Sometimes, the so-called “good old days” really were better. For example, if the data is correct, then the state of parenting in America has been in slow but steady decline since the 1960s. Child mental health and school achievement were much better back then, when the go-to parenting experts were grandparents.
In my public presentations, I sometimes begin sentences with “I’m a member of the last generation” and go on to describe some benefit we boomers enjoyed that today’s kids, by and large, do not enjoy. Some of these sentences include:
• “I’m a member of the last generation of American children who did not receive much adult attention.”
As long as we were doing nothing wrong, our parents largely left us alone. They let us have the freedom to entertain ourselves, learn from our mistakes and fight our own battles.
• “I’m a member of the last generation of American children who were not allowed to have high self-esteem.”
Back then, to express a high opinion of oneself was known as “acting too big for your britches.” Today, high self-esteem is supposedly the key to everything good in life.
Problem is, it hasn’t worked out that way. Researchers have found that high self-esteem is associated with lots of bad stuff, like fear of failure and bullying.
• “I’m a member of the last generation of American children who did their own homework.”
And we did much better in school. Our mothers were not accountable for our schoolwork. They held us accountable. It’s a very simple equation, really: The more responsible one is, the better one does.
• “I’m a member of the last generation of American children to grow up in homes where the relationship between our parents was a lot stronger than either of their relationships with us.”
I’m convinced that one reason so many of today’s young people are eschewing marriage is because they didn’t see their parents having one, even if their parents lived together. They saw mother and father, two people devoted to them. We saw husband and wife. It makes a huge difference.
• “I’m a member of the last generation of American children whose parents, especially mothers, did not worry about us almost constantly.”
It has got to be a burden on a child to be the object of lots of parental concern. I have to wonder if parental concern isn’t eventually self-fulfilling; as in, if you are concerned, then your child will give you something to be concerned about.
• “I’m a member of the last generation of American children to lie in the beds we made and stew in our own juices.”
We were taught to take responsibility for our actions. When we did something wrong or failed to do our best in school, our parents told us we had no excuses. Life was not a soap opera, and we were not victims, which is why the next point is relevant.
• “I’m a member of the last generation of American children to leave home when children should leave home.”
We left home as soon as possible because we were convinced we could make better lives for ourselves than our parents were willing to make for us. That’s a good thing for all concerned.
The good news is that more and more of today’s parents are getting it. They’re raising their kids pretty much the same way kids were raised 50-plus years ago, with no cellphones, video games or junk food.
Their kids eat what’s put in front of them, sleep in their own beds, do their own homework, entertain themselves, have no excuses and see, on a daily basis, what a real marriage looks like.
They may be a small minority, but the way I see things, they’re the future.
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