This morning, I was watching a segment on The Today Show featuring Jessica Lahey, an education and parenting writer, and Wendy Mogel, a family psychologist and author, on the importance of creativity. One of the guests commented on how offering creativity boosters like free play goes against the current trend of days filled with structured activities.
How ironic — the generation known for being slackers is raising its children with an intensity that appears to be unparalleled by previous generations.
As soon as Gen Y graduated into an awful economy, they became the hopeless unemployed basement dwellers who feasted off their parents’ generosity. But let’s not forget our roots. We were the original lazy generation, though no one accused us of being coddled by the latch-key lifestyle of many of our formative years. Yet, I’m sure the phrase, “They aren’t willing to put in the hard work,” has been uttered about every generation when they entered the workforce, especially those gifted with poor job prospects.
Research does show us, though, that each generation has some defining characteristics, and Gen X is supposed to be filled with free thinkers who value family and personal time. And I know that as we matured into our parenting years concepts like “free range parenting” and the like gained notice (though maybe not popularity). But so has the “helicopter parent.” So what’s behind the intensity of the current parenting generation’s practices?
Not only are our kids over-scheduled (which, in turn, suffocates our families and ourselves with commitments), but we do things like put them in sports leagues that require incredible amounts of practice time, increasing their risk of injury to growing bones and joints, or sign them up for other endeavors meant to help them stand out among their peers. I used to work with an orthopedic surgeon who said he does procedures on teenagers that were previously only done on ex-athletes whose joints wore out in middle age. Where I live (and I think it’s the same in other major urban school districts), kids test into the good public high schools, which means that they spend their middle school years being tutored on top of their normal academics and have to hope that they won’t get an A- in gym, which would sink their GPA too low to compete. This kind of thing is only good if you are in the business of test prep or treating anxiety disorders.
Some of this is forced upon us, such as the choice between spending the equivalent of a college education on a private high school or tutoring and test-prepping your child for a shot at a good free education (something most of us were raised to expect in this country). Work schedules make it tough for some people to offer blocks of free time in one’s bedroom or backyard, and many schools have addressed the need for after-school supervision with structured programs.
This problem has been chronicled over the past several years, and Wendy Mogel isn’t the first child expert to warn us against neglecting free play. Why does it seem that we are still heading in the wrong direction?
I can admit that some of the intensity that taints my parenting is self-inflicted. When my child wants to do everything, it’s hard for me to say no. I listen to parents “lament” their weekends dominated by their children’s schedules, and I detect an air of superiority in their “Oh, we’re just so busy,” that has me questioning how productive my family’s weekends are. When I see my kids’ toy room and could submit a photo of it to The Weather Channel as a post-disaster scene, I wonder if they have too much free time on their hands.
But Wendy Mogel said on The Today Show that mess is the work of creativity, so we have that going for us. Perhaps next time I feel belittled by a fellow parent’s weekend field-to-course-to-court odyssey, I can sigh and talk about how da Vinci’s parents must have had to live through such assaults on their household order as we do.
Apparently those sacrifices we make with our feet when we try to cross through the land of 10,000 Legos are, in fact, part of the formula for future success. I heard only the end of this part of the segment, but experts have determined that creativity is a key trait of business leaders. While I have issues with guiding a child through life with only the goal of a well-paying job in mind (see We Are More Than Our Metrics), perhaps this will get more people on board with the idea that we Gen Xer parents should chill out a bit.