Authors: Darlene Sweetland
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Copyright Â© 2015 by Darlene Sweetland and Ron Stolberg
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Teaching kids to think : raising confident, independent, and thoughtful children in an age of instant gratification / Darlene Sweetland, Ron Stolberg.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
(trade : alk. paper) 1.Â Problem solving in children. 2.Â Frustration in children. 3.Â Parenting. 4.Â Parent and child. 5.Â InternetâSocial aspects. I.Â Stolberg, Ronald A. II.Â Title.
The Instant Gratification Generation
As clinical psychologists, we have worked with families and educators for more than twenty years. Recently, we have found ourselves marveling at the number of children and teens who become easily frustrated when asked to solve a simple social dilemma or deal with a problem on their own. Here are only a few examples of situations we witnessed in our therapy practices the week we began writing this book:
A seven-year-old girl became angry at her parent and screamed, “My iPad is not charged! You didn't charge my iPad!”
A mother told her disappointed ten-year-old son, “I will call his mom and tell her that her son left you out of the handball game.”
A seventh-grade girl panicked because she forgot to study for a test, and her father said, “I will send your teacher an email and ask if you can take it a day later.”
A high school boy was unhappy about a teacher he was assigned for a history class, and his mother said, “I will call the school and see if I can get your schedule changed.”
A teenage girl grew annoyed at her mother and said, “I need the iPhone 5, not your old phone because yours is lame!”
Whether these kids were dealing with friendship confusion, an academic challenge, or a parental dispute, their responses were the same. They were upset by the situation and became increasingly angry, anxious, or even panicked when their problem wasn't solved right away. It never seemed to cross their minds to take a moment to figure out a possible solution; instead, they launched straight into meltdown mode. We observe this troubling pattern in our personal lives as well as our professional lives. In addition, parents, teachers, administrators, and coaches are all talking to us about their concerns about what they are seeing. The need for someone to solve their problem right away is rampant in many environments and talked about all the time.
More recently, this low tolerance for frustration has become a hot-button topic brought up by colleagues, friends, and family alike. It has also been highlighted in the media with articles such as “Millennials: The Me Me Me Generation” published in
magazine in May 2013 and “Are We Raising a Generation of Helpless Kids?” on the Huffington Post website in February 2012.
The trend continues to worsen, and as child psychologists and concerned parents, we found ourselves asking the same questions over and over: What is happening with this generation of kids? Why do they expect everything to be given to them? And where did this sense of entitlement come from? We then realized that our society is enabling this low-frustration tolerance.
Every generation has faced its own challenges and has been shaped by society's expectations and pressures. The Silent Generation (born between 1925 and 1945) responded to the Great Depression and World War II by working hard but remained quiet about protests or political opinions relative to other generations.
After World War II, the Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) grew up in a world of great urban development and larger families, and they believed that with hard work, the American dream would be theirs.
Generation X (born between 1965 and the early 1980s) experienced the introduction of the personal computer, cable television, and the Internet.
While identified as a highly educated group, they were more reluctant to invest as much energy as their parents in job security, retirement, and the American dream.
Now we have a generation directly impacted by the rapid development of technology. Kids born since the late 1980s and early 1990s, known as Generation Y or millennials, have known nothing other than full access to the digital world, meaning that swift communication, immediate access to information, and the ability to work from anywhere is considered normal to them.
Recent advancements in technology have resulted in products that are more convenient for us. Answers to questions are provided at the click of a mouse thanks to Google, directions to a new restaurant are provided via GPS, any TV show missed can be found “on demand,” and people are available to solve problems instantly via cell phone. The result is that today's growing children and teens are learning to navigate the tumultuous world with the aid of all these modern conveniencesâand therefore expect instant solutions to their problems.
This generation of children and adolescents has grown up with very little need to wait for anything. Not only do they expect instant solutions to their challenges, but they are also increasingly dependent on adults. Parents are doing more for their children than ever before, and technology has advanced in such a way that conveniences are no longer the exception but the rule. This generation is one of
Today's children expect more with less work. Supported and fueled by the rapid pace of technology, we are raising a group of kids who are being
taught not to think
. This is the first generation in history where the unique advancements and changes of our time are putting children at a disadvantage: we are failing to teach them how to solve complicated problems, cope with unexpected changes in life, and lead independent lives.
In addition, the academic expectations for our children are also higher than in any past decade. It is more difficult to get into college today than ever before, and parents begin to worry about their children's preparedness as early as preschoolâwill they be placed in the top reading group in kindergarten? Additionally, parents feel a lot of pressure to enroll their children in any extracurricular activity that could put them at an advantage (sports, art, languages, etc.). What if their children miss opportunities that could possibly put them ahead?
It seems like this push to excel would increase the opportunities and skills of developing children. Isn't that what it is all for? In fact, the opposite is happening. Parents are eager to provide their children with the best opportunities, but this has resulted in parents who rescue their children from making typical, developmentally expected mistakes. That means today's children aren't learning from their mistakes. For example, consider Sam. If Sam does not turn in his report on time, he will get a lower grade, but he has forgotten his report at home. Sam uses his cell phone to call his mom, and she rushes to bring the report to school. His mother thinks that if she does not bring the report, he will get a lower grade. But her panicked line of thinking continues from there. If Sam receives a low grade on his report, it will affect his semester grade, which will affect his grade point average, which will affect what college he gets into, which will affect his job choice, and so on, and so on. Parents often rationalize this behavior by saying to us, “Well, it was just that once.” But is it really? Using this example, will a late paper
impact Sam's career as an adult? (Unlikely.) Allowing Sam to deal with the consequences of a late report on his own may prolong his struggle and frustration in the short term, but it will teach him to be independent and self-sufficient in the long run. To put it another way, consider this. Who would be a better employee, manager, or business ownerâsomeone who makes a mistake and asks someone else to fix it, or someone who makes a mistake, takes responsibility for the mistake, and learns the skills to resolve it so it can be avoided in the future?