I’ve heard a lot of talk about the Y generation and its serious sense of entitlement. Apparently many people think there is a big portion of this up and coming generation that doesn’t want to work for anything. They expect to have a nice car, a big house (with granite and hardwood and most definitely stainless), and a cushy job (complete with the corner office — no tiny-little-windowless-cubical of course) as soon as they walk across the stage and flip their tassels.
I hear parents complaining about kids’ general lack of motivation, and the resulting perpetual desire to have fun and feel good.
Is anyone *really* that surprised? The New York Times published an article discussing this same topic, in which they wrote:
“Having studied recent increases in narcissism and entitlement among college students, she [Jean Twenge, author of “Generation Me.”] warns that when living rooms are filled with participation trophies, it’s part of a larger cultural message: to succeed, you just have to show up. In college, those who’ve grown up receiving endless awards do the requisite work, but don’t see the need to do it well. In the office, they still believe that attendance is all it takes to get a promotion.”
I remember the very last time my kids every watched Clifford, the Big Red Dog (probably ten years ago now). I was in the kitchen preparing breakfast when I heard something that made me stop and pay attention to the TV. I don’t recall the specifics of the episode, but I clearly remember feeling that something wasn’t right. As I watched with my girls, the students were all participating in a race at the school. At the completion of the race, it was declared: “There are no winners or losers! Everyone did a fabulous job and deserves to be rewarded!”
Uhhhh… excuse me? Life is FULL of winners and losers! Races, by their very nature, have winners and losers, and while they may have tried to show all 20 students crossing the finish line within a few seconds of each other, that’s just not how it really works. The sentiment of that program left a very sour taste in my mouth.
A few years later, we allowed our then-elementary-age kids to watch American Idol with us. A friend challenged that decision, asking if I thought I was encouraging too much social pressure for my kids. Say what you will about the American Idol machine that spits out new “idols” each year, but the show itself is much more realistic than most programs. In life, hard work and determination go a long way toward making you successful, and we used AI to help discuss that concept to our kids, and even to talk about how to lose gracefully.
I’m glad only the top few singers get to go on tour. I’m thrilled they don’t hand out participation awards for 50th place. Simply getting on the show can easily be the reward, because not everyone even gets the privilege of participating.
Being a part of something — a team, an event, a family, a business, a church — requires that you show up and contribute. We don’t pay our kids for helping out around the house because that is what it takes to be a part of a family. You can probably guess that we’ve also never been the type to let our kids win in competition. Sure, we always played games they actually stood a chance at winner (such as Candy Land for the 5-year-old instead of chess). Now that we have teenagers, it’s fun to see that they learned the value of practice and perseverance, even if it means they kick our (OK, my) butt at Wii wakeboarding (or basketball or a slew of other games).
If you watched any portion of the recent Winter Olympics, you probably heard stories of athletes who’d dreamed of this day for years or even decades. They have worked hard, rising to the top of their perspective sports. To get there, I’m guessing there was an awful lot of winning and losing and losing and winning going on.
I think we need to give our kids permission to lose. Not only that, but we need to teach them to own the loss, learn from it, and then get back up to try harder next time… It’s only in doing so that the winning — when it comes — is all that much sweeter.
As parents, we need to prepare them for success by encouraging focused effort in the activities they pursue. And, we need to stop cheapening the inherent value that comes from being a part of something, by handing out shiny dust-collectors at every corner. All that tells our kids is that showing up gets them more useless stuff, when in reality contributing is worth so much more.
… like building relationships, perseverance, learning to be flexible, becoming reliable, working together…
I wonder if we emphasize the benefit in acquiring such traits, perhaps the next generation will eventually appreciate the great rewards that come from them. Maybe they might even selflessly applaud the winners who exhibit them, regardless of how close they come to winning themselves.
What do you think? Is this as big of a problem as some people suggest? Or are we all just hyper-aware because of political correctness and the push to be more inclusive? Sound off below.