attend music events unreasonable, his grading system suspect – and he was a total bore during lectures! I earned scholarships for my grades! I earned a 3.89 GPA in high school! I should know that he was totally to blame for this D-, not me!
My mom had high expectations of me and I always believed that she knew I was capable of higher grades… always higher. I felt this like a weight. It never occurred to me to question my mom’s source of high standards, or why she wanted me to do well – it was just how moms, mine in particular, seemed to be. Well, one day, sometime in my 30s, I came across a packet of letters and things that my mom’s mom had saved over the years. I found a number of my mother’s report cards from high school.
She wasn’t a great student; not even a good one. She, the woman who typed my dad’s sermons on an old typewriter and every, single Christmas letter ever for decades earned bad grades and even notes home from her typing and short-hand teacher! “Dear Mrs. Andreano: please have a talk with your daughter, Pearl. Her efforts are below her capabilities and her tardiness, poor attendance and lack of effort are affecting her grades. Thank you.” So the letters went, one after another.
Maybe my mom’s inexplicably high standards were born of her own experiences with failure?
Maybe all this discussion is made mute by a single point:
We are not raising a generation of helpless kids. We are raising a generation of humans.
They will succeed, fail, find happiness, screw themselves over, do drugs, do service projects, do dance and soccer and baseball, go to college, quit and quit and try and try, get married, have babies, fail, fail, fail so many times they can’t count and then they’ll try to protect their kids from the pain of failure just like my mom did, and her mom, and her mom before her.
I am raising four, count them, four kids. This hardly amounts to a generation. This amounts to my family.
They each have their own room, a bed they don’t have to share, a closet full of clothes, crazy-big Christmas wish lists, some screened device that provides entertainment or music, they have rides to school and good, quality winter clothes. They eat food every day, they watch TV sometimes, they play with Nerf guns and Barbie dolls (or did) and gasp! What haven’t I done wrong? Because really, someone, somewhere could have a problem with every little part of the way I’m raising them. And, furthermore, they might look back on their lives with their mom and dad and think we failed them, that we’re to blame for their inability to find decent work or a decent spouse.
Our kids are growing up in a culture polluted with compromise, with sin and evil and suffering and hatefulness, crime and indulgence and educational, spiritual and moral flaws. So did the generation that saw the Holocaust.
Because as long as humans populate this planet, there will be the good old days, there will be parents to blame and children, wild and weird, at which we’ll cluck our tongues and wag our fingers and the cycle will repeat, ad nauseam.
We are to blame, and we aren’t. But there is one thing we must indulge our kids in without limit: love.
I know a boy who hated himself at age three. His parent cooked meth and denied him his rightful childhood indulgences of toys and fruit snacks and snuggles-for-no-reason. I saw the vacuum of pain that sucked the joy, the childhood joy, straight out of him. I watched my sister and her family draw him into their imperfect, loving world and give him toys and lunch and a safe space in a wild and angry world. A safe place to call home and family. I saw the years of struggle, still see them. I cheered and prayed and worried. Still do.
I will say it again: every single child needs crazy, over-the-top, non-stop love. Don’t for a second doubt this.
They need to love their scrawled artwork and put in on the fridge with pride. Why? Because I’ve seen the sadness of a child who had no confidence at too-young of an age. Girls need to be told they are smart and beautiful and daddy’s princess – please don’t deny them this! Because soon enough they’ll be chubby, ugly, not as cute as so-and-so, and if they don’t believe that mom and dad and God thinks they’re special, they’ll settle for the first guy who smoothly steals their trust. Your sons need to be heroes! They need to save the day and create bridges and collect frogs. They need to snuggle with dad and mom and wrestle and cry, to be bullied and feel the acute pain of being mean to someone so that they can face the world more complete, with a greater sense of self.
And if we all stopped for a minute this finger-pointing-blame-game and got to know the two or three or five kids in our own household enough to train them up in the way they should go, enough to understand what causes them to sorrow or rise up in just anger, enough to know their God-given talents, enough to support them and confront them and be real then we’d see them in their singular, beautiful faces with love and honesty and truth. And maybe we’d love them enough to confront them with their out-of-balance entitlement, enough to take the devices away for a time, enough to hear them and laugh with them, and well, then, we could stop this crazy discussion about which generation is the worst or the best or going to hell in a handbasket.
My millennial nephews and nieces are business owners, college graduates, skilled laborers, teachers, chefs, middle-management, mommies and daddies, farmers and struggling with drug use, and finances and singleness and marriage issues. They are real human individuals. They are people, not a generation.
And I think they need to be seen as the lovely, flawed, imbalanced, growing, hoping, hard-working individuals that they are. People who need grace, Jesus, forgiveness, hope, encouragement and truth. Just as I did. Just as that girl, Pearl, did back in 1949. It’s all relative, and we’re all related. So let’s stop with the finger-pointing and get on with it, arm-in-arm, as we all know we should.