It's unpopular, but fair to say parenting today has become a debacle. With tidal wave force, we've ushered in a new child-rearing style that probably isn't doing our kids any favors in the life prep department. We've become obsessed with our children's diets, friends, grades, sports and activities. Any category in which we perceive they are falling short is quickly redirected or remedied by us -- their loving, devoted parents.
I'm not sure how we got here. We laughed in 1971 when Veruca Salt (of Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory fame) trumpeted her beyond-indulged theme song, "I Want It Now!" But, frighteningly, the anthem for today's kids could well be, "I Want It Now and I Want You To Get It, Buy It, Finagle It or Fix It For Me!" I have to believe (I have to!) that a still, small voice in every parent acknowledges that this mode of raising Little Johnny won't bode well for his future. And he'll find that out as soon as he flees the nest and meets his first boss.
I'm as guilty of indulgent parenting as the next person. I've helped my kids out of jams and guided them towards choices I thought would serve them well. But there's one thing I know I'm innocently guilty of (as, perhaps, are you) and it's the constant asking of this toxic question: Did you have fun?
Did you have fun?
Yessiree! Every game, party, sporting event, school meeting, sleepover or get-together with friends is immediately met with this question. In fact, our kids can barely climb into the car and buckle their seat belts without having to answer this ubiquitous question.
But the problem with the fun question is this: When we ask it of our children, we're asking them to filter every experience through a "fun lens" -- driving home the point that fun is, well, always the point.
Was it fun?
The fun question is leading. Kids learn quickly that they get a positive response from us when they answer in the affirmative. As parents, we're both happy and relieved when our kids enjoy themselves. We're happy because we want them to be happy and relieved because no physical or emotional harm came to them while they were out of our care.
Of course, we want to know how our kids fare when they're out in the world. We want them to enjoy their childhoods and adolescences -- to have fun -- in ways that we, perhaps, did or didn't. But asking whether every happening is fun is also directing kids to expect that everything will or should have an element of enjoyment. As adults, we already know that isn't possible. I'm afraid we're raising a future generation of disillusioned adults who will wait, frustrated, for all the fun they've indirectly been promised -- and who will forever be afflicted with a severe case of FOMO.
Did you have fun with your friends?
Why does this matter? Well, teen suicide rates continue to be hugely concerning. Crippling anxiety and depression impact youth. Picture-perfect selfies and the Facebook illusion that everyone else's life is sunny beaches, family barbecues and yes, fun, cannot be helping this tragic scourge.
What was the most fun part?
As adults, we can look at photo-enhanced Instagram offerings and still understand the complexities of people's lives. We know that behind every duck-lipped pout, tropical vacation, or perfect-looking spouse lies challenges. But kids don't know that because they have little frame of reference and next to zero life experience. So, what young teen wouldn't be consumed with self-doubt seeing the self(ie)-manufactured, Disney version of seemingly everyone's life but his or her own?
Asking our kids to continually gauge the majority of their life experiences through fun binoculars (and to present them that way on social media) isn't just annoying and unrealistic, it's potentially harmful. Because what if you have a child who really isn't having fun -- who may actually be struggling -- but doesn't want to disappoint you by saying no?
We should never stop asking our kids about their experiences. Countless studies show that involved parenting is optimal. We can't dispute that. But instead of focusing on fun, let's figure out what's really happening with our kids by next time asking this simple question instead:
So, tell me, how was it?