I just read an article Spoiled Rotten: Why Do Kids Rule the Roost? an essay about how we as parents are not asking enough of our children -- we don't require them to do chores; we buy them too many things; we keep enabling their dependence until they're well into their 20s and beyond.
I might have dismissed the piece as a typical rant from a crotchety conservative complaining about how our kids have it too easy and the world is going to hell in a handbasket.
Except the reason I saw the article was because a young friend of mine posted it on his Facebook page. He's no conservative. He's in his mid-30s, and happens to be the principal of a high school in New Jersey.
Plus, the article was published in the liberal magazine The New Yorker, authored by a liberal woman known mostly for reporting on the evils of carbon emissions and their effects on global warming, and who has taken President Obama to task for being too easy on regulating coal-burning electric companies and SUV-producing automobile companies.
The writer, Elizabeth Kolbert, contrasts a family living in the Peruvian Amazon with middle-class families living in Los Angeles. The kids in Peru help cook, help clean up, and in general make themselves useful to everyday family endeavors. Even six-year-olds are beginning to learn adult responsibilities.
In L.A. the parents beg their children to do simple chores or take basic hygiene measures, and the kids either refuse to do the job, or just ignore the parents -- and the end result is that the parents end up waiting on the kids.
Kolbert concludes, "With the exception of the imperial offspring of the Ming dynasty and the dauphins of pre-Revolutionary France, contemporary American kids may represent the most indulged young people in the history of the world."
Why is it, she asks, that Peruvian children help their families more than American children do? And why do American parents help their children at home more than the Peruvian parents do?
And why is it that so many American kids, after four years of college and a couple of years either working or going to graduate school, end up moving back home, then sleeping late, eating mom's cooking, and making only feeble attempts to find a new job?
Some of the blame can be laid on a poor economy and the difficulty in finding a job . . . and the pressure on younger children not to help out the family, but to do their homework, engage in extracurricular activities and get into a good college . . . so they can get a good job and don't end up back in their parents basement when they're in their 20s.
But I wonder how much the world that Elizabeth Kolbert describes squares with your view of your own children, and maybe your grandchildren.
I look at my own daughter (college class of 2005) and her friends, and I can't think of one of them who moved back home. They are all working, getting married, carrying on with their lives. I look at my son (college class of 2008) or B's son (college class of 2009), and I see many more instances of kids having difficulties landing a job, finding an apartment, and in general launching their lives. This, no doubt, is a result of the Great Recession and its aftereffects.
But as for Kolbert's description of kids who act entitled to every latest toy, who will not help at home, who will not even help themselves ... it seems to me she's presenting a cartoonish version of the real day-to-day ebb and flow of teaching kids about adult responsibilities and relationships. Sure, kids are reluctant helpers. But they do learn, eventually, don't they?
But then I wonder: my friend the high-school principal. How come he found the article so relevant he posted it on his Facebook page?