A generation of wimps?
I just heard the phrase “Strawberry Generation” thrown around recently. Apparently this is a term coined by the Chinese to refer specifically to Taiwanese children born between 1981 and 1995, though it’s being applied still to youths born through the end of the 90’s. Sounds nice doesn’t it? Strawberries are delicious! Wrong. The actual meaning refers to the fragility of the strawberry; prone to easily bruising and rotting away and raised gingerly in “greenhouses” rather than wild.
Initially I thought what a bunch of hooey, this must be another element of the cultural divide between the eastern and western worlds. Surely no one could claim my generation has it easy. I know far too many young people working their butts off to find jobs that don’t exist, or only finding contract positions with no real stability, and basically missing out on the promise of the American Dream. Work hard and get rewarded? More like work hard and then work harder. I certainly know it feels that way for me by the end of the week. I’m exhausted and burnt out and not feeling any closer to the kind of job potential or security I thought I would have by the age of 24. Of course then I turned on the television set and saw yet another hour of television on channel after channel about spoiled, self-indulgent socialites and wanna-be-celebutards. Then I thought about the myriad of people my age whose viewership has helped proliferate these shows, who aspire to be these people. Then I saw my teenage brother once again moan about how hard his life is because he has to wash a handful of dishes 3 days a week.
Wow. Maybe there was something to this concept after all. I can’t imagine my grandfather’s generation whining about a 15 minute chore he is expected to do every other day. Why, why are so many kids like this today? Why do I want to slap them so hard when I hear it? #firstworldproblems right? I found a great article from a few years ago in Psychology Today on the very concept of our “wimpy generation”
No one doubts that there are significant economic forces pushing parents to invest so heavily in their children’s outcome from an early age. But taking all the discomfort, disappointment and even the play out of development, especially while increasing pressure for success, turns out to be misguided by just about 180 degrees. With few challenges all their own, kids are unable to forge their creative adaptations to the normal vicissitudes of life. That not only makes them risk-averse, it makes them psychologically fragile, riddled with anxiety. In the process they’re robbed of identity, meaning and a sense of accomplishment, to say nothing of a shot at real happiness. Forget, too, about perseverance, not simply a moral virtue but a necessary life skill. These turn out to be the spreading psychic fault lines of 21st-century youth. Whether we want to or not, we’re on our way to creating a nation of wimps.
The phenomenon of over parenting isn’t new. It’s been discussed widely how parents are doing too much for their children, sheltering them and not letting the Ms. Frizzle philosophy take hold. You know “Take chances, make mistakes and get messy!” These were words I lived by as a child. So few do these days. I’ve written before about how I suffer(ed) from anxiety and depression and how a simple to do list can help me combat that. This paragraph really struck me:
Herein lies another possible pathway to depression. The ability to plan resides in the prefrontal cortex (PFC), the executive branch of the brain. The PFC is a critical part of the self-regulation system, and it’s deeply implicated in depression, a disorder increasingly seen as caused or maintained by unregulated thought patterns—lack of intellectual rigor, if you will. Cognitive therapy owes its very effectiveness to the systematic application of critical thinking to emotional reactions. Further, it’s in the setting of goals and progress in working toward them, however mundane they are, that positive feelings are generated. From such everyday activity, resistance to depression is born.
I have so often prescribed the act of setting goals and accomplishing them, even if it’s a series of physical labors, as a great cure to depression. Guess I was on to something backed by Science! after all. Sweet. It’s why I try to encourage my rather lethargic brother to sit down, set goals and start moving toward them. I get disgusted and so frustrated when he sits on the couch talking about what he wants in life but making no move to achieve it…or worse, he blames my mother. As an example I asked why he hasn’t gotten his driving permit yet as he is 17. When I was his age I was begging to get mine, you need a parent to sign off, and being shot down. My mom was afraid of letting her eldest out onto the road and so I was in his same shoes (stranded and unable to drive myself anywhere) but it was not for a lack of desire. As is typical with parents by the time the eldest has broken through those initial barriers, the world seems a little less scary. Our mom is more than happy to sign off and let my brother get his permit. So I ask, frustrated that he is wasting the opportunity I wanted so badly at his age, why he hasn’t gotten it yet. “Well I don’t know how, Mom hasn’t told me what to do.”
What?! This is a boy who, given the motivation, can locate obscure videos of a Ukranian albino doing a tap dance on the internet. He knows how to use a computer and do it well. It’s simply a matter of logging onto the DMV website and finding the instructions. Yet he expects it to be handed to him. This isn’t anything new. I see it constantly among people my own age and the younger crowd of the late 90’s. They have become so reliant upon parents and what’s more, the plethora of psychological excuses parents are providing to explain why Johnny needs special attention.
Parental hovering is why so many teenagers are so ironic, he notes. It’s a kind of detachment, “a way of hiding in plain sight. They just don’t want to be exposed to any more scrutiny.”
Parents are always so concerned about children having high self-esteem, he adds. “But when you cheat on their behalf to get them ahead of other children”—by pursuing accommodations and recommendations—you just completely corrode their sense of self. They feel ‘I couldn’t do this on my own.’ It robs them of their own sense of efficacy.”
I’ve noticed that when confronted with something that seems insurmountable, my brother who is a qualified, legitimate genius, will shut down. There is an overwhelming anxiety surrounding the impossibility of the task at hand. Without a clue how to tackle it, he just stops dead in his tracks and refuses to move forward at all. It’s been like this since he was young. The problem of a messy bedroom springs to mind. Initially I think it was a convenient excuse. You know “it’s so messy I don’t even know where to start so I’m not going to bother” but giving in to that excuse, that mindset, morphs so easily into actual psychological conditioning. My brother, and many others like him, became so convinced that they couldn’t do it on their own, without help or guidance, that now they literally can’t.
I love my family, don’t get me wrong, and I’m not sharing this exchange to bad mouth anyone. I just wanted to remark on this trend of “do it for me” and “it’s too hard” that drives me up the wall. Claiming to not know where to start, letting it shut you down, it angers me to see someone who I know should be, could be, hell IS capable, do that. Probably because I did it myself for a while. These angers and frustrations are rooted in my own disappointment with the times I frittered away and let some bruises life gave me turn to rot.
So here’s how you solve the problem: you don’t worry about where you start. You just start. It doesn’t matter where. Whether it’s a messy room or a messy life, you just pick a corner and start picking things up. It’s not always the most efficient way to do it but learning how to get faster and better comes later. It comes from learning from doing and that doing isn’t always right. You’re going to make mistakes and get messy, but you’ve got to take the chance in order to get wherever it is you are trying to go. When I look back on times where I’ve felt lost, depressed and riddled with anxiety, I always describe making it through the same way. I felt like life was this thick fog and I didn’t know where I was going. It was oppressive and at times made me want to sit down and be crushed by the weight of it in my chest. Instead I kept my feet moving. I didn’t know where I was going, I might be going off a cliff, in circles or right back to the beginning, but I had to keep my feet moving. Every time I discover the fog lifts eventually and I find my way out…bruised? Sure. But even bruised fruit can turn into something sweet.
We had a container of strawberries in the fridge recently. Purchased for my brother who will of course, refuse to eat a lot of what we buy, insists on certain items and then as often as not, they go to waste. Well I wasn’t going to let that happen to such beautiful strawberries the other evening so I pulled out Dorie and made this simple tart. It isn’t over the top, it isn’t complicated. In fact if you don’t count the tart shell it used 5 ingredients. Two pints of strawberries may have rotted away in a fridge because no one was eating them as there were just too many to deal with…instead I transformed them into a dessert that was quickly devoured. This is what too many of my generation and the next aren’t learning how to do. Times are rough and they are only getting worse despite a bounty of progress around us. We have to keep on moving or we’re going to waste away so much potential and there is SO MUCH open to us.
La Palette’s French Strawberry Tart and Spiced Tart Dough
both recipes from Dorie Greenspan’s “Baking from my home to yours” Read more