“Polling shows that tens of millions of American parents constantly worry that we are churning out indifferent, distracted, passive, dependent young adults.”
Passivity seems to be a word being used a lot right now in relationship to cultural outcomes, particularly those related to adolescents. If you have followed my various blogs you're familiar with this word because I use it in reference to one of my goals for my own children. In the book 'Raising a Modern Day Knight' Robert Lewis suggested that a goal for raising boys is that they should learn to reject passivity.
I was recently reminded of the word in Senator Sasse’s new book the Vanishing American Adult. He depicts a common story that I often hear from families. A story of fear that their children are turning into passive beings that are addicted to their devices, or as Senator Sasse says, “zombie like.”
I spend my days around people of affluence. These are people who don’t have a problem going out to eat, taking great vacations, or having a night out on the town. I'm a blessed man with a wonderful family and good job, but to be honest it scares me a bit. There are some factual truths about affluence that can be a bit disheartening, and it seems like they are connected to passivity.
It’s so easy and tempting to be led down the path of consumption. Our kids are surrounded by it. Marketing groups are bombarding them with advertisements on their social media and app platforms, through Youtube indulgement, and video game addiction. But let’s press pause and come to a realization…. Senator Sasse argued, “technology, for all of its convenience and improvements to our daily lives, has birthed a kind of on-demand consumerism.”
It’s not their fault they are consumers.
We're doing a poor job of making kids appreciative for the conveniences of life. Conveniences like microwaves, televisions, vehicles, air conditioning, heating, and the list could go on.
One of my first coaching jobs was at a small college, and in my first year I recruited about 40 kids to come play basketball. Most were coming from out of state, and most were from Texas. Texas is hot and air conditioning is nice to have. Interestingly enough, this college did not have air conditioning in the freshman dorms. It was a relatively cool climate, so A/C wasn't a necessity.
However, something interesting happened. My players had to realize the convenience of air conditioning. They had assumed their entire lives that air conditioning was a necessity in life. Senator Sasse uses air conditioning as a great example of unintentionally raising ungrateful kids. When do we actually teach our children the differences between necessities and blessings in our lives?
How do we know our children are consumers?
These young people are being taken captive to the narrative of consumerism.
According to Senator Sasse here’s the skinny. “The more affluent the society, the more likely young people will experience an extended drift toward adulthood. Wealthy societies, for reasons largely well-intentioned but now producing unintended consequences, are making it easier for their teens to avoid the rigors and responsibilities of becoming a grown-up.”
Now, I don’t want to come across as this ridiculous guy saying “rich people have it so bad…” but, there are concerns when raising affluent children that should be addressed.
In his book 'How Children Succeed', Paul Tough pointed out that “wealthy parents today are more likely than others to be emotionally distant from their children while at the same time insisting on high levels of achievement.” He goes on to highlight some significant statistics:
“Affluent students are found to use alcohol, cigarettes, marijuana, and harder illegal drugs more than low-income teens. Thirty-five percent of suburban girls have tried all four, compared to 15% of inner city girls.”
“Wealthier girls reported elevated rates of depression (22 percent)”
A possible causation of all of this would be the pressure these children have to overachieve while having an emotional distant relationship with their parents.
What should we do?
Travel. Take your children to a place very different than the one you know. Allow your children/youth group/students to have diverse experiences that stretch and grow them. The obvious opportunity here is the overseas third world country trip, but it doesn’t have to be so far.
About eight years ago a youth minister and I spent the night in downtown Austin, Texas. We wanted to know what it was like to be homeless. I know one night on the street is a rather weak attempt to experience homelessness, but it was enough to open my eyes to a new world. Since then, this youth minister has taken kids with him to experience the same thing.
Do Hard Things. Angela Duckworth the leading researcher of grit has a rule in her house that everyone must follow. It’s called the Do Hard Things Rule. Here is the framework:
I like this rule and concept because it helps develop contributors. It encourages “doing hard things” while allowing children to explore various passions. Our children must learn through trial and error how they can contribute before they will begin to leave consumption behind.
Let me end with the wise words of Ben Sasse. “Consumption is not the key to happiness; production is. Meaningful work that actually serves and benefits a neighbor thereby making a real difference in the world-contributes to long-term happiness and well being.”
Together, let’s work on bringing this next generation into a contribution lifestyle.
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