Do Your Jobs, Parents!!!

A large proportion of twenty-somethings of today aren’t fully responsible adults yet. They often live with their parents because they don’t have sufficient finances or life skills (e.g. cooking, maintaining a home, etc.). They have a difficult time focusing on their careers, changing jobs more rapidly than ever. They avoid long-term romantic relationships and all that goes along with them, most notably children.

In addition, depression among twenty-somethings has reached epidemic levels. In one study, over 11% of young adults aged 18-24 in 2001-2002 were found to have had depressive disorders. What’s more, almost all experts say these problems are increasing. The 2008 “National Survey of Counseling Center Directors” reports that 95.7% of Directors agree that serious psychological problems have been increasing in recent years at their school.

Why are they depressed? Of course, reasons vary, but psychologists agree that one major reason for depression and anxiety is an inability to feel in control of events in one’s life. So, twenty-somethings feel far less in competent in the world than their cohorts did did decades ago, and they’re getting depressed at record levels because of this.

A recent New York Times Magazine article describes how widespread this problem is. In fact, a movement in developmental psychology aims to define a new stage of life between adolescence and young adulthood called “emerging adulthood.”
Yellowbrick, a residential program in Evanston, IL, is designed to cure the worst manifestations of emerging adulthood. For $21K/month, parents can send their emerging adult kids to learn “the basics of shopping, cooking, cleaning, scheduling, making commitments and showing up.” Many of the “patients” there are recent college students who have difficulty dealing with the adult world. One had done well at at an Ivy League college until the last class of the last semester of his last year, when he finished his final paper and could not bring himself to turn it in.

As a parent of very young children, I don’t have much insight into the problems of these emerging adults, but I do see how these problems start. Parents these days hover over their kids from a young age, not backing off until college. Even there, colleges are finding that they need to force parents to back off. A recent New York Times article describes colleges’ attitudes at freshman orientation: Students, Welcome to College; Parents, Go Home.

In my opinion, this trend indicates that parents of today are failing at their job.
What is parents’ job? While I absolutely think parents should give their children a good childhood, ultimately, parents’ job is to prepare their children for their adult lives. Thus, we should judge parents by how their kids turn out.

We can quibble over details of what our goals should be in raising our kids, but let’s face it: if our “kids” in their twenties are like these twenty-somethings who can’t live independently, find a focus for their career, or maintain a long-term stable romantic relationship, they’re not doing well. We’d need to blame ourselves, at least in part.

In order to avoid this outcome, we parents need to teach old-fashioned self-reliance to our kids. If we coddle them throughout their childhoods, it’s unlikely that they’ll get their acts together all of a sudden when we send them off to college.

Teaching self-reliance should begin at a very young age. For instance, parents should have toddlers clean up their toys and their rooms. Elementary school kids should do chores around the house. Outside the house, they should be encouraged to go places independently and figure things out for themselves.

It’s difficult to posit hard and fast rules for what ages at which kids should be able to do various things, but it’s pretty clear that most kids these days are pretty lame, and their parents are to blame.

What do you think? Will you feel like you’ve failed if your kids go through their twenties unmotivated and directionless like many of the twenty-somethings today? Are you doing what’s needed to avoid that fate?

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13 Responses to Do Your Jobs, Parents!!!

  1. Christie -Childhood 101 says:

    Wow, I cannot believe a program like Yellowbrick has been developed, that is simply unbelievable. I completely agree that preparing a child for life as a successful, adult member of the community is an essential role of parenting.

  2. Meagan B. Call says:

    Your comments sadden me. Not because they are necessarily untrue, but because the tone is part of the problem.

    “Thus, we should judge parents by how their kids turn out.”

    How about we stop judging parents, period? Or at least, let’s judge them on their intentions, on the fact that they love their kids and they do what they think and hope is best for them. Because all this negative judging is ia large part of what escalates a slight overprotectiveness to extreme helicoptering.

    When these college aged kids were the age your kids are now, their parents were bombarded with messages that their children were unsafe. It was also the beginning of a mass wave of parents doing their odd homework, because they wanted to make sure their kids had a future. No one was talking about raising independent kids. Instead these parents were worrid about being judged for not doing enough. More importantly, they were terrified that their children would be judged for every “B” on the report card, for not getting into the “right” school. There are a million factors that played into why parents became hover parents for this generation. They all amout to my definition of good parenting: wanting the best for their child.

    Not everyone has heard the free range, playborhood message, and now I hear stories about people making decisions that lean to more overprotective, more invasive, not because the parents think this is what is right, but because it is what everyone else thinks is right. So let’s stop the judging and just let people parent.

    It is so easy for you to point at grown children and say, “see what their parents did wrong! My children will be better because I am better.” You have no idea the mistakes you will make, or what long term impacts they will have on your children.

    Stop judging parents. They did, and continue to do, their best. In spite of media hystaria, most of these kids will turn out just fine in the end, and everyone will forget that news articles were desparing over the future, just as they have with each new generation that comes of age.

    You have such a good, hopeful creative message, Mike. But as my husband and I prepare to start our own family, reading this sort of thing makes me feel ill. I have ideas of how I intend to parent, but I know I’ll change my mind as I go along. And most of all, I know whatever decisions I make for my children, there are just hoards of people out there waiting to judge me.

    Please do not be one of them.

  3. Avis says:

    Yes, the rapid changing of jobs must be an inability to focus on career. It can’t possibly the trend of employers offering contract positions instead of permanent jobs or keeping workers’ hours to a minimum or laying off workers as soon as they’re eligible for vacation time or a raise. Or, you know, the massive recession we’re in.

    I’m 26, and I and most of my friends would like nothing more than a position or career track that wants to keep them to retirement age. In my field, roughly 90% of the opportunities for those with fewer than three years experience are offering four to twenty hours a week; many of those are on-call or auxiliary positions, and many are only being offered from between three months to a year. And this is a field that historically has had 80% less turnover than your average job. I can only imagine how hard other industries have been hit lately.

    In this economy, if any parents are happy to have their grown children at home, contributing to the household, more power to them. Being able to financially support oneself to any meaningful standard of living straight out of college is simply not the sure thing these days that it was for the Baby Boomers.

  4. Mike Lanza says:

    This is a harder-hitting article than I usually write, and I acknowledge that some of the criticism is justified.

    First, to Avis, the current economic recession has created a historically bad job market for young adults. I remember when I first graduated college back in the eighties in a much milder recession and couldn’

  5. dcactrice says:

    But Mike

  6. dcactrice says:

    But Mike, it’s also off-putting the way you are judging parents of young children now. I agree that the sanctimonious tone is turning me off this blog.

  7. Laura says:

    You know how people who have no kids make comments and you shake your head because they have no idea. I know I was one of them. This is what you sound like. You have no idea what it is like to have older kids. Maybe when you’ve raised some you’ll have some clout.

    The tone of this article is why I have a hard time reading parenting rhetoric. It is hard for me to accept that anyone has so much experience, and that their “way” is so right. Lots of people who publish parenting philosophies don’t have any children, or only have one child, or only two, or they have a lot, or their children are a different age, or they raised their children in a different generation, or in a different culture, or their children didn’t turn out so ideal after all, etc, etc. The bottom line everyone’s circumstances are different and to attack a different parenting philosophy is unfair and detracts from the sound arguments for your own (because I do agree with your arguments).

    In this article you are setting an example of elitism, criticalness and rudeness. Maybe your children will end up growing up the same way and some future blogger will point out, “I do see where these problems started”?

  8. Kerry Dickinson says:

    As enlightened, educated parents we do the best we can. Our children don’t always make the right choices or do things the way we would. Yet, we still need to nurture, love, support and coach them to do the right things and make wise choices. When we see our children stumble I hope that we realize we have little control over what they do. They must make some mistakes in life and we try to help them learn from their mistakes. Perhaps some of these twenty-somethings are on the right track but getting there more slowly than we did. And perhaps some of them are destined for a difficult adulthood. In either case, parents can’t blame themselves for all the mistakes their children make. It’s not healthy or productive and ultimately won’t help the situation.

  9. Tregony says:

    My brother gave all three of his kids a ‘playborhood’ sort of childhood, opportunities to be independent, plenty of outdoors free play, encouragement to develop as they want. His eldest is 18, just finished school and didn’t do as well as she’d hoped and she is refusing to try to get a job, to leave home for uni or volunteering. The last couple of years she became just one of those girls who seems to have facebook between their ears. Her parents are despairing. 

    So I agree with the other commentators. There is a lot going on with parenting and families – culture, community, media, all sorts. Outdoor free play is critically important for children, and I would agree parents should feel confident in letting children play out unobserved. But there is so much more going on here and it’s never just the parent’s – or the child’s – fault. Sue Palmers wonderful book on Toxic Childhood, and subsequent discussions of it, beautifully illustrate this. 

    It continues to take a village to raise a child, so please focus on shouting about how to create opportunities for self directed play rather than blaming parents. 

  10. Mike Lanza says:

    My wife’s first cousin was murdered in Vancouver recently. We found out after he died that he was a big-time drug dealer and gangster there.

    His father, my wife’s uncle, feels unimaginable sorrow. Is he somewhat at fault for the fact that his son grew up to become a drug dealer and gangster? Absolutely. We can point to many things he did badly, or didn’t do, when his son was growing up. Do we talk to my wife’s uncle about how he screwed up raising his son? Absolutely not. It would do no good whatsoever. He’s a senior citizen now. He’s not raising children anymore.

    So, somehow, we need to help the folks raising kids to do the right things without offending parents of grown-up kids. It’s the tightrope we need to walk.

  11. madcampersuz says:

    A great book for all of us is Too Much of a Good Thing: Raising Children of Character in an indulgent age by Dan Kindlon.

    I agree that parents are too freaked out about their parenting skills. We’ve learned how crucial the first five years are and how any misstep during that time could cause emotional issues and even mental illness.

    The early twenties are darned hard for anyone of any generation. An operation like Yellowbrick is journalism candy, but it’s treating a very low percentage of the twenty-somethings.

  12. Kerry Dickinson says:

    I know that sometimes good parents raise bad kids and sometimes bad parents raise good kids. There is no guaranteed formula that says “good parent = good kid.” I think we have to be careful not to think too narrowly. Life and people are very complicated and multi-dimensional.

    It’s also important to realize that everyone carries his/her own personal baggage and being judgmental instead of compassionate is damaging, in my opinion. I write about parenting and education issues in my blog: http://eastbayhomework.blogspot.com/

  13. lr_khaimovich says:

    I had a pleasure to talk with Mike at length a couple of times, and can testify that he is acutely aware of the challenges involved in balancing an honest, open and thus consequential discussion with a danger of offending and putting off some of the participants. I think this is a reason Mike haven’t mentioned in the “Books” section of playborhood.com an excellent volume by Hara Marano with the unfortunate title “A Nation of Wimps.” Yet those of us, who are ready to face a multitude of tightly intertwined social, economic, psychological, and even neurological phenomena, which prevent us from doing what is good for our children despite our best intentions, will learn a lot from the book despite the sometime angry tone of the author. Yes a parent is an important part of the picture, but not the whole picture.

    Ironically, among other things, the book very well describes Mike’s predicament. Namely, how after being conditioned to pay excessive attention to opinions of others and thus easily feeling judged plus finding themselves into the situation when supposedly scientific and objective information is manipulated by business interests for marketing purposes, many adults quickly reject any information endangering their fragile self-esteem.

    In one of the above comments Meagan writes about “hoards of people” ( i.e. people wanting to sell you something by catching you into shame trap or people in need to lift their self-esteem by lowering you in their own eyes) waiting to judge you. It makes Meagan sad that Mike might be one of them. I think there is not much ground for this concern . In any case, Meagan, what do you care about the opinions of hoards of complete strangers including Mike? It would be so nice if we could “judge” new ideas as more or less beneficial for our children, rather than as making us look better or worth if we follow them.

    Returning to Mike’s question of whether we are doing what’s needed, I would like to recommend Marano’s book once again, because at the end it has an extensive and specific to-do list, which should be helpful.

    By the way, here is a link to the book’s web page:
    http://nationofwimps.com/
    And this is an article from which the book originated:
    http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200411/nation-wimps