Learning about Parenting from Observing Millenials

I didn't know what my children's generation would be named when they born. My generation was called Generation X and plenty of people had plenty of things to say about us. Millennials are getting a tough rap these days. But there are many exceptions to the common attributes assigned to the Millennials. My kids and their friends are largely not accurately depicted by the descriptions we hear most. Unfortunately however, for most much of the criticism is well earned.

Millennials as we've all heard and experienced, struggle with entitlement, work ethic, self sufficiency, instant gratification, narcissism, and generally a false expectation of how the world actually works.

I recall a turning point that highlighted for me the terrible position in which Millennials now find themselves.  It was when Obamacare passed and the law of the land changed so that ADULTS can now be on their parents insurance until they are 26 years old. 26 years old! While many championed it as great progress, I recall thinking what a great disservice they were burdening young adults with and how this would only serve to continue to stunt their maturity.

Debating health care is for another time but generations before them had realities and lives at 26 that stand in stark contrast to these almost-30-years-old-living-at-home and being on mom and pop's insurance have. For myself I had moved across the country, was married and divorced with 2 kids and a career at State Farm at 26. My parents hadn't been responsible for me since I was 17 and graduated high school early.

26 is pushing 30. No one should be dependent on their parents at 26. It's crippling and the government should encourage it.

Necessity is the Mother of Invention

Human beings are brilliantly designed and beautifully created by a loving God. A God who provides. Teaching dependency at any age, at any level is destructive to their growth process. If you allow them to suffer a need like Health Insurance, let's say, you create a necessity. Necessity will drive a person to find a solution for themselves.

I've purposed this position in groups of parents of adult children and many of them will say that it's simply not true. Their child would feel no push, no drive, no urgency at all to acquire insurance. yikes!

Why wouldn't an adult feel a sense of urgency about their needs? That is a much more concerning problem and probably at the root of much more. I believe it's because they have been trained, conditioned to expect their parents to meet their needs. If the child were uninsured the parent would worry about the consequences of an illness or injury. How would they pay for care? What if they ran up expensive bills and their credit was ruined. What if they couldn't get a job or an apartment because they had bad credit? Parents, so bent on protecting junior from these consequences intercede and prevent him from ever experiencing consequences. And they are adept at it because they've been doing it a long time. Likely his entire life junior never suffered the consequences of his choices, or his mistakes. Mom and Dad thought by being angry, taking away his phone, and giving him a screaming talking to they had been firm. Nope. Not effective. Sorry.

(For the record if you have a child who can obtain insurance at their employer but using yours is cheaper and they pay their share of your premium - have at it and save the money. This is different. I'm not talking about making shopping decisions. I'm talking about those who haven't been able to turn the adult corner.)

The reality is parenting has to change if we are to avoid populating the world with more folks who aren't capable of functioning within it.

Parenting children with equal parts love and authority is a challenge. Knowing how to do something which has never been modeled for you is not easy. But we must begin to shift our methods and better prepare our kids.

It can be done. I love what worked for us as a family. It started when they were preschoolers.

Natural Consequences 

I learned this parenting through natural consequences when my oldest was only 4 years old. I was given a book that changed my life, Positive Discipline. Within a couple weeks my life, our home changed. It is so much easier to parent without screaming lectures or punitive actions. If you simply allow a child (of any age) to experience the natural consequences of their own actions, it's like a miracle. The world teaches them realities and you don't need to yell about anything. There are many principles to Positive Discipline but my favorites are:
  • Never prevent a child from experiencing the consequences of their actions. 
  • Never level punishments that are not a natural consequence of the behavior.
  • Never become emotionally entangled in the behavior.
  • Never do for a child what they can do for themselves.

There is much more to the concepts and execution but these were the ones I found the most powerful in effecting change.

Let me expound on these a bit.

Never prevent a child from experiencing the consequences of their actions. 

If a teenager uses too much data and there is an overcharge on the bill. They have until the bill is due to pay their fees. Not paying their fees would result in having the phone turned off. Maybe your solution is give them extra chores to make up for the cost? Though that's not an entirely terrible proposition the better solution would be for the child to have to problem solve this entirely on their own. The parent providing the chores and the solution is really not allowing the child to solve the problem at all. They haven't even had the opportunity to identify the problem before the parent intercedes with the solution.

How does a child who does not have a job earn money? They can. When they have to, they do. The difference in a child whose parents let them do chores for the money and a child whose parents make them hit the bricks and earn it are dramatic. The first child learns that ANYTIME they go over their data plan, they will do a few chores and the problem is solved. Having the phone turned off is never a real threat. Whereas the child who has to hustle without assistance to find work, earn and pay the money has a real world experience of losing services if they can't pay.

As an adult if you can't pay your car insurance, your insurance agent isn't going to call you and tell you what you owe and then say, "Since I know you don't have any money just come mow the grass and sweep up the office and I'll cover it for you." 

Never level punishments that are not a natural consequence of the behavior.

All day, everyday I hear parents talk about grounding their kids. Grounding a child might well be the most useless, ineffective punishment parents ever conjured up. It typically has nothing at all to do with the offense and is there is no saliency for the child after the first time. Saliency meaning, it doesn't hurt. It's not potent. They've been grounded and they have learned for themselves it's not the end of the world. Do the time and get it over with. But worst of all - worst of all in the land of why this is ineffectual is that grounding shifts the focus from the child's behavior to the parent. NOW, the parent is the bad guy. The parent is the one causing them to suffer. NOT, their behavior. It doesn't matter how many times mom barks back that you have no one to blame but yourself. The focus is instantly and irreversibly shifted and the child is robbed of the opportunity to see themselves and their behavior as the problem. Not to mention mom is usually the one who suffers most!

Even just the word grounded sets the wrong tone.

If a child leaves their new bike in the rain overnight. Some parents might fuss and yell about rust and ruin, theft and damage and then ground them to the house, or ground them from a video game, which makes no sense. Others might yell about those issues and then ground them from the bike. Which is getting closer.

The better approach would be to say, "Seeing as how you left your bike out all night. I'm not sure you understand the importance of caring for it. What could have happened? Asking the question allows the child to take responsibility for thinking of the consequences. (This is critical in predicting outcomes). A next great possibility is to ask the child what they think the consequence should be. Then, never level the consequence immediately, always tell them you are upset and disappointed and that you need to think about it. This gives the child a chance to worry. Yes we want them to worry a little bit, it won't hurt them.

A natural consequence of leaving the bike out would be not having access to the bike for a period of time until they have demonstrated that they are responsible enough to have the property again. (It might sound like grounding but it's not) I might say for the next week you will not be using your bike and I need you to come up with some ways you can share with me about how you are going to remember your bike in the future. Some system, some method to help you. At the end of the week, we'll give it a try and see how you do for a week. If you do well, then your privileges to use the bike will be returned to you.

A child who back talks or slams the door wouldn't be grounded from their phone, or grounded to their room. There is no natural connection to those things and the child lacks the ability to connect them despite how many times you shout it down the hall.

In my home, a slammed door has a very simple consequence. Loss of the door. I can take a door off the hinges like a one man pit crew at the Indy 500. You don't do it out of anger, you do it because having your own room, having privacy is a privilege. It's a gift that I provide and slamming the door is an insult and an affront to me and to what I do for you. Thus you lose the privilege. Which is what you say after you remove it. Then you say, "I don't know how long it's going to be off, I would expect a few days but it will really depend on how you behave toward me and our home. When you have had a chance to calm down and think about this, I would be open to hearing why you lost your temper so I can understand, and to an apology when you are ready to offer one."

I know it all seems wordy. But a child would much rather you yell, spank or level some punishment that they have mastered managing than to have you calmly speak to them and require them to examine their attitude. They don't want to have to talk to you and explain why they lost their temper in a reasoned way. They don't want to offer a sincere apology. That is SO much harder than being grounded for a week. But we are trying to raise thinking human beings, not reactionary, emotion driven ones.

The consequence of backtalk or rude talk is pretty simple. You need me. You need rides, money, permission to go on trips and do activities. Do they go out of your way to do nice things for the people at school or in their life who are rude to them? Insult them? Make them feel small and hurt their feelings? nope. And neither do you. The trick and frankly most parents lack the ability to do this is that you CANNOT come right back with the same sharp tonuge. You cannot react in anger. You can't get into a battle. You cannot behave as they are. You can't. If they get you to engage they have won. Resist!

Rather, when they backtalk or say something rude. You say, "If I have ever spoken to you that way I apologize. That feels awful. I love you more than anyone and for you to speak to me that way really hurts." -wait, let them react and explain how it's your fault- I don't provide money, or rides, or privileges to people who treat me that way. I'm afraid that behavior is going to have a consequence." And then no matter how they spin out of control, no matter how much they up the ante. Do not tell them what the consequence will be. But, be thinking about it! Whatever the next thing is and I don't care if it's the Championship Game, you have to tell them you are not going to be able to allow them to participate. I realize most parents won't do this if the next thing is a really huge event. So if it is huge, choose something else - NEVER bluff.

The reality is it only takes a few of these conversations to change the course entirely, and reset the bar in the relationship.

Never become emotionally entangled in the behavior.

When you lose your composure they have won. When you are angry, hurt, flustered or frustrated they have won. When they are throwing the equivalent of a temper tantrum even though they are 7 or 17 and you start having one too - it's over. Nothing productive can come from it.

For me it helped me to remember this:

Good News/Bad News

Good News! Their job is to PUSH the boundary. They must. They must push the boundary that's the only way they learn about the world and doing so means they are healthy and growing. You want kids who push the boundaries of the world to see what they are capable of!

Bad News! You are the boundary! So they are going to push you to very brink of your sanity. They are going to stretch you emotionally, spiritually, physically. You will think they are trying to break you - they are.

But when you stop allowing them to draw you into their emotional state and when you realize it's not personal, it's just what they gotta do, you begin to reclaim your sanity.

The best way to avoid being entangled in their emotions is to EMPATHIZE. You do not have to convince them that you are right, or they don't understand. You are the wall. If they don't understand the wall, that's okay. They can't understand when they are emotional anyway. But YOU can understand them. Ask questions, allow them to explain themselves, why they want something. Ask probing questions about why it's important, how does it make them feel, what worries them about it? Tell them you want to understand even if it doesn't change anything. Always seek ways to compromise within the boundaries of what is acceptable to you. Then, even if in the end they are still angry and upset, at least they know you heard them. If you do this, you grow them in empathy. You model how to communicate and care about the feelings of others even when they are emotional, or wronged.

It's always funny to me when parents are complaining about an unruly child and the parent has come completely unhinged. You can't tell who is the parent and who is the child? When they are teenagers and people are cursing and hitting things, it's insane. Life is complicated, someone has to keep a cool head. It MUST be the adult. Without exception.

Last thing about this. Be respectful. Parents are often indignant about the way their children speak to them and yet they speak to their children with venom, anger, spite, cursing and derision. If you are having a respect problem the first thing to examine is how people speak to one another in your home. How spouses speak, how sarcasm is used, how insults are veiled as humor and how much tit for tat is going on with the kids. Don't ever expect your kids to be more mature than you are - ain't happening friend.

Never do for a child what they can do for themselves

When a parent steps in and does what the child can or should be able to do for themselves you are robbing from them their opportunities to feel successful. You might as well whack 'em in the knee cap with a hammer.

This begins VERY young. If your two year old can get their shirt in the head hole by themselves, let them do it every time. If they can pick up their plate and take it to the counter, let them. If they can let the water out of the tub, let them. If they can put their socks in the sock drawer, let them. What you will find is that children from a very young age are capable of vastly more than they are allowed to do and experience. With each new skill they grow in confidence and knowledge of their environment. Parents stifle this for a couple reasons, either things aren't done perfectly or they aren't done quickly enough. Sorry. You must resist this and let them try. There is no need to over-praise a child for letting the water out the tub, but simply saying, "Good Job!" or "Thank You" is appropriate.

You want to train them to seek fulfillment in their abilities not in the praise.

Teens are capable of doing most everything that an adult can do. The reason we don't allow them are no different than the reasons we don't allow toddlers to things - perfection and time. Sadly what teens need most is self confidence and feeling of being capable and grounded to the world. In our home the teens often had at least a meal or two they could prepare and they were responsible for feeding the family one night a week. They actually loved it. Even if it was grilled cheese and soup they took pride in it.

The flip side of this coin is that when they do for themselves they actually appreciate the times when you step in and help them, make them a sandwich, help tidy up their room when it gets away from them. Helping, is okay of course.

Times Have Changed

The conversation about what millennials are lacking should be a cautionary tale to all parents. For a time in our culture the pendulum was positioned far right with harsh parenting, spanking and hard knock life methods. I was spanked often and harshly at times. And no I didn't turn out just fine. Plenty of folks more than at any other time in history are on medication for depression, anxiety and stress. While there are many causes it's fair to hypothesize that perhaps the most formative years of their life had an impact on how they manage adult life.

The pendulum swung dramatically left to feel good approaches and new theories about human development and an aversion to even saying "no" to a child. Both methods crank out adults with baggage to unpack.

A moderate approach where parents are authoritative, boundaries are firm, children are respected, rewards and self esteem are based on behavior and performance and love is offered unconditionally, abundantly and freely, has a much better chance of equipping children to live well adjusted, contented lives.

Of course there is always the wild card, and circumstances intercede in many ways. Then there is the biggest factor, I mean they do have your DNA and your spouses so who knows how they'll turn out!

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