'Little geniuses' forced to face harsh realities
* November 23, 2008
Are your children all perfect little angels? A generation has been raised to overestimate their abilities.
THEY are calling them the "smug generation". These are the children of American baby boomers who are inculcated by their parents with such faith in their own brilliance that they are shattered in later life to discover that they are not actually much good at anything.
It is, of course, impossible to get things right as a parent. In the old days, it was common, especially in America, for parents to assume the worst of their children and to believe that the only way to bring them success in life was to launch them unprotected upon the world to make their own way. Such parents would unquestioningly accept the verdict of school teachers on their children's abilities, however derogatory, and concur with enthusiasm in their efforts to discipline them. This could make children feel unloved and unappreciated.
Now, according to research by US psychologists, it is the other way round. Modern parents praise and flatter their children to such an extent that they believe they are the cat's whiskers and destined to rise effortlessly to the top of every tree. Teenagers today think they are bound to outshine their parents in all fields - as workers, spouses and as parents themselves - and so succumb to depression when it turns out that they are mediocre at everything.
The researchers found that there are no grounds for these feelings of superiority. Trawling through the results of previous surveys, they concluded that modern teenagers work less hard and are generally less competent than their parents at the same age. They are just a great deal more pleased with themselves.
One wonders why parents have come so blatantly to mislead their children as to their own abilities and prospects. They may believe, not without reason, that it is important to give children confidence in themselves. But maybe it is also dissatisfaction with their own achievements - stumbling careers, broken marriages and so on - that makes them want to believe that their children are better than they are. If you are unhappy with yourself and what you have done in life, you can at least take comfort in the belief that you have spawned a genius.
Another factor is the widespread modern belief that everyone is a victim. If a child does badly at school, it is the school's fault. If he (or she) falls foul of the school authorities and is disciplined, he is being used as a scapegoat. What is unacceptable is the idea that the child in question is in any way flawed, for that could only reflect badly on his parents.
Unwillingness to face reality as far as children are concerned is not, however, an exclusively modern phenomenon. I had a wonderful mother who always said that her four children were all "perfect" in their different ways and capable of more or less anything. We loved her for it, but I do in retrospect think that it gave me a skewed idea of my own abilities and made me idler than I would otherwise have been. As I say, parents can't win.