In this article, we look at the fact that we’re creating a world for children and why it can only make us egotistical and unhappy over the long term.
If you read the book Mind the Gap by Graeme Codrington & Sue Grant-Marshall ( https://www.amazon.com/Mind-Gap-Generation-Choose-Future/dp/0143528416 ), one of the fascinating patterns that you’ll notice is that generations tend to alternate our focus on children in layers, with one generation being overly focused on children and the next disregarding children in favour of the needs and rights of adults.
We’re currently slap-bang in the middle of a generation that places over-emphasis on kids. Why? Because we felt neglected by our parents.
The fact that this sense of abandonment and neglect is the driver comes as no surprise, but it’s creating a world of selfish and egotistical people - and that contributes towards making all of us in society unhappy over time.
Children should be… heard… not heard?
For many in my generation, especially growing up in apartheid South Africa, the rule was simply children should be seen and not heard. But not seen too often either.
For the most part, our parents left us alone, to our own devices, and gave out hidings when they were needed.
Nowadays however, it’s a very different thing, with parents interfering in every aspect of their child’s life.
I’ve seen situations where almost all the class parents wrote letters demanding more time for an allocated homework activity, because they felt the time allocated wasn’t ‘fair’, and I’ve even seen the introduction of exams delayed by a year because a group of parents felt it was too much pressure on their kids.
Kid getting bullied? Call a meeting! In fact meetings get called so often now that teachers need to have rules about when and how parents can contact them.
In a generation we’ve gone from not being involved at all to being so overly involved that we scare and intimidate the schooling system and teachers.
Ten years later
So if things carry on in their current trajectory, what can we expect to see going forward? If you’re a Grey’s Anatomy fan, then there is a current plot scenario that illustrates this beautifully.
Grey’s is a medical drama, set in a teaching hospital. As with any internship type set up, the interns and residents spend years becoming slowly accustomed to the role, tasks, duties and pace.
This makes sense, because we learn in layers. The first time you learn to stitch, all your focus is on stitching. Then you spend a few rounds practicing and are ready to learn a different kind of stitch and technique.
Over time then, you get a chance to learn all the little individual techniques with dedicated focus, and once you’re competent and confident with each technique, then you string them all together and begin performing more complex surgical procedures.
So, over time, you manage to accumulate enough practice and experience to clock the 10,00 hours you need to achieve a level of mastery.
By the end of the five years you are left with qualified and experienced surgeons who have learned and practiced the necessary skills.
More importantly though, they’ve developed perspective and patience, as well as the stamina they need to handle the intense pressure and stress of these surgical scenarios, without collapsing under the strain. Remember, this is always life and death – it’s pretty stressful.
Enter a new cast member – a young, inexperienced surgeon who has made her name by implementing a radically different approach to residency – let the surgeons step aside and the residents do all the surgery.
To transpose this into a marketing scenario, it’s letting the junior copywriter define the marketing strategy from day one. Or it’s letting the cashbook clerk sign off the financial year-end. It’s even akin to letting the receptionist negotiate the international trade deal.
From an instant gratification, young person’s I-can-get-what-I-want-right-now point of view, this is amazing. No more standing by and watching – you’re in there learning on the fly, while the experienced surgeons stand by and watch and talk you through it.
The problem with this is that it takes years to develop the nuances of the skills you’re learning – how to cut thin tissue vs. thick heart muscle, what to listen for, which type of stitch to use – so your failure rate for simple mistakes is bound to be much higher.
You’ll press too hard or cut wrong, or skip a step, and then your patient is suddenly dead for no reason. Which actually happened on the show. What did the hotshot residency director do? Panicked just as much the resident! Why? Because she’d NEVER experienced it before!
So when the patient died on the table, her lack of experience lead her to run away from the resident who needed her support - scarring the resident and leaving her fearful of performing surgery again.
Instant gratification is a wonderful thing – you get what you want in the moment.
So valuable experience aside, you’re a young, eager intern, full of the determination of youth, wanting everything – and now you start getting exactly what you want: to cut. And you perform a lot of surgical cutting for the next five years.
So instead of learning to wait your turn, developing a bit of patience, yearning for something, learning your limits and developing stamina, you are thrown in the deep end, and the idea is repeatedly reinforced that you must get what you want when you want it – which is now.
How likely do you think it is that someone is going to step aside after five years of getting their way and being the centre of the action and attention - and just watch after that?
The way it is now, you wait for five years and then you spend the rest of your life cutting and taking action. So you keep getting better and better off a solid and stable foundation. You learn more, apply your maturity and stay constantly in practice.
When you get the cutting access for the first five years, it means that the cutting access stops after five years and you spend THE REST OF YOUR LIFE in the audience.
So there’s no real time in years to develop your skills.
You do not have the balance of the maturity that comes with adulthood to add to your learning.
You do not have the experience to draw on to make big calls and risky saves – because if you stop performing surgery after five years, you won’t even be able to stay in practice.
You do not have the time to become a Master.
The rest of your life
When you make instant gratification a habit, you affect every single area of your life.
So you’ll take the job now instead of risking the few months or years it will take to build your own business. You’ll make it impossible to tighten your belt or cut back because you’ll always feel a loss that your instant need is not being met. And you’ll develop an addiction to an instant return that will make you impatient with everything else.
Likewise, you’re more likely to go back to your ex instead of wait for the one. Instant gratification would never let you be single for an unknown period of time.
Your personal needs will become so important to you that you will be knocked flat at any sign of adversity or challenge, because you will never have had time to develop a sense of self worth independent of possession, achievement and external validation.
You will never take responsibility because you will always be waiting for others to hand stuff to you – because you’ve never had to fight for it.
From patience to hope to dreams, aspirations, desires, goals, the very reason they get up every day, you deprive your children of so much when you give them everything.
They need to fight, they need to believe, they need to hope, they need to yearn, they need to dream. They need something to live for, something to look forward to… small, attainable goals that they achieve on a regular basis to keep them going.
Take away all those elements and you’re damning people to a life where they have nothing to look forward to, where they feel used up and done.
Stats show that roughly every 20 seconds someone commits suicide around the world at the moment. A staggeringly high percentage of those suicides are driven by money anxieties, because people are so used to getting what they want they would rather die than go without.
If we carry on at this pace, and we’re going to see much more than just 15% of the population on antidepressants.
Love your child properly – learn to say no, even when it’s difficult.
Both of you will be grateful for it later.