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False Equality

January 24, 2008

 

There’s been a trend lately that is becoming increasingly more common - and more disturbing.  I call it False Equality, and it strikes both parents and children.  It leads to many problems, not the least of which is disrespect of ones own parents and other authority figures.  I’m not talking only about the parents who are trying to be their children’s friends, though that is certainly an example.  I’m seeing this trend in otherwise fabulous parents who are falling for the current idea that children should be treated like equals in many ways.  Ways that are damaging to children because they begin to define themselves by what they have instead of who they are, their egos become falsely inflated and this sets them up for disappointment later in life.

 

Defined by Stuff:

There is a trend toward thinking that children should have the same things adults do.  The same computer, the same cell phone, the same Dooney and Bourke handbag.  After all, if you can afford to give the best, why wouldn’t you?  I’ve actually heard parents confessing they felt guilty for buying their child the computer or jeans that were the next level down from their own.  They struggled about whether or not this was fair.  I realize that many of you will scoff and think they are weak parents.  But this parental confusion is increasingly normal in this highly consumer driven world.  

 

Many children believe they are entitled to everything adults have - and more.  But here’s the thing:  They haven’t earned it.  You wonder where this glut of entitlement is coming from?  It’s coming from parents.  Many blame advertising and media, but they can’t put dollars in a child’s hand.  Parents have fallen for the idea that their children deserve the best-right now-simply because they have the money to provide it.  After all, adults don’t delay gratification much anymore, so why should kids have to wait?   Here are three reasons:

 

Because they must learn how to earn things.  You have to earn things in the real world.  It is the job of parents to prepare their children for the real world.  In the real world, children are not the center of the universe.   Many children are not being taught that with privilege comes responsibility.  Delaying gratification and working toward a goal makes the achievement much sweeter and builds self-worth through accomplishment.  It also teaches a good work ethic which is also lacking in much of today’s youth.

 

Because they become jaded.  Why?  Well, what do they have to look forward to?  They already have it all, so nothing is a big deal.  When we were children, we heard things like: “That’s not age appropriate, dear, but in a few years you can wear a dress like that to senior prom.”  Now, parents buy sweatpants that say JUICY across the derriere and then wonder why their sweet daughter is acting like Paris and rolling her eyes.  Or how about: “That’s too expensive for someone your age.”  Now, children expect the same as their parents, but they do not appreciate the same item in the same way.  They didn’t work X amount of hours to earn that thing.  In this climate of False Equality, children have nothing to look forward to earning because it’s all given to them now.  We are robbing them of the chance to work toward something and therefore find meaning in it. 3.  Because they are being set up for failure.  Today, children have all kinds of things you and I could only have dreamed of possessing at their age.  This is what they think their lifestyle should be.  Everything new, now.  Can they sustain it after they are out of their parents care?  Or will they still be subsidizing them at 30?  Children have been taught that price is no object.  After all, you want your child to be popular and happy, right?  Of course you do, but far too many parents give in to the wheedling of children against their better judgment.  It’s too much, too soon.  They are not doing them any favors.

 

Respect and Leadership:

Another way False Equality shows in today’s society is in the way adults and children interact with each other.  There is a common trend in children addressing adults by their first names as a matter of course.  Not very long ago most adults were addressed as Mr. or Mrs. and this was viewed as perfectly normal and correct.  The respect of the generational difference was observed, and in only very few special relationships were first names used, and even then - depending on where you grew up - there might still be a modifier, such as “Miss Daisy” or the honorary “Uncle Bob.”  The use of “sir” and “ma’am” has all but disappeared in Southern California.  Now, many adults are insulted if any child addresses them as Mr. or Mrs. regardless of a special relationship.  They say, this makes them feel old.  I say, stop being so selfish.  These adults are not teaching children to be respectful and to understand that with age and experience comes a measure of respect.  They are teaching them that adults and children are the same and this diffuses leadership and respect. 

 

People will argue that society simply isn’t that formal anymore, that especially here in Southern California, life is lived casually and many niceties that used to be normal are now out of place.  Adults experience peer pressure, too, and those who do require such measures of respect are often criticized as being extreme.  But every time you lessen the gap separating adults from children, you are taking a brick out of the pedestal of Respect and Authority that you are standing on.  Why do you think so many children are flippant when speaking to adults?  It’s because they get away with it all the time.  That’s how they speak to their parents.  Many parents seem to think it is normal, and therefore acceptable, for children - especially teenagers - to speak disrespectfully.  They think “it’s a stage they’re going through,” or that they need to let them express themselves honestly.  They are wrong.  Young people need to learn how to express themselves honestly and respectfully.  When parents laugh off sarcasm or put-downs, or “let it go,” they are lowering themselves the eyes of their children.  Stop it the first time it happens.  If you’ve been letting it go, stop it now.  They will be so thankful that they can trust you to be strong.

 

Children benefit when they know they can trust the adults who are in charge of them.  Children are also fabulous at sniffing out weakness in the adults around them.  When you are an authority figure they can rely upon, when the rules - and the roles - are clear, they can relax and enjoy themselves.  When adults let boundaries slide, children may seem to enjoy it, but underneath it bothers them.  They want to respect you.  But respect can’t simply be demanded, it must be earned.  Entitlement doesn’t work here either. There’s only one way to inspire true respect in others: You must Lead.                                                                          •GMS

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