Race To Nowhere: A Review

My friend told me about a screening of the much talked-about documentary, Race To Nowhere, in my community. Have you heard about it? The documentary explores this new age of burned out teens (I can relate!) and the pressure they’re under to “get into the best college”.

I’d been wanting to see it, so last night I hauled my mom and husband over to the local Lutheran church to check it out.

First shock of the night? It was PACKED. I mean standing-room only packed. Mostly mommies (naturally), several clustered together in groups swapping child-rearing war stories. The air was charged with a tangible sense of anticipatory dread…we all knew the subject matter – and worse – we all knew that we’d be called out, to varying degrees, for the push-push dynamic of our parenting style. Many of us felt we were better parents simply because we turned out to see the movie. You could see that smug I’m-an-involved-parent look on many of the mommies’ faces (gag me).

Second shock of the night? The absolute hopelessness conveyed by the filmmakers…the utter lack of faith they showed in this generation of kids to figure out how to cope with the pressures of being a student today.  And worse? The hearty helping of responsibility heaped on the parents to solve it for their kids. I’m not sure what I expected, but given the hype and the general buzz I’d heard leading up to actually seeing the film, it was a bit of a letdown.

Because it was so obvious where they were headed.

The filmmakers attempted to correlate the one- two- punch of pressure parenting and schools that ‘teach to the test’ with the increase in child burnout, which results in stress, lack of sleep and – in extreme cases – teen suicide. The filmmakers appeal to parents, teachers and administrators to ‘fix’ the problem by advocating for the overstressed child, but can it be that simple? The fact is, today’s kids have less to worry about in some ways. I had a job when I was in high school – most kids today don’t have to work. My mom wasn’t at my beck-and-call to drive me to and from school and activities. I had to get creative with getting where I needed to be. In fact, my parents were not involved in my schooling at all. I did my homework. I planned my classes. I chose my activities. There was no such thing as a ‘private college counselor’ when we were growing up. My school counselor was the varsity wrestling coach.

This is radical, but what if the reason these kids feel ‘pressured’ is more about our manic need to control (i.e. coach) all aspects of their lives? What if the puppet strings are strangling them? What this documentary didn’t do was put forth the theory that parents need to release the stranglehold on their kids’ lives in order to allow for a more natural progression. Fire the experts and tutors and private coaches. Stop with the supplemental learning like Kumon and Sylvan. Scary, I know, because it may turn out that YOUR kid isn’t bright enough to take an AP class or get into Harvard. It may turn out that YOUR kid isn’t good enough to be on the A-team or in the Gifted and Talented Program at school.

Here’s a question: so what?

The fact is, some kids are not wired for college. Some kids will end up working at the grocery store or mowing lawns. They may become tradesmen or even drop out of high school altogether. Does that make them less valuable? Less smart? Does that give them less potential to achieve happiness in life?

With all that being said, my main beef about this movie is that it speaks so clearly to me about the bigger issue: we are pussifying our kids. Yes, I said it (and made up a word in the process). Our kids are pussies. They are coached from the moment they wake up until the moment they go to bed. They are programmed, directed, managed and supervised. We make all of their decisions for them (and please don’t give me that B.S. about how you simply give them choices). They are walking, talking status symbols for us. Our fear of failure is often the driver of our expectations for them, rather than allowing them to dictate their goals and objectives. We fail to see their actual potential, strengths and weaknesses, and what they’re actually capable of. We want a robot. We want the “perfect kid”. We want to post about them on Facebook.

After experiencing something like Race To Nowhere, the knee-jerk reactions of parents is almost scripted. They whisper nervously amongst their friends and family, they begin to act – either passively through deep thought and reflection or actively by contacting the school and issuing a referendum – the emotion crescendos, and then they slowly move back to their parenting ‘base of operations’, which is whatever strategy they follow naturally. Very few parents are moved to the point of long-term, life- and policy-changing action. We are like lemmings – we parent to the prevailing culture. Culture today dictates that kids need to push themselves in order to be competitive and “get into a good college”.

You can dress it up and put heels on it (i.e. watch a thousand documentaries), but if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it’s probably a duck. You will most likely change nothing as a result of watching this film. Just admit it.

My referendum? Stop manufacturing an outcome. Let these kids breathe. Give them room to figure it out for themselves. That doesn’t mean disconnecting entirely, but stop living vicariously through them, and please stop trying to script a ‘perfect’ life for them.

There is no formula – if there was we’d all be doing it. Unfortunately, our generation of parenting is far too fear-based. Don’t play into the pressure any longer.

And by all means, see the movie. I’d love to hear your comments. For me it fell short of explaining the true problem. In a word….US.

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Mom or Footman? Disorganization and Today’s Teens

A few followers have asked…why so long between posts?

It’s simple, actually.

I’m too busy reacting to my kids’ inability to stay organized.

You see, kids today do not understand how to manage their lives. Other than staying on top of normal homework (i.e. assignments that don’t require specialty items such as foam core boards or specific books), the concept of responsibility eludes them.

We spend inordinate amounts of time searching for wayward knee pads, phone chargers and scrambling to accommodate last minute requests for field trip deposit checks and rides to forgotten activities…all because our kids cannot think more than five minutes into the future.

This is expected with youngsters, you know…KINDERGARTNERS. But a 17 year-old? A 15 year-old? Middle school-aged kids? Come on! Their failure is our spike in blood pressure. Some examples just in the past week:

“The printer doesn’t work and I need to print something for school”…Monday morning, 6:55am, 5 minutes before it’s time to leave for school

 

“I don’t have any socks”…Monday morning, 6:45am, 15 minutes before it’s time to leave for school

 

“Oh whoops…I forgot I have to read 75 pages”…Sunday night 8:45pm (due date for reading? Monday morning, first period).

 

“My [several-hundred-dollar] school housing deposit is due” our college-bound son

“When?” his father

“Tomorrow at 7am” our college-bound son

 

These are but a few high notes in the relentless, rapid-fire current of constant need and last-minute scrambling that goes on in our house.

What’s a parent to do? The options are few but vastly different in terms of the result. I am guilty of oversimplifying. It’s so easy to hear a friend complain about this sort of thing and react with a casual, “Well, stop doing things for them. If they can’t give you X days’ notice, tough luck.” This is much harder to pull off in real life, when grades and college housing availability are at stake.

Honestly? I think we blew it. We missed the window of opportunity for instilling basic responsibility into our kids. It has to start at a much younger age…maybe even with a generational shift that can’t happen until this wave of kids is up and out of the house, because we’ve conditioned them to rely on us for everything.

This is the end result of our entitlement approach to parenting…kids that are completely unable to manage their lives, and worse, kids that EXPECT their parents to run around behind them cleaning it all up. Their biggest concern on any given day is their social calendar, their wants and their priorities, none of which include even a passing thought for the future. The scariest part is that we are slowly unleashing these grossly unprepared soon-to-be-adults into a society where employment is hard to come by, and common sense is evaporating in favor of misguided allegiances to ’causes’ that advocate for a slacker culture (i.e. Occupy Wall Street).

Tomorrows leaders: a group of unprepared children with a nasty case of arrested development, whose preferred method of communication is a text, Tweet or Facebook post; who on any given day will be forced to turn their dirty underwear inside out and re-use because they forgot to do laundry; who will run out of gas on the freeway at least once a month; whose $300/month Smartphones will alert them when their checking accounts are overdrawn; who will gladly live with their parents well into their mid-20s (and complain if said parents ask for rent); whose “C gets a degree” mentality will promote mediocrity, thus forcing a socialist government to take over and make the big decisions, because they simply don’t have the tools.

OK, maybe that last part is a bit dramatic, but you get my drift.

Mark my words – we are spiraling, people. Every time they forget their backpacks at school or neglect to plan ahead for events, it may seem innocuous. In fact, it’s a symptom of the larger problem: a generation of kids that do not understand consequences which, if left unchecked, is going to be a death blow to our society…maybe not in 10 years or even 50 years, but it’s coming.

We need to stop behaving like a bucket of joint compound, filling in the holes of their mistakes and missteps. If they forget an assignment, they get an F. If that’s all they’re capable of, then who are we to artificially inflate their abilities by walking them through it or coming to their rescue? Ditto with all aspects of their lives. Forgotten knee pads? I guess your knees will be sore after volleyball. Forgot to tell us about the camp deposit that’s due? No, I won’t drive to your school at the last minute and drop off the check for you. I guess you don’t get to go to camp.

My advice? Start early. The consequences are not as serious when your kid forgets her lunch and you refuse to bring it to her. Break the cycle we’ve created – we’re counting on you!

Posted in Bratty Kid Stories, Parenting | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Kids and Leash Laws

I traveled back east to visit relatives recently. Normally traveling entails an arduous sequence of airports, bad food and constant personal space invasions (and please? Stop farting on the airplane – we can’t pinpoint where it’s coming from and publicly humiliate you, but YOU know and it’s not funny, especially after your noxious cloud makes its third trip through the recirculated air filter), but this time I had something to entertain me…the general public. Everywhere I turned there was another blog topic waiting to be explored. It was like Christmas morning!

One glaring example of the burnedoutmama eye candy before me? Kids-on-a-leash. I thought this trend had died down after the substantial amount of social pressure applied by, um, everyone….but boy was I wrong.

Nothing screams incapable parent like a chest harness (a.k.a. leash). The child-as-pet concept disturbs me on several levels, not the least of which is the opportunity it provides moms to avoid keeping their kids under control. Kid Leashes are the training wheels of parenting. They allow moms and dads to forgo, well, parenting, in favor of having one less thing to worry about (losing the kid or actually having to be responsible for the kid?).

And just when I thought the leash itself was disturbing?

I saw the mom with the belt clip.

That’s right, folks. Not only can you leash your child…you can also clip your end of the leash to your belt loop for hands-free parenting! This frees mom up for all sorts of activities, like snarfing a fast food burger, texting or picking her nose.

Tired? Temper tantrum brewing? Not to worry…a simple hip thrust will get your sluggish toddler moving again. No need to put down your Venti Frappucino with extra whipped cream and caramel or cut short your response to the chain text about Your 10 Best Qualities (respond quick or you’ll have bad luck for a month!). With a leash and some power in your core, you won’t even have to speak to it (uh, I mean him/her).

A message to the moms with kids-on-a-leash: your choice to harness your child may have some repurcussions, short- and long-term. You look like an incompetent fool and your child looks like an animal. If he does not end up emotionally broken by this public display of dominance, your child, upon achieving some awareness of his surroundings, will eventually insist on freedom outside the six-foot radius of your person. When this happens – and he becomes old enough to understand what you put him through – he will harbor resentment.

Still not convinced it’s time to lose the leash? Not to worry…we can still benefit from this concept. You see, by the time your child is grown and has kids of his own, someone will have probably invented a leash for those pesky wandering old people.

And believe me, he paid attention to your parenting choices.

I can’t wait to see you at the mall 25 years from now, attached at the hip to your adult child during your golden years, asking permission to use the bathroom and getting a little tug if you linger too long in the Yankee Candle store. After all, dignity must be set aside for practicality (and laziness), right?

Posted in Humor, Parenting | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments