I hear two main fears coming from parents today: the first is that their children are going to get behind, and the second is anxiety about how to best prepare kids for such an uncertain future. These fears are behind why we over schedule, overindulge, and push for perfectionism. The result is kids who are spoiled and stressed out, and families who are out of balance.
“American children are growing up within the most rapidly changing culture of which we have any record in the world, within a culture where for several generations, each generation’s experience had differed sharply from the last.”
“It’s difficult for mothers to strike a balance because rapid changes in the milieu are so disorienting and because psychiatric thinking sees the world so full of dangers that it is hard to relax one’s caution at every step.”
These two quotes describe well the high anxiety today’s parents experience as they struggle to keep up with the latest technology and social media, with high intensity stranger-danger, and with the fast pace of life. Parents and kids alike are conditioned to believe that everyone must acquire a college degree from a top-tier college, play on ultra competitive youth sports, cheer and dance teams, and be on the go 24/7 or you’re not normal.
By the way, the quotes above are from Margaret Mead and Erik Erikson respectively from the Midcentury White House Conference in 1950. You can go back 50 years earlier and find similar quotes expressing concerns for the fast pace of change and it’s dire consequences on youth. So our present angst isn’t a new story, but it carries the same anxiety as in previous generations.
The first fear driving parents today is that their kids are going to fall behind their peers. The mantra of “Keeping up with the Jones’” from the 1950’s, i.e. acquiring the latest appliances, TV sets, automobile etc., has been replaced by “Keeping up with the Jones’ children”, i.e. matching the opportunities experienced by our neighbor’s kids with select teams, professional coaches and enrichment classes. Parents will spare no expense to help their child to get ahead, to get a leg up on the competition, and to be the best.
Parents are also worried about how they can effectively prepare their children for a future that seems so different from their own experience. In the old days your kids could work with you out in the fields or in the home to learn their trade. Some teens were shipped off to apprenticeships to become artisans. Today we are told that a college degree won’t be adequate to ensure our children’s success, and that they will probably have 5-7 careers that haven’t even been thought of yet. As Margaret once said, “Parents have lost the security of their expectations.”
It’s never a good idea to parent from fear. Instead, begin with the end in mind, figure out what’s important to your family including what you value most, and let that guide your decisions. Don’t allow yourself to get sucked into the rat race of keeping up with the Jones’ children nor with current cultural imperatives. Take full responsibility for your choices, your schedule, and the tone of your home.