I hear this a lot: we’re coddling our kids. We’re raising a generation of kids who expect to be praised for completing basic requirements, who got trophies just for participating, and who expect to see success for basically doing what’s expected of them. Every working adult knows someone like this from work—someone fresh out of college that thinks they’re still living with their parents (or sometimes actually is still living with their parents). And the general consensus is that these people will destroy America.
Entitlement is not a new concept to Americans. It’s been the foundation of our advertising longer than I’ve been alive (“You deserve it!”), and it’s such a big part of our culture that it’s often the first thing foreigners will bring up about us. And it’s not modern psychology. If you ask any competent psychologist, they’ll agree that this phenomenon is incredibly damaging to people of all ages. So what we’re seeing here is not a dramatic shift, but the compounded effects of generations of living like this.
But there’s another side to that coin. For every kid raised with irresponsible, irrational positivity and entitlement, there’s a kid without even a healthy amount of joy or comfort. There are kids who go their entire lives without hearing a positive word of encouragement from their parents. There are kids whose only meals are the free lunches provided by their public schools. For every kid who believes he should get something for nothing, there is one who believes he should get nothing for anything, because that is precisely what he has received thus far in life.
So, believe it or not, there is an objective measure to how bad our national parenting skills are, and it has nothing to do with entitlement. In 1985, there were approximately 261,000 kids in foster care. These are kids who were forcibly removed from their homes due to bad situations. In 2005, that number rose to 513,000. That’s an increase of 96.5% in 20 years.
In 1985, the American population was approximately 238,000,000. In 2005, it was approximately 296,000,000. That’s an increase of 24.3% in 20 years.
So, in 20 years, the rate of families that were deemed so harmful to their children that intervention was required rose 397.5% faster than the population rate. And we’re worried about kids getting trophies that they may not deserve.
Ironically, the people most likely to say that we’re spending too much time sheltering our kids are likely the most sheltered adults. We don’t see the people from truly troubled backgrounds, because many of them are unemployed high-school drop-outs we will never interact with. We get mad at people who beg for better grades in college, but we completely miss the ones begging for change because they’re homeless once they move out of abusive homes. And the problem is growing because these kids are 600% more likely to get pregnant before the age of 21, but 600% less likely to graduate from high school. (Those are real figures.)
So, back to my original point, is over-coddling a problem? Will we have a whole generation of kids who expect praise for just doing their job? I’ve worked with a few people like that, fresh out of college. They never last more than a year before they get fired. I believe that problem will sort itself out once these kids fall from their heights of blissful imagination and crash into the vast ocean of reality. But the bottom is crumbling, eroding, and may be falling out, and those problems are far harder to recover from. I think it’s time we worry less about trophies and care more about tragedies, because those are problems in need of a serious solution.