We know our kids need to grow up and get more independent. If they didn’t, they’d never be able to move out of the house, get jobs, and take care of us in our old age. So why are we actively encouraging our kids to be more dependent on us?
Researchers who study parent-child relationships are finding that compared to kids in other cultures, American kids have it really, really easy. In Samoa, for example, children serve food to their elders and wait until their parents have eaten before digging in themselves. In Peru, kids as young as five are climbing trees to harvest papaya and schlepping wood to build fires. Meanwhile, in living rooms across the U.S., children are refusing requests to do household chores, and parents are jumping into “help” children with everything from homework to tying shoes (and we’re talking about 8-year olds here).
Part of the issue has to do with the way we define “family time.” In many other parts of the world, family time means doing something together as a family. Here, that phrase tends to mean focusing on the kids, giving them whatever they want, and not giving them any responsibilities.
This is a colossal mistake. In families where both adults work, parents feel guilty about not spending as much time with the kids and they relax their standards for discipline, cooperation, and responsibility. The result? By stepping in to rescue our children—mostly from situations where they don’t need to be rescued—we’re not letting them fail, not letting them the mistakes we made and learned from. So our children are growing up with a sense that if they’re faced with a difficult challenge, someone will be around to take care of it. That may start with doing your 6-year old’s homework and your 9-year old’s science fair project, and it continues with making payments on your 21-year old’s maxed-out credit cards, and having your 35-year old move back home because she can’t be bothered to look for a job.