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The Passive Generation
by Andrew Tuttle
04/03/11
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It never ceases to amaze how one generation’s attitudes and actions affect the next, which affect the next. And each generation wonders how the up and coming generation is going to succeed.

Sooner or later I wonder if that will come to pass.

My grandparent’s generation lived through two world wars, the Great Depression and the very real and constant threat of nuclear annihilation. My parent’s generation lived through the Korean and Vietnam wars, oil embargos and the constant threat of nuclear annihilation.

My generation lived through two gulf wars and the 9-11 attacks. So what the heck are we teaching the next generation? My grandparents clearly passed down hard work, discipline, self-control and humility. I saw that in my parents and even my friends’ parents.

But Generation X, as we have become known, should really be called the Passive Generation. Based on what I have seen, I am not exactly sure what is being passed down but the passivity of today’s parents in regards to childrearing is a damning testament to what the future holds.

I have had guests in my house, more acquaintances really than friends, allow their two children run amok, constantly picking up and inspecting decorations and other fragile trinkets, without saying a word. Oh wait, they did tell my wife, “They’re just curious.”

Curious enough to break one of her favorite figurines without even an apology.

I know one mother who was confronted by her 17-year old son in how she rebuked him in front of his friends (via telephone). He explained his friends were “appalled” at how she treated him (Did he have her on speaker?). What 17 year-old uses the word “appalled” anyway?

Had I said that to my mother I’d still be feeling the slap across my face. Sorry, but I was never appalled at my friends’ parents. I can recall many times being embarrassed in front of my friends by my parents and my friends being embarrassed in front of me by their parents. We never confronted our parents later and told them off about how they treated us.

Today’s teens know no embarrassment or even shame. Instead, they have been brought up by passive parents who, in many cases, idolize their children thereby creating a bunch of narcissists. I do know one family who has what can only be called a shrine to their son. Yikes.

This same son recently walked into my house on the phone, too busy to say “hello” to my wife or me. But I shouldn’t be surprised, this is the same boy who rarely if ever acknowledged me or my wife when he’d come into my house in the last five years. I never recall hearing a thank you either after the numerous sleepover breakfasts I made him.

How is this for passive parenting: A few years ago during a family and friends pick-up football game, a teenage boy got crunched between two adults when he went up for a catch. He grabbed his shoulder and sulked off the field as we all tried ensuring he was OK. I’ve never seen such a poor display in attitude. A few plays later, he suddenly appeared in the game and again got hurt and sulked off the field. Then in the last play of the game he came off the sidelines as the play was unfolding, took the ball and ran for a touchdown.

It was an odd and almost uncomfortable moment for everyone. But, not only did his father not rebuke him for his attitude, he consoled him as we all walked home! I was embarrassed for both. There is no doubt had that been my father and me, I would have been given my comeuppance in front of everybody and again at home. But that’s something I would have learned when I was eight.

Maybe an explanation can be found in the growing number of studies being done by psychologists that show Facebook users have an inflated sense of self-worth and many have narcissistic tendencies. Just Google narcissism and Facebook and you’ll see what I mean.

I do think the invention of MySpace and Facebook has permanently altered the way people communicate and socialize. There is no doubt the two websites also provide an outlet, especially for teenagers, for grandeur. Perhaps Facebook is to blame for this inflated sense of self-worth by teenagers but it all eventually goes back to parenting. (Have you ever heard of a parent arguing with a teacher over her 18-year old son’s grade to get it raised to an A so he would make valedictorian? I have. That’s not passive parenting, that’s crappy parenting.)

I believe one explanation for the passivity of today’s parents could be a result of watching our parents and even our grandparents stress over the small things and make federal cases out of issues that later no one can even remember.

A childless friend of mine once lamented to me about how his nephew was complaining that he didn’t want pancakes one morning and he wanted eggs. His mother, rightfully, told her son if he doesn’t want pancakes then he doesn’t have to eat. After all, that’s what she was cooking and providing her family. My friend said, had it been him, he would have made the boy eggs. So bowing to the whining pressure of a 4 year-old? What does that type of passive parenting do over time? See above football story for answer.

I agree life is too short to sweat the small things but today we are more in debt than we have ever been. Credit cards are maxed out as the Passive Generation buys themselves toys their parents never dreamed about and then buy their children toys they never dreamed of having. The “spare no expense, I want it now” attitude of many parents is clearly being learned by their children.

Long gone is the idea of postponing gratification. Today’s kids must have the latest and greatest computers, Ipods, game consoles and cell phones. And in many cases their passive parents are buying it for them!

I learned at a very young age the power of money and the idea of saving. Most nights out for me as a teen was a trip to 7-11 for a Super Big Gulp, perhaps a movie and if not, a trip to Tower Records where I scoured what was new and if I wanted to spend ten bucks, which I never did, I’d buy something. Money was typically saved because I knew one day, I’d need it.

Compare that discretion to today’s teens who, without the luxury of a full-time job, spend hundreds on snow boarding equipment or expensive game consoles and computers only to lament later about not having enough money. I never felt comfortable, especially at that age, spending so much money. I think I was inherently taught that spending on fun comes later in life once you are financially established.

Believe me, I'm not pointing fingers. Much of what started my conversation on this was my own passive parenting. I'll spare you the details but I have turned a blind eye in an effort to not sweat the small stuff. But, sometimes the small stuff turns into big stuff and by then your children are at an age where they need to figure things out on their own. Or are they?

In his book "Fatherlove: Learning to Give the Best You've Got" D. Bruce Lockerbie said parents don’t stop caring because we are no longer the main providers of shelter, food and the comforts of home. Once a parent, always a parent, he says.

“As biological parents of these children,” he said, “it’s also our joyful pleasure to care for them, even after they no longer seem to need us.”

Lockerbie adds that nothing is of greater importance to a father than training their children for discipline and their instruction in principles, which together make up character.

I am not sure why my generation has failed at communicating that to their children. Perhaps one explanation can be found when, during a college parent orientation, we were told that since our children are now in college we more or less have no more responsibility over them.

You know, I’m not sure good parents ever stop parenting. And, I’m now wondering if the Passive Generation ever started.


Note: You may also enjoy reading "The Special Generation" and "The Facebook Delusion."



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