"Eat the Top Ramen"
This photo is our oldest daughter the day after her 16th birthday. She purchased this truck with her own money when she was 12 and waited four years to drive it to school. This was the day!!!
***Disclaimer – I have a tendency to make sweeping generalizations. And while many things may hit home for a large number of people, the things I say and write do not take into account individual circumstances. Everyone has a different situation so please know that the opinions voiced are just that, opinions of generic conditions.
Every generation changes the landscape of society. Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse, and sometimes, it's just different. Older generations can be heard saying “Back in my day...” while the younger rolls their eyes at the antiquated methods and notions of the past. The key is that we take the best of the past and continue to build on it, while leaving behind what makes us weak or lazy.
One of the changes I see taking place in younger generations is a lack of desire for independence and self-sufficiency. This slow transition from a competent, civilized nation of driven individuals to a bunch of unmotivated, indecisive, dependent people makes me worry for the future of our world. And the worst of it is that the parents and grandparents of these young people (myself included) have only ourselves to blame. We have coddled and helicoptered our future into spoiled complacency.
Children are allowed to live with parents well into their 20's, or to be supported by their parents through college so that they can “focus” on their studies. These same young adults spend their late teens and college years “finding themselves” or attempting to decide on a career path. All the while being subsidized by parents or loans so that the real world of responsibility is delayed. The result is a 20–something with little life skills or desire to launch. Why should they? As long as they are undecided, they can sleep and eat where they are most comfortable – with little or no accountability.
I have heard on more than one occasion “I don't want my kids to suffer like I did.” Mind you, we are not talking abuse or tragedy, the reference is to “suffering” hard work, little money, and going without many wants in order to keep the lights on and food on the table. This translates to “I want my child to be successful without putting in the work.” Why? Why would we want a work force that doesn't know how to work, how to overcome adversity, how to problem-solve? A friend said to me the other day that young people need to “Eat the Top Ramen.” That means struggle, be hungry, unsure of how rent will be paid. Because that desperation breeds ingenuity, drive and appreciation for what is eventually achieved.
I have also heard “I'm going to school so that I can get a job where I can make a lot of money and not have to work very hard,” meaning, not a blue-collar, get-your-hands-dirty kind of job. This attitude is a direct result of the push for higher education. The result is a graduating class with no work ethic, tons of student debt and an unrealistic expectation of what they are worth at an hourly rate. And ultimately, a bunch of young adults living with their parents because they think that all the stars have to be aligned perfectly before they attempt independence. They couldn't possibly live in a smaller home, live with a roommate, drive a 10-year old car or eat Top Ramen. Oh no, they believe that their first venture should be a continuation of current comforts.
Instead of being taught that THEY are solely responsible for their future, their happiness, and their success and that struggles, tears, and Top Ramen will most likely be a part of that, today's young adults are taught to expect college loan forgiveness and staying on Mom and Dad's health insurance until age 25. Consequently, there is little desire for independence.
Getting one's driver's license used to be monumental, a rite of passage, a sign of independence and freedom. Teens took their driver's tests within days of their 16th birthday. According to the Federal Highway Administration, only 61% of 18-year-olds in the US had a driver's license in 2018, compared to 80.4% in 1983. The number of 16-year-olds with driver's licenses is dwindling. They have no desire for autonomy, they don't mind depending on others for transportation. And as parents, we worry about our children. So the longer they ride in our vehicle, the longer we feel in control of their safety. It's natural, this desire to protect, but it has gone too far. The coddling and sheltering young adults from the harsh, dangerous world leaves them ill-prepared for the inevitable. We have fostered weakness instead of teaching strength and confidence.
Everyone gets a trophy – don't hurt anyone's feelings or bruise their self-esteem by telling them they aren't the best. Sound familiar...the mantra of the last couple of decades is biting us in the butt. Well, guess what? There is only one best. And if you want to be it, you'd better work for it. Because if you don't, someone else will. And ultimately, the challenges and obstacles you face will make you stronger. They will teach you and mold you. And the sooner parents let young people sow independence and face maturity, the stronger our society will be. For we will have a generation of self-sufficient, problem-solvers, instead of a bunch of over-educated, under-smart individuals that can't drive themselves to a job interview.
Special credit to my dear friend Cindi for her insight and partnership in parenting our teenage girls!