just a smidgen

Kids These Days

I’m finally old enough to be able to say those words.
{ And there are more words in my head than a poem can contain today. }

{ Disclaimer: I know.. there are beautiful, talented, compassionate, generous, philanthropic, intelligent children in this world. I am blessed to know many of them.}

While standing in line at a cafe today, I walked over to place my coat at a table that had just come available. A young girl raced up, touched the chair before I could and stood there smirking at me. I just shook my head and thought to myself “Who does that?” But I do know who does that..  children who have been raised to compete and win at all costs. What was she thinking? Probably “I win!”

There were long line-ups at the grocery store later this afternoon and I resigned myself to enduring the regular line-up since I had so many items to purchase. Two young girls pushed up behind me in line with only 3 items, clearly expecting to get the go-ahead to jump the cue rather than wait in the Express line with everyone else. “Who does that?”  Well, only a few senior citizens and I gladly invite them to go ahead of me because they have difficulty standing for any length of time. “Who else does that?” Children who have been raised with a sense of entitlement. But I’ll come back to this later.

It wasn’t that long ago I thought I’d never say those words, “Kids these days.”  I thought that I would totally “get” what being young felt like. In Grade 8, I even journaled to my future self so that I’d remember what it felt to be a teenager. I thought that when I was older, I would remember and have compassion and understanding for teenagers in society, for my own future children.

Well, having taught in the public school system for 15 years, I do remember, but today I am at a loss and I am devastated. There has been yet another suicide of a young woman, no, she was  a child of 15, and this brought a flood of tears to my eyes this week. “Who does that?” I wondered? So I read more of Rehtaeh’s story, I watched her memorial video and her story moved me.. so much so that I couldn’t not write today.

You see, she was a typical 15 year old. Young, sweet, perhaps naive, and at a party with friends. Too many drinks later ( many of us have had too much to drink ) this young girl passed out and was allegedly raped by four boys. I say allegedly only because the boys have not been convicted yet. Deplorably, someone also thought this would be a great photo opportunity, took pictures, hit send and her tragic night went viral.

That was just the beginning of the abuse for this little girl. She became the victim again when she was bullied at school and her friends left her side. Even the RCMP thought there wasn’t enough evidence to lay charges (even though there were four boys and one victim.. and photographic evidence) and massive delays in the investigation ensued. The internet and printed news articles have damned the RCMP for yet another bungled investigation, others declare the school must be to blame because they didn’t do anything to stop the bullying. Only today, of course “not because of the public outcry”, but because “new evidence” has “suddenly” come to light, these boys will finally be charged. But it’s too late for Rehtaeh.

Everyone is anguished. Everyone wants justice. Everyone wants answers. I want to know why. You see, I remember being in Grade 8, I remember being bullied. My own children have experienced it and I’ve had to advocate for them in school. But this is different, I observe and can feel a change, a shift in how children are being raised…

yes, today what I’m really wondering about… is where were the parents?

I wonder what the parents of those four boys must be thinking or feeling? I’m wondering what the parents of all of Rehtaeh’s friends who abandoned her think or feel?  Is there guilt, shame or fear? Or just “thank goodness it wasn’t my child”.

My generation was raised mostly in homes that were traditional or had two working parents. Sports was rather loosely organized and parental involvement not over done. When my children were born the Super Parent was also engendered, you might know them as the Helicopter Parents, parents who strive to push their children to ever greater heights to achieve and become so much more than they ever were. I have wondered often when this narrow-minded competitive focus would backlash?

Children are enrolled in sports that focus on training, not for community, but for elite level sports, the college team, or better still “the NHL”. Our children must be perfect to do this. They need to practice diligently in sports and school, they must beat the other kids to get that top spot. In this culture that pits child against child, there is little room for failure, because failure means a lack of perfection. There is no room for “us”, just room for “me” and “what I need to do to get where I’m going.. and at all costs, whatever it takes.” Trust me, all that extra coaching for elite training in school and for sports does have a hefty price tag, one that many families just can’t afford.

Children’s best interests are often being pushed aside in the great Race for Success. And eager parents, with a misplaced sense of duty, are quite literally and metaphorically the drivers at the wheel. No longer are children allowed to gradually explore their own interests and find joy in life. They must choose a sport early in order to gain the advantage. They must achieve ever greater advances in those early years through the Seven Habits of Success. Better still, they should hit the Outlier’s 10,000 hours to be truly competent. After all, it worked for their parents didn’t it? Or did it? I don’t remember being under that sort of pressure. Children even have to look the part, with the right clothing and hair to “fit in”. Children have become the newest victims of social media that has repeatedly driven home that to be successful and popular one must have the merchandiser’s prescribed “right look and dress code”. Is it any surprise that anorexia is so prevalent?

What does a child, who has become the sole focus of one or two human beings who are in a competition for “Best Parent” with the “Best Child” turn out like? Well, entitled comes to mind, self-centered, narcissistic, and probably “a win at all costs kind of child”. After all, what child doesn’t want to please their parents? How could they not? What child doesn’t love and want to please their parents with an “A” in every class, gold medals in the race, or the top scorer on the team.. it would make mom and dad proud, wouldn’t it? Isn’t that the rules in the Game of Life they were taught?

What other descriptors come to mind? Fraught with anxiety… when they think they might not “reach the mark”. Devastated.. when they don’t make the team. Crushed.. when they are excluded by the elite group at school or don’t get into the University of their Dreams. Disenfranchised.. when they find out they can’t be Number One at anything at all, so it seems easier to just give up. These are the children I worry most about. The bar has been raised so high, that there are those who just don’t stand much of a chance and, most damaging of all, when they grow old enough.. they believe it.. and the defiance begins.

For the record, I am not against organized sports or scholastic achievement. I just hope that it’s always aligned with a child’s best interests, desires and their own true and honest capabilities. Children do need a nudge sometimes, with guidance, to learn to set realistic goals for themselves and to strive, with parental encouragement, to do their best.. most of the time. Because no one is perfect, including the parents who raise them.

As a parent who wants to do her very best with the very precious gifts of two children, I, too, have fallen into the same trap, time and again. I give my head a shake, pull back and tell myself I need to put things into perspective. All the while, I also feel riddled with anxiety that my child might be “left behind” because I didn’t do my job in promoting them. But isn’t it more important for children to discover self-reliance, to discover the joy in finding one’s own hidden gifts and talents, to try to find employment on their own and work towards their own definition of “success”…even if it means they’re not playing the violin at Juilliard? When is having just enough.. well, enough? My husband believes it is important to discover joy and pride in volunteering for a cause.. instead many in this next generation waste countless hours watching television and gaming. In my years of Early Childhood Education, this was the focus we were taught as educators of young children: self-confidence, self-respect, empathy, social skills, etc. But the tide has turned.

I now wonder, in the race to turn out “Super Kids”, did “Super Parents” take the time to sit down and talk about empathy? To teach their kids boundaries, to not to taunt or “rub it in” when they scored or made the team and their friend did not. That other children are not objects to be ridiculed or used for one’s own amusement. I wonder, where were the parents of Rehtaeh’s friends when they decided to shun her at school when the bullying began? How could they not have gotten together to teach their children to stick up for her? Aren’t friends supposed to “have your back”? This is the most devastating part of her life’s story for me.. that her friends could actually turn and walk away from her. Who does that?!

I was fortunate, the lessons of empathy were taught extensively in my home. We’ve worked to teach our own children empathy and other important values throughout their young years and still do. It began when they were two years old, with  small observations like “That poor boy must have been so sad.” or “I feel so sorry for her.” That’s it. Tiny seeds of empathy were planted when my children were toddlers. Those seeds of observation grew over the years into lengthy conversation about their lives and the lives of their friends, all in an effort to gain compassion, tolerance and understanding.

New parents, some of whom did not have the good fortune to be raised with strong moral values as a compass for their lives, need better direction. Many turn to reading for guidance, to sites such as Babbles “50 Best Parenting Books“. There’s so much more than reading, writing and discussion that needs to be done.

I have some sense of encouragement, as I pray for the pendulum to swing back.. perhaps not all the way, but somewhere in the middle. As parents we’re not getting everything wrong. I agree that it is important for children to set goals, their own goals, and to strive to be “the best they can be” and to measure that success against their last accomplishments. But not at the cost of human compassion and empathy. I hope, one day, that to truly be “successful” means that a child can create their own world filled with significant, meaningful human connections, financial stability, spiritual independence, joy, passion and love.

The girl at the cafe today? I actually wanted to look her in the eye, put my hand on her shoulder, and tell her how very sorry I was that she felt she needed to do that… that we could just share the space. And those young girls in grocery store lineup, I decided not to let them jump the cue. I hope this was a tiny lesson in patience and the right of others to have their place in line ahead of them.

rehtaeh parsons is everyone’s daughter, everyone’s child, and everyone’s victim.

Today, I am heart broken that this beautiful young human being won’t have the opportunity to blossom into the woman that she was destined to become. Her lesson will live on for all of us.




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