Friday, July 24, 2009

Are Today's Kids the Rudest Ever?

On vacation last week, I read this story about how today's kids might just be the rudest ever. I'm sad to say that, since both of mine were at that point, banished to their bedroom for exessively rude behaviour, I thought it might be true. I comforted myself with the knowledge that, although my boys had behaved deplorably, the fact that they were, at this very moment, facing the consequences of their actions, meant that they would eventually learn the value of kindness right?

I tend to agree with the author that today's tykes are bolder, more brazen and quicker to offer an opinion than those of earlier generations. When I was little, kids were seen and not heard. This is not necessarily a good thing but I don't recall ever being asked for my thoughts on what we would be having for dinner never mind if a teacher should be challenged for disciplining me. If I came home and told my parents that I had been reprimanded at school, their first question was always the same: "What did you do?" followed by "I'm sure you wouldn't have gotten into trouble if you didn't deserve it". The discussion usually ended there. Today, if a child gets into trouble, many parents act as their lawyer, arranging meetings with the principal, speaking in their defense and brokering agreements.

As the article points out, the self-esteem epidemic that many Gen Xrs and late Boomers have perpetuated with their children can have unintended negative consequences. According to pediatrician Dr. Philippa Gordon, "It may well be that today's parents are so fixated on their children's emotional wellbeing that they're teaching them that the well-being of others is comparatively unimportant." A friend of mine who is a flight attendant, regularly tells stories of youngsters snapping their fingers and barking orders at her while their parents tap away on BlackBerries or read, magazines in the next seat, blissfully ignorant of their child's rudeness or worse still, aware of it and unperturbed.

Years of being told that they are wonderful for simply existing can result in a rude awakening when 20-something grads are thrust into the workforce and find out that they might just be fairly ordinary after all. Dr. Jean Twenge, a professor at San Diego State University writes about this in her book, Generation Me: Why Today's Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled, and More Miserable Than Ever Before. According to Twenge, we have moved from true self esteem, which is based on accomplishments to self esteem based on nothing but narcissism. Is it any wonder, when popular television shows feature young men and women crying on camera because they were eliminated from the opportunity to be the fake friend of a Hollywood socialite who has, despite overwhelming privilege, accomplished nothing with her life?

As a parent of two boys, I work really hard to teach them the importance of manners and respect for other people. But, I probably also tell them I love them every single day, which is a hallmark of my generation of parenting. I hope I'm not giving them too much self esteem. How much is too much?


  1. Generalizating a generation is a poor substitute for thinking through an issue. I have a bias toward thinking that today's kids are rude. However, when I think about my kids's friends, or the team of 10 and 11 year old baseball players I coach, I don't think my bias withstands the test of observation.

    For the most part, the friends and players are decent kids - maybe short on attention span when I am trying to provide some hitting tips, but rarely rude.

    Our parenting "style" includes lots of hugs and encouragement, but also challenges and "look it up" or "what do you think are some options you could consider." Hopefully our demonstrations of affection help to create strong bonds that withstand the test of the teenage years.

    I think one of the greatest gifts a parent can bestow on upon their children is to try and foster self confidence. There was a great article in the Harvard Business Review a few years ago entitled "where does confidence come from" The article interviewed CEO's and asked them where they get their confidence.

    Confidence allows you to take risks, face challenges and pick yourself up after you have been knocked down or tripped on the curb of life.

  2. Great comments Guy. I agree with you about the generalization thing. Arguments can be made for any thesis if you dig hard enough. As a parent who is trying to raise well-mannered children, this is something I struggle with. I want my kids to feel confident and have a healthy sense of self and in today's 20-somethings, I see a confidence and poise that we just didn't have at that age, which I really admire. On the other hand, I feel that, as a mom, it's also my role to help my kids realize their limitations and appreciate that there will not always be someone there to fight their battles. One thing I do know is that I just can't stop hugging them and saying I love them. Not possible!