A guy walks into an interview dressed in a fancy suit and shiny shoes. He’s just graduated from college with decent grades. His father is in the construction industry, and he’s made the decision to immolate his career. He tells the interviewer, a seasoned gent in his late 50’s, that he’s a self-starter, self-motivated, and values autonomy… all the things that look good on a resume. So far, the hiring manager is impressed by what he sees and hears. Then comes the moment to negotiate the young man’s salary. The job seeker asks the hiring manager to hang on just a moment. He leaves the room and returns with his father, who then begins the salary negotiation process for his son.
In another state, half way across the country, another young man is frustrated that he is unable to find work. With a degree in hand and a suit of extra-curricular to his credit, he can’t understand why he hasn’t been able to land that elusive $45K per annum job that every college grad has been promised! He does the only thing that seems logical: six months after his fruitless job search, he applies for unemployment benefits. He’s informed that he is not eligible. Shocked, he asks why ever not! He IS unemployed, after all. Because you have to have had a job previously – and paid into the system from your previous wages – in order to qualify for unemployment benefits, he’s told. Miffed, he leaves the office, grumbling about how “unfair” it all is.
Sounds crazy doesn’t it? Who are these “entitled” people and what makes them think they are so special? You know exactly who they are. They’re your co-workers, your kids, and if it all hits the fan, your future bosses. This is the Sticker for Participation Generation. And I can’t stand them.
Anyone who’s spent more than a week with me has heard me bellyache about this group of individuals who were born in the 90’s. Raised by a generation of parents who came out of Carter and Regan administrations unscathed and determined to give their kids a “better life”, they have largely grown up without learning the value of hard work or experiencing the purifying pricks of failure. Everyone is “special” because that’s what’s “fair”. Indoctrinated by MTV to believe that their parents are obligated to fete them with an outlandish Sweet 16 party simply because they managed to cross the mark, these Neanderthals throw full on tantrums when all they get is a night out at the movies and some cake. I’ve seen it, and it ain’t pretty.
I spend a lot of time berating this group of woefully underachieving individuals, often criticizing their parents for the absolute crap job they’ve done raising their spoiled, entitled, lazy kids. And then Friday night happened.
My two oldest girls are in Girl Scouts, which is great for them, but terribly inconvenient for me. Nadjah and Aya participate in several activities, so no matter what the day, I am subject to some form of inconvenience. But I do it because it’s “good for the kids”, plus I rarely got a chance to do any of this stuff myself when I was a child.
Cookie season came in January, and as all Scout Moms and Dads know, it’s a hectic time of year. The pressure to sell these darn cookies is so intense that it’s almost spine-chilling. It makes no sense, particularly given that parents have absolutely no personal payoff to look forward to.
This January I was in Ghana on vacation, so cookie sales were going to have to wait. And wait they did; three full weeks into the month. Through my husband’s efforts the girls were able to sell 106 boxes between them, which is still a decent amount of cookies. In times past, the troop leader would combine their total boxes and give them a prize(s) to share. This was generally done in the absence of the girls to prevent hurt feelings. Some girls sold hundreds of boxes and others only sold tens. The prizes are bigger, the more cookies you sell. This year, their troop decided to have a big ceremony with gift bags and camaraderie and togetherness… and it sucked.
The scout leader read off what each girl had sold and handed her a gift bag containing her prize. Nadjah had sold 51 boxes, so all she got was a badge. The girl who sold 500 boxes hauled in electronics. To her credit, Nadjah fought back her tears of disappointment. Aya on the other hand, who wears her heart on her sleeve, burst into bitter tears, sobbing and clutching her belly as if the love of her life had died. I cringed when I witnessed her tormented display.
My God… I was becoming one of those despicable parents and I hadn’t even realized it. I had not done my job in preparing her for disappointment and what it means to lose. I had shielded my girls from lost hope, and these were the results.
My immediate internal response was to whisk them away to Toys R Us and purchase a consolation prize. If we left at THAT MOMENT, we could get there before the store closed. Then I thought about all the kids who were going to go to bed without heat or dinner that night, or who were standing in the rain with their parents waiting on the bus to come because they had no car. I thought about lost football matches and basketball tournaments in high school. I also thought about my mother, who had willfully put me in situations where there was no chance of success at least on two occasions. All these thoughts came to me in an instant.
The Grant girls were not going out like that. They would have to put on their big girl knickers and tough this one out.
We went to the car and sat in the drizzle.
“I’m going to give you 5 minutes to cry, and then we’ll talk about it, okay?”
Aya wailed and threw her head back against the seat. Now that she had been given permission, Nadjah began to sniffle too. I occupied myself by reading Twitter updates.
“I think I’m done, Mommy,” said Nadjah.
“We still have two minutes left,” I informed her. Aya was still crying. You could tell she was winding down, but in hearing that she had two minutes left, she restarted her engines. Finally, (finally!) the two minute mark came. It was time to talk.
“Tell me why you guys are crying.”
“Because we didn’t get a prize.”
“And you’re disappointed, right?”
“I understand how you feel,” I said honestly. “There have been times when I was a kid that my friends have gotten things that I never have, and never will. But tell me something: Where are all your Girl Scout prizes from last year and the year before? Can you tell me what you won two years ago?”
Nadjah rattled off a short list of 4 items. I corrected her and rattled off 12. (I’m sure there are more.)
“Do you see that you have so much stuff that you don’t even remember what you have?”
They both nodded in reluctant agreement.
After informing them that they were very lucky to be a part of this particular troop – which does a lot of the girls and exposes them to things I haven’t made time for – I made it clear that getting prizes for selling cookies is not what scouting is about.
“Girl Scouts is about training you guys to be powerful, influential women one day,” I said solemnly. “Aya, when you had your tea party/etiquette class, that was to teach you manners and how to conduct yourself in business meetings one day. And when you guys went to the STEM Expo, that was about getting you to think more about science and math. These things are not just for fun… they’re to help train you to be better people.”
I wanted to hear from them. They were unhappy because they had not gotten a plushy (made in China) dog or a travel kit. What could we do differently next year?
“Well for one thing, we could get the cookie sheet earlier,” said Nadjah. (That was an indirect dig at me.)
“We could talk to more people,” said Aya timidly.
“Good!” I said. I started the car and turned to look at them huddled in the back seat, like a pair of captured gerbils. “And remember this feeling. Remember how awful it felt, and do something different so that you don’t have to feel this way again. Now let’s go home and have dinner.”
And guess what? By the time they went to bed, there was no further mention of scout prizes or such foolishness. There was only laughter, teasing, and squealing as they played with their younger brother and sister. That night, I’d saved $40 in pity prizes and was well on my way to saving my kids from being coddled into future adult failures.
As a parent, do you feel it’s better to spare your kids feelings or let them experience hardship in one sense or another? Even if you don’t have kids (maybe you were that kid), discuss, discuss!