“Keep physically fit. Take sufficient rest, breathe fresh air night and day, and eat wholesome food. If you feel ill, consult your physician and be guided by his advice. Be hopeful, cheerful, gritful.This is a program of preparedness and he who is wise will “play his part” in conformity to its requirements.” – Michigan State Board of Health, 1919
Gandhi and Millennials have a lot in common. Passive resistance and self-destructive behavior is not futile. It’s the perfect way to fight the British and Helicopter Parents.
You aren’t a Helicopter Parent, of course. I don’t think I am. My oldest son just turned 18, and I bought him a car a few weeks ago. To my mind, he needs a safe car to get on with life. He isn’t going to college so he’ll need it for work. He’ll have to pay for gas and insurance and pay off the loan, eventually. Yea, I am enabling him. Perhaps I’ll sell it by the time I’m done with this article.
People will tell you Millennials are Deluded Narcissists, or their parents made them that way. I don’t buy that. Narcissism isn’t a new problem:
“The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.” – Socrates
Millennials have it rough. Their grandparents are from the Greatest Generation: “When I was your age, I had to walk 10 miles to school and back and do my chores and homework before bed.” The Greatest Generation put their kids through college by washing floors. Baby Boomers had to live through the Cold War, Race Riots, and Hyper-Inflation. Middle Class Millennials in the US have everything they need, but something is still wrong. Youth Suicide has been on the rise for decades and has been for some time.
The pressure on kids nowadays is intense. YouTube and Instagram show you that you can’t do it better. It used to be that when you won a hockey game, you were on top of the world. Now you have to be on the Colorado Select team to be any good. Even then, you are not better than a 9 year old. The Greatest Generation didn’t have to beat everybody in the world in stickball. They just has to be the best on their block.
Middle Class Millennials in the US have everything they need, but what do they want? They can’t know, because YouTube tells them just about anybody can do anything. I have always told my kids that I can buy them the rope, and it’s their job to climb the mountain. I now realize that’s too much pressure. Mohammed, Moses, and this guy conquered mountains. And, anyway, even choosing which mountain to climb can be daunting. I have yet to climb a 14er myself, and I’ve lived in Colorado for 17 years. Who am I to talk about mountains?
Some say that Millenials have Low Frustration Tolerance. I do see this in my own kids have this, but I think a bigger issue, and more likely a cause than effect, is that dopamine release in today’s society has a very low Activation Threshold. Just pick up your phone, and you can feast on any fancy. You don’t need to climb a mountain to get an adrenalin rush any more, just roll-over, and turn on your Xbox. The Greatest Generation didn’t have TV or video games. They had to go outside to get their daily dose of neural stimulation. However, if they did have such things, they would have been addicts just like the rest of us.
To be fair to myself, Helicopter Parents have it tough, too. Murders, rapes, and abductions are happen every day, right on your phone, and there is nothing you can do about them. You have to get your kids into the right preschool. Parents are now competing (note the subject) to get their kids into college with the top students from every corner of the Earth.
I have a choice of how I want to live my life. I also have an obligation to do some important things, I believe, to support my kids without being controlling. I let my kids decide if they want to go to state university, community college, trade school, or go to work right out of high school. I try to support them in their decision with love. If I am anxious about their life, I don’t hide it. I do make it clear that it is not their problem to calm my anxiety. That’s my job, and arguably the most important one as a parent.
The prescription for a healthy life has been known for some time: Be hopeful, cheerful, gritful. My job is to model this behavior, not preach about it. I would add: I should model being nice to myself. I’m getting better at all these things, but it’s not something I learned as a kid, especially the part about being nice to myself.
I should say that I don’t overdo it. Modeling healthy behavior doesn’t mean being the best at anything. We joke that there’s a BMI-tester coming into Boulder. Anybody over 20 BMI is blocked from entering the town. Endurance athletes and overachievers of all kinds abound in Boulder and elsewhere in Middle Class America. I don’t have to be a Buddhist to be happy and calm. (I do think practicing mindfulness would be a good thing, but I haven’t had the grit to get there yet.)
Kids are tough, instinctively. Darwin says they will survive. My asthma made me cough as a kid, but following my doctor’s advice, I survived. Children do die, and it is a tragedy for their parents. I don’t want to diminish their pain in any way. However, they will survive bumps, scrapes, and the occasional emergency room visit, and even a loss of a limb.
I have learned this and a couple of other things over the past two decades. My helicopter is parked most of the time. I use “No” as a complete sentence. I am setting clear boundaries in a few areas to help them develop frustration tolerance. I’m there to listen if they want to talk without offering advice. I wish I had learned these things sooner.
It is never too late. My older son said to me the other day, “It feels really good to pay for everything myself.” This gives me hope that he’s figuring out his life, and he’ll be alright. I left him that day feeling very happy.