By Paul Chanan
When we were kids, Darwin was the biggest bully on the block. Cruel, blunt and unforgiving. He alone decided everything that meant anything to us:
-Who went to parties and who stayed home
-Who was “popular” and who was a loner
-Who got asked out and who waited by the phone
-Who was “smart” and who was not
-Who made the team and who got cut
-Basically, who was anointed a “winner” and who was cast aside as a “loser”
A mean SOB, that Darwin. Why did one guy have all that power? The power to make or break our entire childhoods.
Natural selection? Survival of the fittest? — Fuck that!
Unless you were naturally blessed with good looks, brains, athleticism, and a personality that OTHERS pegged as cool, Darwin’s presence basically SUCKED FOR YOU!
“I’ll tell you what, when we become adults, we’ll change all that,” said many-a-loner and outcast (and anyone with a heart). And true to our word, as soon as we became adults and had kids of our own, we did it. We killed him.
Darwin is dead.
Actually, Charles Darwin, the scientist and philosopher, died in 1882. He probably was not a bully in real life, but instead just a really smart guy whose concept of “natural selection” existed from the beginning of time until, say, the year 2000 or so. And we New-Age parents didn’t really murder Darwin; we simply took his theory and systematically eliminated it for our kids, through dedicated management of several aspects of THEIR lives.
And we did it for all the right reasons. To protect our children. To make them happy. To make sure nobody got left out. To right all the wrongs from our childhoods.
Powerless as children, and armed with an honorable motive and a newly-developed weapon called Political Correctness, we now had the tools to make everything better for our kids.
After all, isn’t inclusive better than exclusive? Isn’t acceptance better than judgment? Isn’t “everybody wins” better than “some win and some lose”? Of course, the answer to those questions is YES, YES … and YES.
But don’t you sometimes wonder if we’ve gone too far? By rescuing our kids from all the harsh realities of natural selection, have we in some ways left them ill-prepared for the real world, in which Darwin’s Survival of the Fittest concept still reigns supreme?
What will happen to our children when they leave the protective bubble and false sense of security we have manufactured for them? Will they be able to handle their future failures? Will they be able to deal with having to start at the bottom and claw their way to the top, when we have handed them a sense of entitlement since birth?
We as parents need to make sure we’ve given our kids the tools they need to function in the Real World …
What happens when they encounter a nightmare roommate, dysfunctional relationship, bad boss, unfair grade in college? Who’s going to rescue them? Will they be able to rescue themselves?
So here we go … Here are some key areas of childhood where Modern Parents may be playing a part in distorting their children’s reality:
Remember back to when we were kids, and we went to school and just did our work? Based on our aptitude and effort, we were placed in advanced classes, regular classes or maybe classes where we received a little needed, extra help. But in our new world of intense academic competition and helicopter parenting, the above model has changed from one where kids controlled their own destiny, to one where parents are trying to call all the shots.
Parents are now aggressively fighting their kids’ battles for them (more like, creating the battles, then fighting them, then winning them). You can be sure none of our parents ever called one of our teachers to argue that a B should be changed to an A, or called our principal to demand that, despite our placement, we be moved from regular Biology into Advanced Physics. Today, parents have teachers and principals on speed-dial!
Who cares what our kids actually deserve, or if they are able to fight their own battles?
All Harvard or Michigan or University of Illinois cares about is the end result after all. The GPA. The scores. The AP classes.
So it’s pretty clear who is now running the show. It is not today’s kids who are raising the academic stakes. It seems many parents have become so caught up in the game that they have lost sight of the big picture. And I’m concerned that this added external pressure to achieve more, to compete harder, and to prove something, will eventually backfire on all of us.
If we continue to raise the bar for success, and then artificially lift our children over that bar, the reality-check from helicoptered child to real-world adult may be a harsh one.
In the old days, the best athletes comprised most of the competitive sports’ rosters. That’s because there were a finite number of good athletes, and only a few organized sports. The most creative and talented artists, actors and musicians performed in our schools’ auditoriums and theaters. Same as above … a limited number of shows to be in, and only a few really talented kids. And our student councils, honor societies and academic clubs were full of our best and brightest.
The rest of us, the ones with No Extraordinary Skills in these areas, did what regular kids did … hung out with friends, played intramurals, got jobs, did some of our homework, and maybe got into a little trouble here and there.
Not liking that there wasn’t something SPECIAL for everyone, our generation CHANGED the model.
We made sure there were dozens of new sports to try out for. We made sure there were countless theater, dance and music groups for kids of all talent levels. And as far as extracurriculars, we helped invent and start such a volume of groups, clubs, and societies that it’s virtually impossible to keep track of them all. Now there’s something for everyone — maybe more like 5 to 10 somethings for everyone.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think the old days, where only the top achievers participated, were better. The theory behind opening up activities to all is a good one: more access=more involvement. And I think it’s important for both confidence and development that all kids be involved in something.
But I think the problem lies when today’s goal-driven parents are telling their kids that they NEED to be on countless teams, groups and clubs because the colleges, NOT the kids, want that.
If the neighbor/s kid is in 4 clubs and on 2 teams, MY kid WILL be on 5 and 3. Like it or not …
When did it stop being okay to just do your best in school, maybe join a team or activity you like, and spend the rest of your free time with your family, at a part-time job, and with friends?
Parental intervention into our kids’ social lives is an area where the pendulum may have swung the furthest. For whatever reason, this is more of a Mom Issue. Dads tend to get out of the way on this one, either due to disinterest or self-preservation.
It seems to me that a lot of Modern Moms (and some Modern Dads) are way too caught up in this. If we’re going to be honest with ourselves, haven’t we all witnessed on multiple occasions all of the following, in a manner far more calculated and intense than took place when we were kids:
– Parents backstabbing for their kid’s perceived social benefit
– Kids being ‘black-balled” by parents who look the other way as long as their child is still “In”
– On the flip-side, parents trying to force or guilt other parents into bringing their kid into the group
Obviously, kids separating into groups and cliques is nothing new, and we can probably all still name the kids from our childhoods who were the jocks, the brains, the bullies, the burnouts, etc. … The point is that our generation decided that the way to deal with this issue was to take it over for our kids.
We definitely need to make sure nobody is being bullied, ever! I think we parents have done a fairly nice job on this front. There is simply no excuse for doing anything less. Next, we need to do our very best to teach kids about acceptance, embracing differences and being inclusive. Basically, how to be a nice person.
But after that is said and done, WE THEN NEED TO GET OUT OF THE WAY.
Parents should understand and accept that friendships and social lives are personal choices, even for kids. We need to stop micro-managing. We are not puppeteers – we need to stop pulling those friendship strings.
I get it. Kids can be cruel and selfish. I know it’s heartbreaking to see your child left out and sad. And maybe for some it’s an ego boost when your child is surrounded by friends and socially thriving. So I understand the urge to step in when things aren’t going well for your child. And as abhorrent as it is, it’s obvious why some try to hold onto their child’s social successes by blocking others out.
But really, aren’t parentally-manufactured friendships doomed to fail anyway? Aren’t grown kids smart enough to know what is real and what is forced? At a certain age, kids need to be free to gravitate toward the people they feel comfortable around, not who their parents want (or don’t want) them to be friends with for whatever reason.
Back to Darwin.
I give our generation a ton of credit for CARING so much about our kids. Even if for some, it’s to make up for feeling hung out to dry by our own parents. Basically, I think we need to dial it down a little: Letting kids suffer a few short-term defeats does NOT make you a bad parent.
Now I’m not saying we somehow resurrect Darwin from his grave and go “Old School” on our kids. Just let him in a little, here and there, now and then, so our kids learn how to deal.
Things won’t be “perfect” for them now, but they’ll thank you in the end.
Lisa Barr, Editor of GIRLilla Warfare: Paul Chanan is the father of two great but imperfect kids (they may disagree). He is also a collaborative attorney and family mediator. Paul and his partner, Melissa Mondschain, LCPC, founded Chanan Mondschain Co-Mediation Partners in Northbrook, Illinois, where they co-mediate, out of court, all issues involved in divorces and other family disputes. Be sure to check out: cmcomediation.com.