I remember those amazing times in the sand box not having to worry about adult issues or urgent schedules that had to be completed. I only had to remember the golden rule.
Since then, I have found that many young college students have forgotten some basic rules and are smothered by over-doting parents. As a result, they have no experiences with the real world.
They aren’t allowed to fail in any way. They are narcissistic. They lack empathy for others and put their own needs first. They expect high grades when they don’t earn them, and they expect constant praise. They are selfish, rude and get away with things no one in my day would have.
These are all things I found in the book “Generation Me” by Jean Twenge, who classifies “Generation Me” as anyone born in the 1970s, 1980s or 1990s.
I shudder to think what a monster I could have become with modern child-rearing practices if my parents weren’t in their 70s when I was raised.
Gorged on a diet of grade inflation, constant praise and materialistic entitlement, I probably would have succumbed to a life of thoughtless self-indulgence if not for the constant thought of what they could do to me.
Perhaps, one day, we will say that the recession saved us from a parenting attribute that churns out ego-induced spoiled brats. But it is too soon to tell if our economic free-fall will cure America of its sense of economic privilege.
The recession has made it much harder to get the money together to give our kids six-figure sweet sixteen parties and plastic surgery for graduation presents, all in the name of self esteem.
It’s a good thing that we’ve built up the confidence of our kids. But in the process, we’ve created a generation of hot-house flowers puffed with a disproportionate sense of self-worth and without resiliency skills they need when mommy and daddy can’t fix something.
All that narcissism is a problem that can include students disregarding curfews, playing dance music until 3 a.m. and failing to understand why professors won’t let them make up an exam they were too hungover to take in the first place.
It seems that the flip side of all that confidence isn’t significant success, but antisocial behavior.
Armed with a steady influx of trophies just for showing up and “I Am Special” coloring books, it is hard for kids to understand why an abundance of ego might be bad for them.
My parents struggled to give me the freedom to be me while also teaching me generosity, compassion and humility, all of which were characteristics I had to learn when I was in kindergarten.
But I didn’t make it easy on them. I was the kind of kid who threatened to maim himself if asked to wash the dishes.
“Don’t get cocky, kid,” was the response from my mother when I declared, “My grades are too good for my behavior to be monitored.”
“Guys are a dime a dozen,” my father would remind me when I came up with the brilliant idea that school was getting in the way of my social life.
My mom would also trot out fables to keep me in check, ridiculous fairy tales that would keep me up at night and reflect on my decisions in life.
Ever read the original ending to Cinderella? The prince charming never got his happily ever after as he always wanted too much and ended up a beggar.
It mostly worked. However, I still hate to be told what to do, I dislike following rules and I will waste hours trying to get out of the simplest household task. But I’m a work in progress.
No matter how you were raised, the handiest cure for narcissism used to be life. Whether through fate, circumstances or moral imperative, our culture kept arrogance in check.
Now, we encourage it.
Pastors preach of a Jesus that wants us to be rich. The famously egocentric wide receiver Terrell Owens declares at a press conference that being labeled selfish is fine with him. We live in a world where everyone can be a star if only on YouTube.
The general sense among students on campus is that with the world being such a competitive, cutthroat place, they have to be narcissists.
Well, you may need a super-sized ego to win “America’s Next Top Model” or to justify your multimillion-dollar bonus.
But the last I checked, our lives don’t require all that attitude.
Treating the whole world as if it works for you doesn’t suggest you’re special. It just means you’re inconsiderate.
As an antidote to a skyrocketing self-worth, Twenge recommends “humility, evaluating yourself more accurately, mindfulness and putting others first.”
Such values may seem quaint and maybe even self-defeating to those of us who think we’re special. But trust me, it gets easier with practice.
All I really need to know about how to live and what to do and how to be I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but there in the sand pile at school.
Some people need to reflect back in those years of blankies, warm cookies and cold milk to remember the world does not revolve around them.