Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Child Rearing: Then and Now

This post has been burning inside my head all week and I just have to write it out. I was prompted to think back as to the different child rearing methods used over the ages, especially in my family.

What prompted me to blog on this topic was a news piece on 60 Minutes this past Sunday called The Millenials Are Coming! If you saw the segment, you know what I'm talking about. And if you are older than the Millenials (aka Generation Y), the segment and the concept probably irked you as well.

What is a Millenial? By definition, a Millenial is a child born between 1981 and 1995. This group strongly identifies with technology (they were born in the same year the IBM PC debuted and part of the post-Sony Walkman debut), knows how to use gadgets proficiently, are more interested in friends and social groups than careers (hence the growth of social networking sites such as Friendster, MySpace and Facebook), and are more than likely to be raised by Helicopter Parents.

Millenials are usually raised with concepts that just seem off-kilter to me. There is no "losing" in organized sports - everyone gets a trophy or a medal just for participating. Millenials are used to being constantly "stroked" - lots of positive feedback and encouragement. Their parents raise them in a world where they are constantly protected from harm or failure to the point of not learning from their mistakes. Millenials often have a middle-class background. Their parents blossomed during the Yuppie era with important careers and more important children.

The key focus of the 60 Minutes segment was how the influx of Millenials into the workforce seems to be changing the American concept of the workplace. "Faced with new employees who want to roll into work with their iPods and flip flops around noon, but still be CEO by Friday, companies are realizing that the era of the buttoned down exec happy to have a job is as dead as the three-Martini lunch." The piece goes on to discuss how corporations and firms are bending over backwards to recruit the Millenials and adjusting how they operate: a boss is becoming more of a therapist now.

And Millenials seem to depend upon and relish the role of their parents in all of this: "And dear old mom isn’t just your landlord; she is your agent as well. 'Career services departments are complaining about the parents who are coming to update their child's resume. And in fact, you go to employers, and they're starting to express concern now with the parents who will phone HR, saying, 'But my little Susie or little Johnny didn't get the performance evaluation that I think they deserve . . ' ' "

Ok - now comes the opinion part - you were just waiting for this right? And while sometimes I may come across as having a bad case of "old f*rtitis," I think in judging this method of child rearing it is justified. Take a look:

- I was never raised with an exaggerated sense of entitlement. Period. It helped that we didn't have much, but it was always made clear to me that someone just down the road had it much worse. And my family wasn't just making that up. And my friends were in the same economic group as me, and were not always allowed to "know" that. One friend looking back has said, "We were poor but we just didn't know it. My family made many sacrifices so that we had decent clothes and could participate in the same clubs and sports as the other kids."

- I was told what was expected of me and what the consequences were if I didn't meet them. They were not unreasonable: mind your manners, say please and thank you, respect older people even if you don't know them, do well in school, get a job in high school, save your own money for college if that's what you want. I knew where the bar was and where I stood in relation to that bar.

- Education was key. This was my ticket to better economic circumstances than my family. I was one of the first people in my family to go to college and graduate with a four year degree. But I had to work for it. There were no handouts in life. And I didn't need to be constantly stroked.

- I would rather have died than have my mother call up a teacher, let alone an employer, and speak on my behalf. I don't know if I would ever show my face again at those places. I had my triumphs and my failures but they were mine - all mine - as were the lessons I learned from them.

- The world didn't owe me a living. It just owed me opportunities to succeed. They just weren't always the same opportunities as others.

- I was expected to pitch in around the house as well as hold a job as a teenager. Despite this quote from the 60 Minutes piece: "Today, fewer and fewer middle class kids hold summer jobs because mowing lawns does not get you into Harvard."

- I learned that a job, and my mother, taught me a work ethic that has stayed with me through good times and bad. And I had to take some really crappy nightmare jobs in my time with pyscho bosses and co-workers. I didn't expect my boss to stop by every five minutes and ask how I was feeling or if I was ok. I knew that if I wanted a good evaluation, a good bonus - hell, even to just keep the job - I had to put in long hours and do more than just "show up."

- I appreciated the sacrifices my mother made for me. It wasn't easy raising two boys, being newly divorced, with no credit and little work experience. My mother didn't necessarily let me know all the time what she had to do. But the rest of my family did and I always have appreciated it. I never said this, as one Millenial did, on the segment: "'I remember my dad getting laid off and all these things growing up. And that's 'cause they sacrificed for the company. Well, the first knee jerk reaction from me is I sure don't want to do that. I'm going to be in it for me and I'm going to make it work . . '" You fool, they sacrificed for you.

I also think that the 60 Minutes piece was probably very cleverly edited. And it made generalizations and used stereotypes. I have very close friends that are 24 and 26 who are very driven and don't have this sense of entitlement. One just purchased her first condo, has a great executive job, and is one of the most caring people I know. The other came from the same circumstances as I did and went to college, has a great job, and doesn't expect things to be handed to him.

When I was finished watching, I thought to myself, "What crack pipe are these people smoking out of?" I'll admit that my mother nor my family were perfect. And I am happy that certain child rearing practices are long gone ("children are meant to be seen and not heard," or taking a switch or belt to a child's rear end) but I think we've gone in the totally opposite direction.

If you think this is silly, beware. If you are in your mid to late 40s like me, realize that these "kids" will be your supervisors very soon. As one expert said, "They are enormously clever and resourceful. Some of the others are absolutely incorrigible. It's their way or the highway. The rest of us are old, redundant, should be retired. How dare we come in, anyone over 30. Not only can't be trusted, can't be counted upon to be, sort of, coherent."

I also think these companies hiring consultants to assist them with dealing with Millenials and to actively court them and their behavior have "drank the purple Kool-Aid."

All I have to say is: "What crust!"

1 comment:

Apple said...

Welcome to my world. I never heard the term Helicopter parent before. LMAO I have a good number of parents that fit the bill. I spend a good amount of time teaching kids basic manners. Imagine having 45 kids who all think the sun rises and shines on them and them alone! I also teach punctuality. I have taught my parents not to even consider calling for me to turn around because they couldn't get their little darling moving in the morning. The change in parent and students attitudes in the 13 years I've been doing this job is huge.