I have seen a slew of similar articles on my Facebook feed recently. The general theme is “What’s the matter with kids these days?” I see them shared by people who are genuinely concerned about society in general, and shortcomings in our children in particular. But here’s the deal: they’re wrong. There’s nothing the matter with kids these days. As George Orwell once said, “Every generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it.” There is a term for this: juvenoia – the exaggerated feeling that youth are screwed up. I think juvenoia is the driver behind many of these blog posts.
Juvenoia and Judgment
Kids haven’t inherently changed. We just have a lot more people judging us as parents, and then writing academic-sounding blog posts about it and their juvenoia. Then, well-meaning friends share those academic-sounding blog posts on social media, making us feel like we’re screwing it all up. But hear me now: we aren’t screwing up. We are raising children in 2018.
Yes, the numbers sound scary. ADHD diagnoses are skyrocketing. Suicide rates are up. More kids are obese than ever before. But at the same time: Teen tobacco, alcohol and drug use has gone down. Teen pregnancy rates are at about the lowest ever. Violent crime rates are down. To top it off, these ‘troubled’ youth are showing the most amazing response to the shooting in Parkland that I have ever seen.
And the reasons for the increase in ADHD and depression aren’t clear. It could be better recognition of disorders that always existed. It could be the availability of new medications that cause increased diagnosis and thus increased prescriptions. Or it could be that the changed requirements at school don’t suit every kid, leading to and ADHD diagnosis, when they really just need more time to mature.
What are we (supposedly) doing wrong?
> Giving them too much
The articles warn that we are coddling our children, setting our offspring up for failure once real life hits. That somehow, by carrying their backpack, we are ensuring that they will miss a mortgage payment and lose their house. If we allow them to use our phone to allay a tantrum (cue the glares from the non-diaper bag crowd), we are emotionally distancing ourselves, which will surely lead to teen depression. Seriously? Yes, we need to teach our children responsibility, but that doesn’t mean 100% of the time. Give them chores, give them consequences. But give them a little leeway, as well. They’re kids. They’re allowed a little laziness and a lot of learning.
> Not Letting Them be Bored
I think of this as the “Pinterest Mom” problem. That by trying to live up to the amazing things we see other parents doing, we aren’t giving our kids time to explore their own imagination. But other articles suggest that if we aren’t creating engaging learning opportunities for our kids, we’re shortchanging them and ensuring they’ll end up working for an evil warlord (or some other such awful future). But have you met a kid lately? Have you ever tried to stifle the imagination of a six-year-old? (“Please, for all that is good and sane. Stop with the fairies.” – Me, daily) The imagination is active, even if not apparent to an outsider. Kids don’t need to be bored to access it. So, soak some Skittles in water. Or don’t. The imagination will survive.
> Too Much Technology
Social media can be dangerous, I will absolutely acknowledge that. But it may be necessary, especially as employers turn more to social media sites like LinkedIn for new hires. You can’t squeeze the child of the 2010s into the mold of the child of the 1980s. We don’t expect our children to get the Encyclopedia Britannica off the shelf to research current trends in science or politics. We also can’t expect our children to shun social media. They need to be taught to navigate it safely. Which means that we need to know:
1. What they are doing, and
2. How to do it ourselves
We need to be more savvy than our kids until they are mature enough to recognize the dangers of social media. But for the sake of our educators, please don’t let them have their cell phones in class.
What are we supposed to do?
The common solution in these posts is a cry for “back to basics!” But basics in 2018 are different than they were 20 years ago. Yes, it’s possible to live off grid and be totally content in a technology-free life. But a child growing up without access to (and knowledge of) technology is at a disadvantage. Many kids who grew up playing video games in our generation have gone on to become the computer scientists and engineers shaping the technology we use today. I don’t know about you, but I want my kids to have the opportunity to be their generation’s version of that. Who knows what that will look like, but I suspect it will be shaped by the kids using technology now.
Check Your Juvenoia at the Door
I see a lot of good parents. I’d even venture to say that the vast majority of parents I see as a Pediatrician are great parents. It hurts me to think that there are people out there who think that parents these days have it wrong. You don’t. We don’t. Kids are kids, generation after generation. We parents will plug along and do our best, and despite us, the kids will be fine.