Just how independent should our children be? Ten generations ago they used to be extremely independent. From a young age, children worked to make money. They had to cook for themselves and other children. They invested in learning and walked miles to a school to learn how to read and write. I am talking about something that happened 100 years ago all over the world and still happens in less developed countries. These days are over for us. But is that good for our kids? This article was inspired by reading here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. Also, you are welcome to check my Udemy course on raising superlearners.
My family stories
I am a father of three wonderful children. As they grow up their interest change. My younger child, a daughter, still thinks she is a princess. The two boys are almost teenagers and went from building with lego to martial arts training, and now they are fully invested in music (guitar, bass, piano). Soon they will reach the age when we recommend to teach superlearning, and when it is legally allowed to earn money. When compared to the kids around, my boys are very independent. If nobody is home, they can cook, they may clean the house, and they even know how to learn music by themselves using a mobile phone and the internet. They even know how to use money, including some concepts of credit and debt, interest rates and so on. And in case of trouble, they can express themselves in three languages. However, when they see me or my wife, they suddenly become nearly helpless and ask for our help in every small task including their homework.
My forefathers were very independent children. I am talking about people working and making serious judgment calls well before 12 years old. The father of my grandmother used to work as a child in a local mill, then he bought the mill, and later he was managing many mills all around the country. He was a very rich man by the time the communist came and took everything he had. My father’s father came from a very poor family. He used to do manual jobs as a child to feed his siblings, and when the chance came he joined the communist movement and took the properties from the rich people. He became a rich man himself but lost everything when the communist regime fell. The stories of these forefathers of my family are not in any way unique. People all around me have similar stories to share about their grandparents, but not about their parents or themselves. We went to school, then universities, and when we started making serious money we were at least 25 years old.
Simplicity found and lost
Life was very simple even 100 years ago. Simple, but not easy. A child could easily work with primitive mechanical devices or sell in a local store. The work that did not require physical strength, skill, and mastery, or advanced knowledge was often done by children who took pennies for their work. These children fed themselves and helped their mothers feed their families. AS they were working hard and making pennies, they understood very well the skills required to earn more and were very motivated to do that. The most desired jobs were often government positions, which required good reading and writing skills. So the children did everything in their power to learn reading and writing. The children were highly stressed, overworked and somewhat hungry. Some children got injured and did not make it into happy adults, but most were catapulted into real life with strong survival skills, iron will, and infinite motivation.
Now everybody is well-fed and lazy. We are bombarded by a huge amount of information and advertisement. If our children really want anything, often they want to be famous so they could get money for simply being themselves. They cannot imagine hunger, except for self-imposed dietary limitation. They cannot imagine hard manual labor, except as some sort of ill-devised sport exercise. Our children are lazy and anxious. They know too little to succeed, but too much to be naive. Our children fear that they will not have enough tools to succeed in a quickly changing world, and they wonder if they should even bother. They are stressed about everything, and they know too much.
Our generation had the benefit of effortless and naive childhood. We were special. Our forefathers were too busy with physical surviving, and our children are too busy with identity and information-related survival.
If you want your children to play outdoors, you should probably pay for it. For some change, they would probably run small errands or take care of family pets, but they would prefer the instant gratification of computer or mobile games or the thoughtless entertainment offered by the TV. Social networks and online influence are much more immediate than real friends. We cannot even blame our kids, as we design our digital goods to be competitive and rob the kids of any spare money and time they can find. The flamboyant digital products offer immediate gratification for most of our needs, and the real world is in clear disadvantage.
Long gone is the need of our grandparents to survive, or the need of our parents to escape boredom. Our kids are motivated by their ability to stand out in the digital world, and they are after the performance skills that look good on Instagram. In the right hands, the new motivation can be as powerful and useful as the old motivation devices. The children will work hard for bragging rights, and they will often be able to achieve more than we could. Children can cook, learn music and excel in math and language, simply because it is considered to be cool and looks good on Instagram (or YouTube or Whatsapp or Snapchat, etc). Our kids want to be rich and successful, to be able to buy things that look good on social networks. So what?
Transformation of our children into a sort of bots is not something that should surprise us. The generations of the mid 20th century were brainwashed into consumerism, to buy more and to boost economic growth during the great depression, the great war, and the baby boom. Buying stuff was considered almost a patriotic act. We do not even view it as strange anymore. We buy stuff to feel good, and we feel miserable when we cannot afford to buy more stuff. Why should we be surprised that our children feel good when they post stuff that get likes and feel depressed when their accounts lose followers?
Our children are very independent in the digital world, as it is their world, it is relatively safe, and we are committed to making it safer for our children. We used to be afraid of malware, loss of privacy and hackers. Our children do not understand the notion of privacy and cannot imagine the world without hackers and malware. If anything, they are afraid of the physical universe. No healthy teenager would anymore play “chicken” with a raging bull or a speeding car or try to help a Nigerian prince get back his inheritance and this is probably a very good thing. Our children consume digital goods, and this is a patriotic act because our economy needs to compete with all the countries around, selling a digital product to anyone willing to pay.
Some part of our society feels apocalyptic. Every generation has its own reasons. Our reasons are very good because we are afraid of hackers causing blackouts, or robots stealing our jobs. in this environment, we want our kids to have survival skills. What would be needed for survival after the next apocalypse?
We want our children to be athletic, capable of survival outdoors and having first-aid skill. If possible, we also want them to be able to cook their food and do some simple manual crafting. In fact, these skills are somewhat anachronistic, and our children do not really want to acquire them. They are more interested in creating sites and designing games or doing the cool things we consider to be our jobs. My kids want to teach bots to do thing using AI algorithms like I occasionally do because this is cool. When I get from my work, I am looking for a simpler life with some physical presence. My children do not feel apocalyptic, but they be slightly afraid of me trying to teach them survival skills – and they are probably right.
My children do not even need books anymore. Books can be used when the internet or electricity goes down. And this is as close as they get to the apocalypse.
Children feel increasingly more depressed. Teens are spending less time with their friends in person and more time communicating electronically, with these trends accelerating after 2011. They are less engaged in sports and have no time to procrastinate. Our children are stressed by being tested and measured all the time and everywhere, offline and online. People do not get enough sleep anymore, because we get too much blue light in the evening. Even the food is not very organic o very tasty with too much sugar, salt, and fat. Children are online and depressed.
Taking away the screens for a while does not really help, since everybody else is online and not truly present anymore. Personally, I feel a constant need for slight physical contact with my kids, holding or touching them slightly. Also, I feel a need to listen to them and respond to what they have to say. When I am at work, I trained my cat to be available to cuddling. So far my personal kids appear to be happier than their peers, and I can only hope this will continue.
Meditation for kids
Some of my friends teach their children to meditate as a way to deal with their issues. My children also learned basic meditation in their karate class, but they do not meditate at home. We train them to breathe to control emotions and to notice the world around them and their feelings as awareness training, but we do not train them to do any real meditation. Quite possibly, this is one of my mistakes as a parent, yet I feel they should meditate because they want to, and not because I think it would be better for them. This concept worked well before. My kids learned music because they wanted to, and not because I think music is goods for the development of the child’s brain. With judo and karate, my wife insisted that they should learn, and I think she pushed them a bit too much. They do not really like sports they do and its a pity.
Cooking with kids
My kids are foodies. I train them to distinguish the finer aspects of tastes in what they eat: the freshness, the ingredients, the balance of the five tastes. My eldest son can prepare several dishes, understand the culinary processes and can solve the challenges that come up during the cooking. The second son is adventurous, and not afraid to taste strange new dishes. The small daughter prepares here own choco and corn flakes. My children are pretty independent in the kitchen, yet I do not let them play with sharp knives.
When my children are alone they can prepare their own food, get to bed in time and prepare the homework by themselves. Yet when they can get our attention, they forget about their independence. I have to teach my eldest son about ancient Rome while driving from my memory as he forgets to read his book or bring it along. My middle boy makes a mess of an omelet all over the dinner table, as he wants to eat my goat cheese and my daughter dips here snack in coca cola, even though she knows she should avoid both snacks and cola.
I know that we are supposed to learn cooking as processes, organizing table as planning and healthy diet as portfolio management, yet I am consistently giving in when my children are immature with their food. Fortunately, my wife is more mature than I am when it comes to the kitchen and dinner table manners.
Children need both parents
While our kids can get along with so-called helicopter parents and electronic devices, that would result in stressed and depressed children. It is bad enough that life expectancy in the US and some other countries are starting to drop because of stress, the last thing we need is introducing this stress into our kids’ lives.
My wife has enough patience to sit with the children through their cooking, their homework, and their athletic sessions. She is trying to make the world better for our kids. On the other hand, I assume the role of the father and prepare my kids to face the world with confident curiosity and smile. I try to introduce them to the most revolutionary ideas, develop their public-facing skills with music, and teach them some money skills. To be fair, I am also the one constantly hugging the kids. I could never do the things my wife does so successfully, and I believe that my wife could not do the things I do with ease. The children need several models of facing the world and both parents.
I know it is tough to raise children together, and it is much easier to get fully involved at work. This is something I still do from time to time. It took me a lot of effort to get really involved in my children’s lives and I think it is the best investment I could make.