Mixed Messages Are Ruining Many Young People

What is it with “kids today”? Are they spoiled rotten, or is that just the sentiment of someone getting older, as we all do?

It occurs to me that most kids today are in one respect victims, but not in the usual sense. If they’re a victim of anything, it’s the mixed messages of their elders.

American children especially are sent the message,

“We did well; but you’ll do even better.” They’re told, in a sense, to do their duty by being happy and successful. So far as it goes, it’s a perfectly reasonable and laudable message. It’s consistent with the fact that in American society particularly, each generation has — by and large — done better than the last one.

But parents also send their children and teenaged young adults a contradictory message. “Here. Let me do that for you.” Let me buy you that car. What’s that? Your friends have a better car? Well, no child of mine is going to have an inferior car. Let’s get you a better one. What’s that? Your friends have the latest iPhone? Well, no child of mine is going to have something inferior. Your old model from six months ago has to go.

This is an exaggeration only in some cases, although the general principle is widespread. Parents are telling their kids, “Do as well as I did. In fact, do even better.” Then in the next sentence they’re doing things for the child that are really the young adult’s job to do for him- or herself.

The rationalization provided by parents is, “Well, I’ve done well. Why should I be selfish and not share with my child? I love my children.” That’s not the point. The point is how you show love for your children. Do you show love for your children by giving them everything they could ever want, plus 300 percent more? If so, then you have no business expecting them to grow up with the sturdy values of individualism, self-responsibility and initiative.

It’s true that some kids will develop these virtues whether you spoil them, or not. But with most kids, that won’t be the case. With most kids, their developing attitudes will correspond to what you have created. They’ll develop a sense of entitlement because — well, you’ve always acted like they’re entitled to everything they want. Someone else has it? Then they must have it, too. It’s somehow a bad reflection on you if they don’t have it.

The other attitude many young adults will develop is chronic anxiety. The anxiety rationally follows from the contradiction perpetuated by the parents. The parents say, “Do as well as I did, or better. Work for it.” Then the parents turn around and provide absolutely everything, on demand. The young adult can expect to wonder, “How am I supposed to provide all this for myself?” This sort of young adult will develop severe and chronic anxiety, and no wonder. He or she conscientiously wants to be self-responsible, but the tools for becoming so are thwarted at every turn by the very parents who say, “What gives? Why aren’t you becoming more self-responsible?”

Psychology has long talked about “defense mechanisms,” which are the mind’s way of creating ways to cope with anxiety and confusion. For many young people, the defense mechanism becomes anger. “The hell with them. They say I’m entitled to this stuff, and I am. My friends are, so why shouldn’t I be?”

I would say that this is not a new problem with the present generation of parents and young adults, but it is an escalating problem. It’s little wonder that the vast majority of the parents raising these emotionally retarded young people are the very ones who scream to their politicians, “Give me what’s coming!” They demand from their mommies and daddies in Washington D.C. what they’re providing for their kids — unlimited entitlements. One logically feeds, and follows from, the others.

Sooner or later the cycle has to break. The mommies and daddies — in Washington DC or in the household — are going to run out of money, patience, or both. It’s tempting to knee-jerk and assume it will all be a catastrophe. It might be, but it also might not be. It might even be an opportunity for the pseudo-entitled to break free of the chains of their anxiety once and for all, and to experience the liberation of self-responsibility. Who knows: Today’s young people might be the generation that has to do it. Earlier generations had their own struggles and traumas, which included challenges that often ended well despite being difficult (or even tragic).

The sense in the air is that it’s all coming to a climax, in the coming months and years. And most of us alive now will live to watch it play out, both in the government and in the households of America.