ANN BAILEY: Are we raising a generation of nincompoops?I love my children dearly, but my goal is to have them leave home and take their place in the world, using their talents to make it a better place. I will give them love and emotional support, but plan to treat them like the adults. Judging by much of the news stories, society could use a lot more of those.
After reading a story a few weeks ago that questioned whether we are raising a generation of nincompoops, I decided to check out the definition of the word and find out where it originated. I had a general idea of the meaning, but wanted to get the official word on it.
According to the Merriam Webster online dictionary, nincompoop means fool or simpleton and synonyms include ding-bat, ding-dong and doofus. The first known use of nincompoop was in 1676, but its origin is unknown, the dictionary said.
In the Sept. 27 news story about nincompoop children, Beth J. Harpaz, an Associated Press writer, talked about second-graders who can’t tie shoes or zip jackets, 4-year-olds in diapers and teens and pre-teens who are befuddled by can openers and ice cube trays.
The story quoted a mom who said that her kids struggle with coat hangers and that her teenager daughter doesn’t know how to use a can opener. Meanwhile, Harpaz noted, a 12-year-old who visited her house didn’t know how to remove ice cubes from a tray.
Whose fault is it, anyway?
The rest of the story quotes a person who condemned the younger generation’s lack of skills and another who defended them. Mark Bauerlein, author of “The Dumbest Generation,” argued that kids are confused when technology isn’t available and that there’s a loss of independence and initiative, according to Harpaz’ story.
Meanwhile, Lenore Skenazy, who wrote a book called “Free Range Kids,” said parents are partly to blame for children’s apparent incompetence. Parents are told kids need to go to Gymboree or their children won’t learn to hum or clap. Meanwhile, she said they’re also pressured to buy some kind of contraption to teach them to walk.
My thinking on who to blame for raising nincompoops falls into Skenazy’s camp.
If kids are nincompoops it’s because their parents are encouraging them to be that way. Kids have no incentive to do things for themselves or get themselves out of a bind if their parents do everything for them.
I’m a firm believer that adversity builds character and that if kids never have to solve conflicts, they won’t have any survival skills. So maybe instead of hand-wringing, parents should teach their kids how to use a can opener or put their clothes on a hanger. After the kids are shown how to do it, the parents should step out of the way. If their kids still are perplexed about how to get the contents out of a sealed can or leave their clothes on the floor they can deal with the consequences.
It’s unlikely that the children will starve and it’s their problem if their clothes lay on the floor and they wear wrinkled garments to school. Going a little hungry and being slightly unkempt may be incentive enough to learn the mechanics of can openers and hangers. If it’s not, again, it’s the kids’ problem and as parents, we have to grit our teeth and live with kids who complain they’re hungry and who wear rumpled clothes.
The other point that Harpaz’ story brings up, that kids are nincompoops because society is pressuring parents, from the moment their children are born, to take them to classes and buy gadgets for them also is valid.
It’s true that parents today get a lot of expert advice coming at them from all sides and from a variety of sources. Not only are there parenting magazines, newspapers and books filled with advice on how to raise kids, there also is a plethora of information on the Internet.
Just say no
Still, I don’t think parents can use information overload as an excuse for raising clueless kids. Our job as parents is to sift through the information, retain what’s useful and dismiss the rest. A lot of parenting comes down to using common sense and determining what will be best for the child in the long run.
If that means that a child doesn’t get a cell phone when he or she is 9 years old, then the child — and parents — will learn to deal with it. Some parents may find it hard to believe, but, my sons, who are 13 and 11, do not have their own phones. They use the family home phone if they need to call someone, just like I did when I was their age. Or, if they’re at a friend’s house, they ask to use the phone.
Sometimes, that turns into a learning experience. Recently one of my sons needed to make a phone call from a house that still had a rotary phone. He learned a lesson in dialing the old-fashioned way that day and thought it was pretty “cool.”
While it makes some parents uneasy that they can’t call their kids to check up on them when they’re not with them, it doesn’t bother me. I figure if they’re at their friends’ houses, their friends’ parents are keeping an eye on them. If the kids decide to go out and explore the woods or ride their bikes around town, then I trust my sons’ good judgment to stay safe.
That philosophy has worked so far and I plan to keep embracing it when my children are older. I hope to resist the temptation to constantly call them to get updates on where they are and who they’re with. I want to raise children who are independent, responsible adults and I think that allowing them some space is the way to do that. If they make mistakes, and they likely will, then they will have to deal with the consequences.
The decision not to give our sons cell phones doesn’t mean that Brian and I eschew all technology. The boys and Ellen have a variety of electronic gadgets, big and small, to keep them entertained. They also have board games, horses to ride, footballs, basketballs and baseballs. They enjoy them all. Life is about balance and as I see it, technology can fit into the balance.
Chores also are an important part of the equation. Our children are expected to help keep the house clean, the yard mowed and the buildings painted. If, as the article says, many kids aren’t doing chores, I feel sorry for them. I think raising children who are helpless is setting them up for a rude awakening when they are adults and have to live on their own.
That is, unless their parents plan to take care of the kids when they’re adults. While some parents seem to be OK with doing that, I’m not. I love my children dearly, but my goal is to have them leave home and take their place in the world, using their talents to make it a better place. I will give them love and emotional support, but plan to treat them like the adults. Judging by much of the news stories, society could use a lot more of those.