The Corner

‘Effort Shock’ and Parents These Days

If you don’t subscribe to Jim Geraghty’s “Morning Jolt” e-mail, then you’re not only missing insightful political commentary but quite a bit of bonus cultural commentary as well (often buried towards the end of the e-mail — move it up, please!) Lately he’s been writing a bit about “effort shock” (a phrase taken — believe it or not — from an interesting essay on, the alarm and surprise that so many Millennials are experiencing when “real life” turns out to be much, much harder than their childhoods. Here’s Geraghty:

Young people go through their childhood and teen years, believing that they are uniquely gifted and talented and wonderful and believing that their adult life will be one fabulous victory and success after another. And then at some point they depart the protected simulation of life that is childhood/high school/college . . . and the real world just kicks them in the crotch again and again. (This is a bit of what Adam Carolla talked about in his rant about Occupy Wall Street.) And so instead of concluding, “Oh, achieving my dream is going to be a lot harder than I thought, I had better redouble my efforts,” they deflect the hard truth of responsibility and conclude that somebody else, somebody out there — society — is to blame. They can take no joy in anyone else’s success, because that just reminds them of their own failure to achieve what they had envisioned all of their lives. And their attitudes quickly become one more obstacle — short-tempered, incapable of taking responsibility, quick to blame others, perhaps paranoid, concluding others are out to sabotage them.

I was reminded of Geraghty’s comment when I read a recent Gospel Coalition piece by Glenn Stanton examining research showing that the Millennial generation is continuing and accelerating a downward trend in “concern for others” and by almost every measure is more self-focused than Generation X or the Baby Boomers at equivalent ages. In other words, they are less “Generation We” than “Generation Me.”

But I don’t read either Geraghty or Stanton as providing just another “kids these days” lament. Indeed, as Geraghty notes in his piece, the very predicate for this effort shock is the “you are a special snowflake” parenting style that’s taken my peers (I’m Generation X) by storm. I’ve ranted about some of our own failings elsewhere — and won’t re-rant here — but there is one key point that Geraghty’s statement brings to mind: Many of the childhood victories that make kids believe that life will be “one fabulous victory and success after another” aren’t really the child’s victories at all.  

Several weeks ago, I attended a basketball game — my kids’ school versus their crosstown rivals — and I was struck by the number of parents who were sitting in the stands, hunched over papers and textbooks, literally doing their child’s homework. Not helping, doing. That is of course one extreme of greasing the wheels of your child’s success, but the extent that we confuse hand-holding and sometimes even carrying our kids with “going the extra parenting mile” is shocking to see. When our kids get jobs in the real world, they likely won’t get private tutoring to help them accomplish daily job tasks, no one will be hovering around the boss making sure they get enough “playing time” or that the boss utilizes them to maximize their skills effectively, and not every key test of their professional competence will be preceded by an expensive six-week Kaplan prep course. Yes, life is easier for a teenager with the direct assistance of one or two highly motivated adult advocates and partners, but will this round-the-clock aid make life better for that 15-year-old when they’re 25?

Everyone knows that parenting is tough, and it’s tough to watch your kids struggle and sometimes fail — especially when you know you could intervene. And I certainly don’t claim to have all the answers, but a critical mass of well-meaning, loving parents are moving well beyond the line of appropriate support and are raising kids who are simply ill-equipped for the world around them.  

Perhaps it’s time to step back, stop trying to guarantee outcomes, and instead focus on instilling solid core values, then letting the chips fall where they may. Or, if that sounds too tough, just teach them the Swanson Pyramid of Greatness:


David French — David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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