There’s a fine line between raising a kid who can handle responsibilities in a pragmatic way and beating the hope out of them.

You’ll read an awful lot today about how this generation is being raised too coddled.

They say that this generation is full of whiners who got trophies for everything.

I’ll tell you something else that’s prevalent in this generation – they’re being raised with ridiculous expectations.

The Standard Path for Success (so they say…)

Before high school ends, kids need to map out a whole career. They’re told that they need to follow a specific life path.

That path is roughly:

  1. Get outstanding grades.
  2. Get into a good college.
  3. Get a degree in a lucrative field (Read as: one approved by the mainstream)
  4. Earn a good living.

Following Steps 1 through 4 = Happy Life

Veering from Steps 1 through 4 = Destruction and Failure of Epic Proportions

You think I’m kidding. I am. But only barely.

These kids are told that if they don’t follow the standard blueprint, they fail. And there are no do overs.

No one extols the virtues of trying again. Teachers neglect to mention that life is made up of adversities and triumphs… Basically, the message they get is “succeed or you suck”.

Okay, that might not be the real message. But it’s what they’re hearing.

Too Much Pressure Without Purpose

The path to higher education is drilled in so much that any kid who falls outside of the norm has trouble thriving. And outside the norm might be anything. Standard academics don’t fit every student.

This is why we have a shortage of skilled labor in this country. For the last few generations, kids have been told to go to college. Not that they “should” go to college, but that failing to do so makes them less than, low class, or stupid. And, they’re being told what to study in college. Because the “wrong” degree is worse than no degree.

Meanwhile, what if they’d be happier in the trades? What if they’re better suited for something outside of the college curriculum? What the hell is wrong with building something with your hands or learning a skill that doesn’t put you behind a desk?

What if Their Dreams Don’t Align with Standard Academia?

Teachers and parents are steering these kids away from the trades. Right this second your kid’s high school teacher is gearing them for a 4 year university. If they don’t have the GPA, they’re being told to enroll in community college to get their grades up… to get into a four year college.

So what if your kid is artistically inclined? Writer? Musician? Painter? There are degrees for those fields… but, they’re the wrong degrees.

Let’s take a case study from my own kid’s experience:

Dream Crushing Middle School Teacher: What do you want to do for a career?
Gracie Girl: Comedian or Musician.
DCMST: Those aren’t realistic careers. You can’t make a living at those things.
Gracie Girl: Then how come there are so many of them?

Score One for the 13 year old with the dream… that was a long year.

Flash Forward to High School:

Dream Crushing High School Teacher: Decide on a career for this exercise. It can’t be writer, actor, or musician.
Gracie Girl: But I want to be a musician or writer.
DCHST: People don’t make a living at that.
Gracie Girl: My mom’s a writer.
DCHST: *rolls eyes* It’s not a real career.

The Foundation for Success Should Include Support

Just so you know, my daughter is currently working on a Music Business degree.

But when she was looking at college, she kept veering. Maybe she wanted to be a hair stylist. Maybe she wanted to pursue a teaching degree.

Neither of those jobs are bad. It’s just that she was choosing them because a lot of people were trying to put walls in front of who she was allowed to become.

When I was in high school, I didn’t even dare think I could become a writer. That wasn’t for people like me. It was for people who were born with a lot of money who didn’t need to earn an income. Because let’s face it, it’s not the most stable choice. That doesn’t mean it’s not a worthwhile career path.

The world will put a lot of walls in your way. And let me tell you, anything in the arts is a hustle. It’s not linear for most of us, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

I didn’t go directly into writing. I avoided it because I thought it was a pipe dream. I wasted years. But the truth is that I would always come around in a circle back to it. It’s my best skill set. 

So I went out of my way to make sure my daughter knew that aiming for something like music is possible. It’s her choice, but not impossible. No matter how many times teachers told her she couldn’t. Because I didn’t want her to choose not to try and spend the rest of her life regretting it.

Who the Hell Are You to Decide Someone Else’s Future?

If I had one piece of advice for parents (and teachers) it’s this – learn how to listen to the kid and honor what THEY need.

The drive to create doesn’t go away. You can find a different job that pays the bill. Pragmatically, a lot of us will find other jobs to pay the bills. But there’s always something missing if we can’t honor that piece of us.

Maybe they’re good with their hands. Maybe they enjoy the trades. Maybe they’re set on a path toward service of some kind. The final decision shouldn’t be about earning potential. It should be about fulfillment.

And hey, maybe the kid is looking at earning potential. My oldest son is doing just that – he’s choosing the field he likes the most with the best earning potential. There’s nothing wrong with that, either. You’re the one busting your ass. You’re the one who gets to decide what’s important.

Meanwhile, no teacher has told him to look at a different career path – his plans fit into their ideal of success. That’s fine for him, but it’s a handicap for someone whose gifts and aptitudes are different than the mainstream. And that’s just bullshit, really.

Another thing – the world will prioritize income as an indication of success. If you have any sort of a moral compass, that should bother you.

My daughter shouldn’t close the musician door unless she wants it closed. No one else should be forcing her hand or filling her head with their version of “reality”. I’ve given her reality. The world will give her loads.

But it seems to me that the people who are so dead set to stand in someone’s way are the ones who were too afraid to chase their own dreams. Or the ones who are looking to justify their own life choices by inflicting them on other people.

I think our biggest job as a parent is to help them find their own truth – whatever that looks like for them.

A lot of people think that success stems from bank account. Money certainly makes life a lot easier. But then again, you’d be hard pressed to look at Mother Theresa’s life and call her a failure.

Success isn’t measured the same for everyone. Life is a journey – prepare them to experience it on their own terms. Not to reach the destination predetermined by someone else’s GPS.

Crushing Dreams and Raising Maladjusted Sissies

2 thoughts on “Crushing Dreams and Raising Maladjusted Sissies

  • I’d like to punch anybody that says “this generation is full of whiners who got trophies for everything” in the face. In fact, I tune out of any conversation in which somebody uses the word “millennials”.

    Actually, I think the idea of “generations” is mostly bullshit to sell books, or make old people feel superior about turning old and irrelevant.

    It’s especially maddening when we tell these kids they have to go to college to get a job, college costs an infinite amount of money, then when they get out us old people have tanked the economy so bad there are no jobs. Then we criticize them for not having a job!

    Seems like you have this all figured out, though. 🙂

    1. From the marketing end, dividing people into generations makes sense. In general, different age brackets behave and think differently and it’s a great tool for sales. I wonder if all the people who whine about how whiny the young generation is understands that the whole idea of separating generations was devised to better part them with their money…

      All I keep thinking is that my generation, “Gen X” was supposed to be lazy and stupid… but we led the charge in technology and created the biggest segment of economic growth – entrepreneurial and freelance businesses… we weren’t lazy. They aren’t whiners. Millennials have a different perspective because they were raised by a later generation and with new social sensibilities… (which we created, I might add).

      But all of that aside – I’d love it if we got to the point where we didn’t try to take people down a peg for not doing things exactly like we think they should be done. There is no one way to live a life. What makes one person happy wouldn’t make everyone else happy…

      I just wish that more teachers and parents spent less time giving these kids anxiety disorders and more time listening to what they really want. Most of the latest generation, the ones just turning 20 now, have multiple jobs and a really solid work ethic. My kids do… all of their friends do… because they were raised through economic uncertainty post 9/11… they’re not as wussified as the older generation wants to believe.

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