Kids today operate with adult pressures and they’re paying for it. With tight schedules, high demands for increased performance and near constant supervision, going to school is now like working in a really bad office where a second set of bosses is waiting for you when you get home too.
If most of us can’t stand living like that it’s because it doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t to kids either. With far more human priorities, they can clearly see that society isn’t a thing; it’s a set of rules we all agree to and they, quite understandably, wonder why we agree to such a tortuous set of rules for ourselves. Then again, there’s a lot of political upheaval around the world so maybe that’s a sign that the adults are waking up too.
Take just a second to imagine the life of a kid in say the late 60’s early 70’s. If they were 10 years old they had a lot of freedom both geographically and mentally. A weekday would have been going to school with more requests made for you to behave than to get fantastic grades. It was assumed you would do that as a basic a sign of your own character far more than for an external grade. So a very small percentage of kids had strong grade pressure on them and there was very little homework.
Even if kids had grade pressure, extremely few were expected to be absolutely excellent in absolutely everything. It made sense to everyone that if a brain was good at Math and Science it might not be as developed at doing English or Social Studies. Today, if a kid’s parents want them to go to university then it’s now to the point where the minimum grade is 85–which previously would have been very good to excellent.
So what’s this mean? It means the same kid working just as hard as they did in 1970 would have gone from an acceptable Report Card to an entirely unacceptable one. So one kid goes home and gets questions about their life and friends and the later kid gets questions about grades and potentially dangerous classmates. This ultimately leads to an adult who has difficulty making decisions because they are overly concerned about making wrong ones.
A lot of parenting has slowly become about managing our fears rather than helping to cultivate the natural growth and abilities inherent in a child. We spend more time teaching them all of the systems that form the very society that isn’t working for most people; the one that leads to not only two parents needing to work but they need to work more hours or more jobs and far, far more stress. Why are we training them to be us when so few people feel that their lives are properly balanced between obligations and their natural interests as a human being?
A Saturday in 1970 in North America meant getting up, having breakfast and then heading out to the neighbourhood for the entire day. Often your parents wouldn’t see you until dinner in the evening. You were with all of the other kids developing not your intellect, but your social skills–including skills like relaxing, or finding ways to be comfortable with many different types of people. Those ravines and streets and alleys included some of the best lessons in life.
Today there’s little time for unorganized, unplanned life. From waking up to going to bed there is a demanding enough schedule and a big enough To-Do List to keep even tweens pretty pressured. It’s no wonder they’re always on their phones–how else would they develop those social skills if they rarely see each other unsupervised?
If you and your child are arguing over life, maybe they’re not crazy and maybe you’re not wrong. There’s a third player involved and that’s society. That’s things like our expectations. What we believe is necessary to have a good life. But if you look at who’s stressed and who’s relaxed, there’s no patterns relating to income or industry.
The patterns relate to how much control people have over their own lives. A kid feels the same way about too much homework as their parents do about work invading their off-time. It’s the same problem but one group gets in trouble for griping from the other group that’s griping. That’s illogical. We’re all in this together. Kids aren’t crazy. Things are going too fast and the demands are too high and getting them to go even faster just isn’t the answer.
Look at the kids around you and ask how much of their life is about their happiness today and how much is about their happiness tomorrow. Because the one pattern I do so see is that most of the kids that end up in my care end up there by being pushed so hard toward tomorrow’s goals that they begin to rebel against today’s push toward them. I don’t fix their grades. I improve their relationship with their parents.
I haven’t met one bad or troubled kid yet. I’ve only met ones that needed more balance in their lives. Talk to your kids. Listen their challenges and views seriously. In some cases they’ll likely know what to do better than you will. See them less as a fruit to be squeezed for juice and more a tree that, if properly looked after, will produce it’s own fruit for many years to come.
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.