The following true story was recently related to me by a credible individual who for obvious reasons will remain forever anonymous. I pass it on because it is a quintessential example of the general intemperance of today’s parenting.
The scene opens in the white-collar home of a 14-year-old girl and her parents. She is an only child, with the surfeit of implications typically (these days) appertaining thereto. It is the summer of 2016 and said young teen is between eighth grade and her first year of high school.
One hot and humid summer day she tells her parents that she does not want to go to the high school in her district because her friends, all of whom play (as does she) on the same elite athletic squad, are going or go to a high school that is some 20 miles away in another county. She informs her parents that she wants to go to Twenty-Mile High. After much yelling, crying, gnashing of teeth, threats, resentment and guilt, the parents put their home on the market, promptly sell it, and move to the Twenty-Mile High district. And everyone lives happily ever after or until said child’s next outrageous demand, whichever comes first.
What is it like, wonders a person who was denied such privilege as a child, to be 14 years old and in complete control of one’s family, to be able to throw a tantrum and thus cause one’s parents to pick up and relocate? What is it like to be a Big Deal at age 14? What sort of adulthood (in the chronological sense of the term only) does this portend?
The answers are, in order, weird, strange and unhappy. Concerning weird and strange, it must be noted that the children in question lack a proper frame of reference. They have no way of knowing what a legitimate childhood is like, including being no Big Deal. Therefore, they are, to borrow from their vernacular, clueless. Because the Big Deal Child is ubiquitous, they do not know their childhoods are weird and strange from a normal, albeit outmoded, point of view.
But the real problem, not just for them but the rest of us as well, is the strong likelihood that they will never experience sustained contentment as adults. The only adult lifestyle that begins to compare to a childhood where nearly all of one’s whims and demands are satisfied by servant-parents is celebrityhood, and anyone who pays attention must be aware that celebrity and contentment are hardly synonymous.
I have long noticed that a good number of children now known as millennials seem to believe that a life without drama is a life without meaning. And so, because life is not drama, they manufacture it out of the mundane. Every insult is cause for drama. Every conflict is cause for drama. Every disappointment is cause for drama. Every bump in the road is cause for drama. This is the inevitable consequence of a childhood that is high on indulgence and short on reality.
Fifty-plus years ago, parents took appropriate opportunities to remind children that they were just “little fish in a big pond.” That reminder has been absent from American parenting vernacular for quite some time, during which the goal of American child rearing has morphed from preparing children for the realities of life to making them perpetually happy by creating the illusion that they are Big Fish.
The question becomes: Where do they go from here?