We have been having stimulating and entertaining conversations in our America’s Real War Master Class. One topic we discussed had to do with the terrible job our generation, in general, has done in passing on the values of gratitude, hard work, faith and patriotism to the next generation. Not only has this left younger people vulnerable to warped ideologies but it has also resulted in many of them feeling depressed, anxious and lonely.
There are many reasons, but I’ve been thinking about one potential culprit in particular. Whether articulated or not, many parents have turned their children’s education into a false god. Many of us may have expressed disdain at the recently exposed college admissions scandal. In the desire to see their children attend “top” universities and/or the school of their choice, parents became embroiled in lying, bribing and other underhanded activities. Yet, since few of us have the monetary resources that would make us susceptible to that scheme, honesty demands that we ask if we have done even slightly similar things on a smaller level.
It is no secret that many parents arrange to get their children labeled with a ‘disability’ so that the kids will be given accommodations. These may range from being prescribed stimulating drugs to being given extra time during a test. If that is something that never crossed your mind, how about excusing a child from a family occasion so that he or she can study? While missing some events may be appropriate, is it possible that we sometimes enlarge the window to include times when our teens would be better off hearing that they need to be there no matter what? Maybe getting a lower grade or burning the midnight oil or missing out on partying with friends would help them recognize that sharing in family joys and sorrows is part of being a good and connected person? Maybe juggling a job alongside school would teach teens lessons as, or more, important than the facts they are learning in class?
As well-intentioned and loving parents, we can easily give a damaging message to our children when we venerate school above almost all else. After all, we don’t tell ourselves that we should only focus on one thing. We expect ourselves to balance conflicting needs including career, spouse, children, extended family, community and associated responsibilities and we call that having a well-rounded life. Why would we deprive our young adults the same opportunity? Telling a teen that this time of life is meant only for studying, participating in activities that pad college or graduate school applications and, incidentally, having a good time, promotes egocentrism, entitlement, immaturity and vanity. Not incidentally, those four paths usually lead to miserable lives. Let’s not wish that on the young people we love.