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Are a bunch of morons raising our kids?

By Michelle Lehnardt

Conversations at our dinner table have been robust this week over two articles: first, How to Raise Boys That Read from the Wall Street Journal and next, Are we raising a bunch of idiots? from Associated Press (printed in the Deseret News).

A few excerpts:

WSJ– So why won’t boys read? The AP story drops a clue when it describes the efforts of one frustrated couple with their 13-year-old unlettered son: “They’ve tried bribing him with new video games.” Good grief.

One obvious problem with the Sweet****s philosophy of education is that it is more suited to producing a generation of barbarians and morons than to raising the sort of men who make good husbands, fathers and professionals. If you keep meeting a boy where he is, he doesn’t go very far.

DesNews– Susan Maushart, a mother of three, says her teenage daughter “literally does not know how to use a can opener. Most cans come with pull-tops these days. I see her reaching for a can that requires a can opener, and her shoulders slump and she goes for something else.”

Teenagers are so accustomed to either throwing their clothes on the floor or hanging them on hooks that Maushart says her “kids actually struggle with the mechanics of a clothes hanger.”

The Wall Street Journal piece is a well-written argument for why the current trend of offering gross-out books for boys (I’m too prudish to even type out most of the titles) is a foolish method for raising good men. Raising a Bunch of Idiots focuses on the lack of basic skills in the younger generation. While the tone is quite different in these articles, each elicited the same question from my family, “Where are these kids’ parents?”

It’s easy to blame a kid for when they are unable to tie a shoe or scramble an egg, but the fault clearly lies with the parents. How can a child learn to clean a toilet if a parent isn’t offering instruction? No one is born with the innate knowledge of bathroom disinfection.

But I wonder if these articles are just so much hype? When I asked my sixth-grade son about the trashy books, he acknowledged that yes, some kids read them, “But most kids aren’t allowed to check them out. My friends read really good books and recommend them to me.”

And yes, we all know a neighbor that indulges their children with the newest video game, super phone or iPad, but the majority of parents I know are very selective about what they bring into their home. They set limits, make rules, require manners and finished chores.

What do you think? Are we a terrible generation of parents? Do you think kids are spoiled by technology? Do your kids do chores? How do you balance modern conveniences with old-fashioned work?

p.s. and where are they finding all those pull top cans? Our little crank can opener is overworked.

About Michelle Lehnardt

(Blog Team) I'm the kind of mom who drives through mud puddles, throws pumpkins off the roof and lets the kids move the ping-pong table into the kitchen for the summer. Despite (or probably, because of) my immaturity, my five sons and one daughter are happy, thriving, funny people. I'll climb a mountain with you, jump into a freezing lake hand-in-hand or just sit with you while you cry. I believe the gospel of Jesus Christ will heal the earth. Founder of buildyourteenager.com, scenesfromthewild.net and rubygirl.org.

30 thoughts on “Are a bunch of morons raising our kids?”

  1. Can I suggest that your neighbors are responsible parents because you live in Utah? I know, a complete generalization but we've lived many places and there is a difference. Here in the East I see all kinds of sad antics in the guise of "parenting".

    My 8 year old son has a class full of Twilight lovers (fine for teens and adults, but 8 yr olds?). He's also told me about the horror movies his classmates refer to. I've stood at the bus stop with a neighbor that constantly tells his son that he's stupid, dumb, irresponsible, etc. Then he looks at me with a smile on his face, as if I'd support his verbal abuse.

    Just a few examples, I could go on and on. My point is that it is out there. As society generally buys into the 'if it feels good do it' philosophy, parents let go of discipline. Not that they intentionally want to harm their kids, but they are confused over what to do.

    Another example that is just too crazy not to share – NYC has had a recent problem with parents taking their babies, complete with stroller, into bars. There are now many restaurants/bars creating anti-family rules. If you were to hear about the anti-family rule, you might be outraged. Understand the cause of the rule though. Babies in bars?

  2. I have also seen bad parenting here in Utah too; it's everywhere. I once spent several uncomfortable minutes overhearing my neighbor berate his four-year-old daughter for not playing basketball well, and then for crying 'like a baby'. Not that that has much to do with this particular parenting topic, though. I have been surprised by the fact that as a parent I have to fight so hard against entropy. It is easier to give in to whining, to 'meet kids where they are at' (as the WSJ article put it so nicely) rather than challenging them, and to just 'be nice' to them. Really being a parent takes time, effort, and a willingness to be the bad guy sometimes. And the rewards aren't always immediate either.

    I also have noticed that I am selective with how I respond to news stories about parenting. They always seem to be so excessively hyperbolic and doom-and-gloom. Like you, I usually take a step back and really evaluate my own family and my own environment to see if it is something I need to worry about. Like I keep hearing stuff about obese kids everywhere, but I actually have two children that are clinically underweight. And my daughter's school has recess three times a day. I'm not saying that I ignore national trends or community issues that need fixing, but I try not to get all worked up about everything the newspaper says because it may or may not be true or relevant.

  3. Examples of kids who can't do things are easy to find for articles like the ones referred to. The teenager I once hired to feed my cat while I was out of town couldn't use a crank can opener, and I was startled to learn when I came home that her parents had bought an electric can opener for her to leave in my kitchen during the week she was feeding the cat. What a moron, right? *But* this same girl could do all kinds of other wonderful and practical things, including some — saddle a horse, balance a heavy waitressing tray, start a power lawnmower — that I cannot do. In other words, how many kids, even ones who cannot do some of the things mentioned in the article, are complete and total morons? Not many, I think.

  4. This is an interesting topic, and I could offer lots of examples of the good and bad parenting I see, but, I will have to say from my experience living in Mesa, AZ to Denver, CO, to here on the east coast, I agree with jendoop. Yes, a generalization to be sure, but here, well, I see more {parenting} things that appall me.
    Today, (as happens on many a Saturday), my neighbors are watching incredulously on while my boys tackle the lawn and yard. Half of them don't even know where their kids are and would be afraid to ask them to lift a finger. Besides, they would only get in the way of the lawn service people. 😉 Sadly, I don't think these articles are all hype.
    I will say, however, that when I come across good, good parents, it fills my heart with gladness and hope and I am encouraged that there are still people out there interested in teaching their children values and morals.

  5. Well said Jenny, I agree totaly that there are lots of detached parents out there who give their kids what they want not what they need. That really saddens me.

    We too are the only parents on the block who have their kids taking care of the lawn. I like to think of my 4 boys not as my boys but someone's future husband and if I fail in teaching them to do laundry, cut the grass and clean up after themselves not only am I failing my kid, but ultimately Im failing their wives and their future families.

    Chores and responsibilities are what shape each of us, there's just nothing sexy about wiping down a toilet that someone else has peed all over but it has to be done.
    My kids say they are the only ones that have chores and parents with high expectations for grades and work etc…so we are the mean ones.
    But perhaps all of those parents who buy their kids Halo and other games that have no place in society do serve some purpose…they will give therapists nationwide lots of business in a decade or two when these kids are jobless and confused why the govt isnt paying them to sit around all day.

  6. I read both those articles and like you, don't see many of my neighbors in them. But again, I do think that there are a LOT of good parents here in Utah.

    My mother's college roommate taught school for years and years in Stockton California and then moved to Utah County. She says there's a huge difference in the quality of the kids; to quote, "The parents here are doing their jobs, so it makes my job easy."

  7. I wanted to add that's not to say we don't have problems here. I know parents who let their kids play video games all day and overindulge them and I probably need to do a better job myself; I just don't see the extremes the articles referred to.

  8. I too wondered where you live when I read this article. I'm sure the articles are exaggerated to some degree, that seems to be the way the news is anymore, but I do see plenty of evidence. For example, 2nd graders with cell phones, kids shocked to hear that my children are unfamiliar with the latest video games and movies, adults who marvel at the fact that my children help with chores around the house, etc. There are also plenty of great parents, in and out of Utah or the Church, for that matter, but just like in so many things, the divide does seem to be growing.

  9. If I could recommend a GREAT book about teaching kids responsibility:

    "The Parenting Breakthrough" by Merilee Boyack

    It is a hoot to read. She offers great advice. She has also included a job/chore chart that breaks down what a kid can do at what ages. And she is LDS.

  10. As a parent, you have to choose your battles.

    Case in point: our former stake president and his wife, good people and good friends of ours who live in our ward. They've put a requirement in place that their boys get their Eagle award before they can get a driver's license. And they put their time where their policies are. All through his time as stake president, he was also active on the ward scouting committee. BUT… not a policy that would work for my oldest son, who not only had no interest in rank advancement in scouting but also had no desire to learn how to drive. I chose driving as my point of focus and let scouting slide by.

    There are a lot of areas where I wish I'd prepared him better for life. (He's on a mission now.) On the other hand, I feel good about the things we were able to do. In the end, I've more or less come to terms with the fact that I'm both a good and a lousy parent.

  11. Being an avid reader–with kids who read so much I have to kick them out of the house sometimes–I was especially interested in that first article. I sometimes feel like I'm alone in being so vigilant? pushy? involved? in my kids' reading choices. Without censoring, I strongly encourage them to read books that are age-appropriate and, particularly, not a waste of time (to me, that means well-written and with meaningful character and plot). Their teachers, even the best ones, are thrilled to let the kiddos read anything as long as they're reading. One of my kids was not initially "a reader", but I definitely didn't dumb down what I offered her. We kept reading aloud, we continued to make reading part of our family culture. Now that might like I'm forcing them to become readers. That's not it at all; the point is that I think it's less effective to set lower expectations (as the WSJ article points out) to get the desired result.


    One funny thing that reminds me that, despite some inabilities, today's kids do know how to do some things better than I: My sixth-grader told me last week that he was bored in computer class because they were reviewing typing basics. His exact words: "That's for little kids in 2nd or 3rd grade." Ummm, I didn't know how to type until 10th grade, and that only because I took an elective typing class.

  12. What I see in my neighborhood is that parents in my area value extracurricular activities like horseback riding, sports, music lessons, extra tutoring to in reading, writing and math. Sure a lot of those kids may not know how to operate a can opener, but those kids aren't lazy, nor are there parents. They just value different things and are choosing different experiences. For many people in my area, housecleaning is menial work that is best left to paid professionals. Just as is yard work. You could say they are lazy but since so many of them work extremely hard at their careers and then spend the weekends with their kids doing activities, it doesn't strike me as lazy, just a different philosophy of raising kids.
    I remember I had a heated debate with a friend about teaching kids to work. I asserted that the best way (and the only) was to teach children to work around the home. My friend countered that she saw housework as menial and pointless. She hired someone to clean her home. I could see that teaching her kids to work was important to her, but she had a different approach and looked to the development of talents and intelligence as her method of training her kids to work.
    I think we all need to examine what we are teaching our children and consider what knowledge with help them best succeed as adults.
    I was raised to clean my own house and help my mother. I admit I could do better with my own children. But it is a work in process for all of us.

  13. It is these sorts of debates that make me continually grateful for the gospel, so that I know what to teach my children so that they learn what really matters. I too have friends like Tiffany describes who are actively engaged in helping their children develop skills and talents, but none with an eye to developing charity, service and selflessness in their children. I don't think that teaching children family work is the same as giving them horseback riding lessons. Aside from the valuable skills of self-reliance (how many of us had college roommates who were slobs because someone else had always cleaned up after them?), family work teaches children to work toward a common goal, to serve an entity outside themselves and learn skills for the common good instead of for trophies and other awards. Work is ennobling. Lessons and teams, without balance, can give kids more opportunities to be self-absorbed–developing talents and skills that may or may not have any utility or service to anyone besides themselves. Talent and skill development is important and an essential part of parenting our children, but it isn't the same thing as work.

    Also, I don't think it serves my children well at all to believe that there are certain forms of work that are beneath them (or me). It is something with which I struggled in the years when I too hired someone to clean my house. Ultimately I decided that in this season of my children's lives (which means that in a different season, things may change), learning the work and the cause and effect involved was far more important than having a clean house all the time. But when we still had the cleaners, it was important to me to make the distinction that they were helping us, not doing something for us that was menial or beneath us.

    So while I don't necessarily think that our middle class American culture is raising morons, we very well (without constant introspection) may be raising self-absorbed snobs.

  14. In the time it took to write that article, someone could've taught that girl to use a can opener or a clothes hanger.

    In the time it took to write a story criticizing boys who don't like to read, he could've attempted to inspire instead of compelling to action through guilt.

    I don't buy into the idea that the way to change people is to criticize and belittle them. And that doesn't mean giving kids credit they don't deserve for work they don't do. It means to teach them until they can do, and not insulting them for what they don't know yet.

    In the time it took to write these articles, someone could've been teaching these kids what they don't know, and writing about the amazing ability of children to learn. That's an article worth reading.

  15. Even in Utah, there are concerns. I recently spoke to a youth leader about how the enthusiasm for church stuff wanes as youth get older. I asked what a parent could do, from a leader's perspective, to help guard against this sort of apathy.

    The opinion was expressed that it's important to realize that sports or other extracurriculars won't teach the same things that spiritual discipline and priorities will. I think the point was that some parents are letting extras crowd out too much time, thinking that these are reasonable substitutes for kids to learn all the life lessons we hope our children will learn.

    The point was clear that it's not that extras are bad (this leader was a sports person and so was I so we acknowledged that they have their place), it's just that they aren't a straight-across substitute for the basic principles of spiritual growth. AND there is a culture of so much competition in many sports activities that they are taking over kids' lives (like gone every nite until 9 pm? How do they even do schoolwork, let alone anything else?). If parents don't push back on that, who will?

    This to me is along the lines of what angief said above. We can't let the extras raise our kids for us. Nothing will substitute us being by their sides and working with them and learning with them and teaching them ourselves and building those relationships in the process.

    When I think of Sister Beck's "Mothers Who Know" talk, that is something that lingered with me. I felt her reminding me that homemaking is not about ME keeping a clean house, it's about being by my children, teaching them responsibility and work and spending time with them. That's part of what it means to nurture, I think.

  16. Concerning not teaching our children to clean house: We need to remember that those children will someday be young married people, perhaps without means to hire a clean house or the laundry done. I don't think we are doing them any favors if they don't know how to do these things themselves. This is a concern if we allowing our girls to have too many or too expensive clothes, their nails done, and their hair highlighted. Like someone mentioned above, we are raising future wives and husbands.

    Also–concerning youth's enthusiasm for church waning–sometimes those youth, particularly those who are 16 and older, are merely missing Wednesday night activities in order to earn money for missions and college. This is a result of growing up and accepting responsibility. In my case, I feel blessed my children have had jobs that don't require them to work on Sunday. They are still very active in their Sunday meetings, and go to YM/YW when they can.

  17. Great article!!! I try not to debate the whole parenting thing. I think that parenting is a very spiritual journey that is unique between parent and child. What works for one child may not work for another. My husband constantly complains that I don't teach my kids to do enough work around the house but then he doesn't teach the kids the things he's responsible for either (i.e. yard work etc.). Michelle, you are exactly right about church and extra activities not being the same. I encourage my kids to choose activities that interfere as little as possible with church activities. My son, who is a senior in high school, hates missing the week night activity. He even told me that he has to miss it 3 times this semester with a very sad look on his face. He has a good friend who is very involved in sports. His mom picks him up directly from practice and takes him to activity. Sometimes he's sweaty but he's there! Whatever a parent and child chooses, it's all about priorities!!!

  18. Paradox it feels as if you are belittling the power of the written word. These articles were both well worth the time it took to write and publicize them because it is creating discussion across the country and helping parents to think about what holes might exist in their parenting, me included. Which will result in better parenting in thousands of homes, not just helping one girl to operate a can opener.

    In my opinion we need others to help us see ourselves clearly. I feel that these articles were not unnecessarily harsh, but simply held up a mirror.

  19. I am 37 and I still cannot, on a consistent basis, get an electric can opener to work. We all have gaps in our education.

  20. Michelle – I read both articles and think you are right – "so much hype" – and yet, you managed to get me thinking about my own parenting. How to make sure my children have the life skills they need for independence and success, and how important it is to introduce my children to the right literature – because good reads abound! I also think it's interesting to take note as to what ideas and "concerns" the world is spinning. I appreciate your time on this post. Thank you! Thank you!

  21. "Although, Michelle, I understand that you were talking about sports taking over for church…"

    First, I should note that I am a different michelle from the author, just in case that isn't clear.

    Secondly, perhaps I should generalize my thought, because it does go beyond sports. I used that as an example, because sports is something that can be a problem where I live. But the general point I think is that we need to parent with deliberateness. I think it's too easy as parents to be passive (and that can show up in myriad ways). As I have thought about this, I have found that it's so easy to be acted upon. I feel the Spirit more as a parent when I'm active. So I'm trying to be more deliberate, asking myself, "Why are we doing this? Why am I doing this? What is really the right thing here, given our situation, our goals, our kids, the big picture?"

    This could go for sports or pretty much anything. And it can also even boil down to simple decisions. Am I doing what is easiest, or am I being deliberate about taking time to teach and interact in those fleeting moments that come? How many times have I done something that I could have instead handed to a child to do so they could learn a new something.

    At our house, we call moments like that Momma-TC moments, but I realize all too often that I don't do that often enough.

    And I second the recommendation of Merrilee Boyack's book. It's awesome to have a list of skills there, sorted out by age. It's the kind of thing that can help with parenting with deliberateness.

  22. Where I live, most kids do have household help, even when their moms are stay-at-home-mothers. They are also the kids that have every new video game system, their own computers, cell phones, etc. It drives me crazy. I hit the roof this past summer when I found that my husband (without mentioning it to me) bought our 9 and 10 year old a brand new Mac Pro laptop. (!!) Now, even though they have a computer better than mine, I still hear how Best Friend got a computer AND a cell phone for her birthday.

    Tomorrow I'm teaching both children to use a can opener, work the washing machine, and put their clothes on a hanger. I haven't been vigilant about these things because my kids are too short to reach the clothes bar in their closet and we rarely eat food out of a can, but still. They'll need to know these things!!!

  23. In answer to your question about morons parenting, all I can say is…"Boy, I hope not!"

    But I do see some parenting methods that concern me. I just keep hoping that the results of these (described rather well in other comments) will spawn some kind of movement swinging back the other way from some of the less effective of these "new" parenting techniques and philosophies.

  24. I think maybe you're lucky in the group of parents you know… I know a LOT who aren't nearly so conscientious. Six year olds with cell phones, boys who play video games until all hours of the night, ten year old girls who hang out with giant groups of their friends for countless hours at the mall or the public library or the movie theater, with skanky clothes and no supervision… It goes on and on.

    I think part of the problem is that there's so much "expert opinion" being thrown around these days that parents, especially young parents, don't feel confident in their ability to raise their children. If there are entire fields of academics devoted to understanding what children need, how can we possibly know what to do on our own, you know? Not that I'm bashing these experts–I've read many books about child and adolescent psychology and how to raise kids, and not only do I find them fascinating, I've learned a lot from them.

    But in this kind of environment, it's easy for parents to trust more to outside information than they do to their own instincts. I believe that, while that information is helpful and should definitely be consulted, the family is organized the way that it is because PARENTS are meant to raise their children. This means that they're meant to figure it out as they go, the same way their parents did, asking help from people they respect and using their intuition to know what's best for their children–who are not the same as other people's children, and who don't need exactly the same things.

    Yeah, there are a lot of completely inept parents out there today. And I think with every few years, the trend gets a bit worse, because the kids who are raised by inept parents grow up and start having kids themselves. It's definitely something to be concerned about–but then again, what can you do outside your own family?

  25. For the record, my husband and I are BOTH slobs, and we somehow have survived 11 blissful years of marriage. My parents are also both slobs, having employed cleaning people forever, and they are celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary next year. While I think that keeping a clean house is important to some people, I'm just sayin' that even slobs can manage to become functional, happy, well adjusted adults capable of having functional relationships, and just because your kid might grow up not being very good at doing dishes doesn't mean he's going to make a lousy husband.

    There's lots of ways to make our kids good people. I agree with the person who said that her friend chooses to teach her children in ways outside the home. You can learn responsibility by honoring your commitments to a team, or taking part in a play, or whatever just as well as you can making your bed. I think the key is to be involved as a parent, however you choose to raise your children or expend your efforts. Your kids learn what is important by watching who they care about, so the take home message is to show up and act like a grown-up, so your kids will figure out what that means.

    And for you clean freaks, I love you dearly. Just don't come to my house unannounced if you want it clean, kay?

  26. One more thought–why are so many of us concerned about kids knowing certain things before they are married? How can we possibly predict the exact situation our families will be in at certain ages? And how come a kid who, at thirteen, can't operate a can opener, can't learn when she is 30 and has no other choice? Is there some unwritten law that says people can't develop skills as an adult they didn't have as children? I didn't know how to sew when I got married, and last week I just finished off two Halloween costumes for my kids. When I was 23 and in graduate school, sewing wasn't important. When I had two children clamoring for Halloween costumes, it was. So I learned. Necessity is the mother of invention, and I kinda feel like if you raise your kids to be inquisitive, active, curious people, they'll figure out what they need to know when the occasion arises. And let's face it–there are lots of opportunities in childhood and even young adulthood that can't be duplicated when you get married and have kids. Frankly, I'd much rather see my daughter backpack through Europe when she's 19 rather than take a cooking class. Maybe she'll even pick up some French cooking that way ;).

    I'm all for teaching our kids as much as we can while we have them under our roof. But let's not insult our childrens' intelligence by assuming that their ability to pick up a new skill ends when they say "I do".


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