Some of you reading this are parents and what follows most probably does not apply.
With that disclaimer out of the way, do you find it interesting to watch how other parents are preparing their offspring for adult life?
A few I know — and know of — are scrambling to register their sons for secondary school. For those who can afford it, at least where I live, the nearest single-sex fee-paying school is highest on their list. Anyone who has read schools guides, headmasters’ interviews and so forth will have picked up on the ubiquitous use of ‘well-rounded’ in reference to students’ interests and activities.
The most sought-after schools gauge this by interviewing prospective students. Many parents think this is nothing to worry about until their children ‘fail’ the interview. They say, ‘Can you imagine? How could they do that when his entrance exam results were so good?’
I have in mind one lad whose parents ply him with the latest entertainment gadgets yet do not teach or coach him in anything practical.
‘Well, he does sports,’ his mother says. ‘That should be enough. He’s very good, you know.’
She thinks he will be able to get some sort of preference on that basis alone. What if a number of other applicants are better?
‘Oh, I hadn’t thought of that.’
Maybe she and his dad should have a fallback position, a Plan B, for their son.
‘Well, he doesn’t really read. He has problems writing an essay. His maths are all right, though. Still, he’s at the top of his class.’
This lady — a university-educated stay-at-home mother — hired a tutor to get the boy up to speed. If he applies himself, he might do reasonably well when he takes the exam in a few weeks’ time. However, knowing the school he wishes to attend, competition will be fierce. If he excels in the exam, I would be very surprised. If he also does well in the interview, I would be astounded.
Back to his outside interests and the possible interview. Does the lad have any mechanical ability or any woodworking skills his dad might have taught him? Does he like geology or botany? Chemistry, perhaps? Does he play a musical instrument or sing in a choir? Does he like stamp collecting? Military history? Electronics? Photography? Cookery? Something? Anything?
‘No, we’ve really focussed on sport for him. We don’t want to push him too much.’
Any child can play some sort of sport and most can do it rather well.
One can imagine school interview questions about a favourite book, interesting hobbies, an instructive experience, a memorable year, aspirations in life, potential interest in politics or business.
I couldn’t help but think back to a boy his age, a contemporary of mine from, ahem, some years ago in the US. By the time my friend was ready for secondary school, he’d already had a paper route for two or three years and a savings account with over a thousand dollars in it — money he’d earned. He planned on joining the Navy. His dad had already taught him practical skills, e.g. chopping wood, heavy gardening work and a bit of DIY. By the time he turned 16, he had enough ability and nous to leave school and go into business for himself. He didn’t, however, and, from what I had last heard, enlisted in the Navy after high school, as planned.
Back to the lad applying for secondary school here in the UK. He’s been out of the house only once on his own. His mother is afraid to let him walk to the shops alone. No particular reason, except that perhaps she secretly fears she hasn’t trained him to cross the street properly. The child is obviously not a member of the Tufty Club!
This isn’t a comparison between the US and the UK, by the way. Nowadays, they both seem to be on a par with vapid parents and vacant children. The same is going on in other Western nations, too, no doubt.
Having said that, though, one thing struck me over the summer. It was a phone-in programme on France’s RMC (Radio Monte Carlo). The topic was, ‘Should children on holiday be expected to devote an hour or two a day towards revision in French and maths?’ Two-thirds of the audience responded with an overwhelming ‘Yes!’ Mums had already purchased exercise books to take along with swimming cozzies and sun cream.
By contrast, the young English lad got a ‘break’ from studies during his month away. ‘Oh, he works so hard. Regardless of how he does in his exams, we’re going to get him a new gadget thingy of his choice. Whatever he wants.’
No wonder the Occupy movement has taken root in a number of cities. It’s the most recent manifestation of a something-for-nothing, prizes-for-all society. Parents reinforce the message that their children are somehow ‘special’, ‘deserving’, ‘hard-working’ when they don’t do a thing except mooch around and expect free stuff, provided by everyone else’s largesse, much like they receive at home from Mum and Dad.
So, where are our new inventions going to come from? Who is going to resurrect our tradition of engineering innovation? Who will be our next entrepreneurs and captains of industry? Who will be able to teach self-reliance and ingenuity?
We have a generation of kids between 10 and 25 years of age who are living in the tropic of torpor. Not all, mind, but many. They have enjoyed their childhood so much that they cannot abide the idea of growing up and striking out on their own. Unfortunately, their parents have raised them that way.
My neighbour friend and I could hardly wait to grow up and leave home. It was a sign of maturity and adulthood. We were also ready to achieve great things, relatively speaking. My friend looked forward to serving his country and ‘seeing the world’. I wanted to live and work in Europe.
But we also did not wish to be burdens on our parents. Back then — and rightly or wrongly — every one of my mates thought that kids who stayed at home beyond university age were ‘losers’. We earned our way to independence with a paper route, doing odd jobs for neighbours, getting summer jobs, working whilst at university.
I don’t see that message of independence and self-reliance coming across to this generation, but it doesn’t seem as if their parents care to instil it, either.
If many families are truly like this one — and not just hyped up by self-loathing media types — all I can say is: prepare for the worst.