Monday, November 19, 2007

One Way Today’s Kids Learn a Sense of Entitlement: The Ride to and From School

We wonder why today’s children feel so privileged. We wonder why it seems that some little kids think they are royalty.

On the one hand I want a better life for my kids, I want them to have a better childhood than I had. On the other, when I see certain things happening today, which I know are being done by very loving parents who want only the best experiences for their kids, who want to spare them from any possible negative experience, I question if this is the right thing for the child. I think perhaps the old ways, even with their sometimes negative aspects or negative consequences, helped build character and somehow ended up making us better people in the bigger picture of who we ended up becoming as people, as adults.

Today my thoughts on parenting have to do with getting to and from school.

When I was a child taking the school bus to public school in the 1970s and even in the mid-1980s it was so different.

The bus came to a bus stop at the end of a road. Some kids had a long-ish walk, there was no getting around it. We stood there waiting, in the rain, in the snow, in the freezing cold or in the hot weather. There was nowhere to sit. You stood there, or paced, or whatever you wanted to do that didn’t involve sitting.

We were alone at the bus stop, meaning, it was the kids only. There were no parents there. Some nastiness went on. You had to Fend For Yourself. You had to “deal with it” and tolerate the other kids. You had to develop a thick skin. You had to learn to cope and to try to get along with even the most unlikable people.

Then we then sat in a pretty cold bus, as the frequent door openings hindered the ability of the bus’s heating system to work well. And in the warm weather, we were hot. I wonder if the heating systems have improved over time (I bet they have).

If the bus came and you were not there, you missed the bus. Your parent had to drive you to school or you walked.

Today, when the bus arrives at some kid’s driveways, if the child is not there, the bus waits (delaying the entire bus route for all), then the bus honks, and sometimes a child will come tumbling out of the door and runs to the bus. (And on days when the kid is sick, the neighbors get woken up early for nothing, thank you very little.) How much do you want to bet the child’s lateness is met with a smile and a nice “good morning” greeting by the driver rather than with a dirty look or a harsh word from the driver to try to scold the child to tell them to be on time from now on (as they would have done when I was a child). Nowadays if a scolding happened, I have no doubt that the parent would call the school or bus company directly and complain if not demand that the driver be fired.

The sound of the bus horn wakes me up on some days. A horn blew just this morning, on my road, inspiring this post as a matter of fact. Why did this coddling begin? The bus NEVER honked or waited for anyone when I went to school! Even on days when the bus was a little early, if we weren’t there, we missed it. This taught us that the world didn’t stop revolving for us, that the world had a schedule and that we had to become better managers of our time, or pay the consequences.

In my family, on days when I missed the bus and was driven to school, I got yelled at and sometimes punished by grounding or other negative things. This rarely happened before high school though, because in our family we were made to be ready and be on time, to be early, even, as we were told to be there early just in case the bus came early.

Then, for some years my high school bus had a route that allowed a last chance pick up. You see the bus came down a nearby street first, then went down to do a big loop before coming back toward my neighborhood to make one last stop before heading directly to the school. So if I missed my bus I could walk a quarter of a mile and catch it. This actually allowed me to sleep an extra ten minutes so to be honest some days I intentionally was not punctual about getting up as I planned to just catch the bus later. But on some days I overslept so long that I missed that too.

And my mother was angry that I had missed not one pickup, but two, and so on those days when I couldn’t have the car she started making me walk instead of driving me. She did this to Teach Me A Lesson to make me have to “deal with the consequences”. I lived two miles from the school (2.03 to be exact, thank you Mapquest). I did this more than once in the winter time, freezing my butt off in the process. (It seemed much longer to me than two miles, it took me over a half hour to do that walk.)

Today in this town the elementary school bus takes most kids directly to their driveway. A rule states that all Kindergarteners are to go right to their own driveway not to be brought to a bus stop and their parent must be there at the drop off or the child cannot be let off the bus.

Due to concerns and false fears of kidnapping or molestation by strangers, parents often wait at the bus stop with their children in the morning. Although I’d like to think the bad bullying no longer happens thanks to that (a good thing) then I do wonder if this constant adult supervision somehow impairs independence? I mean, not being trusted to stand at a corner and wait for a bus, does that not imply incompetence in the child? Why is it that for so many years kids were trusted and safe at bus stops yet today it is now thought of as ‘dangerous’?

In this town and in others that I drive past, parents drive to the bus stop and sit in an idling, heated or air conditioned car with their child in total comfort waiting for the bus to arrive (both in the morning or in the afternoon). In my parent’s neighborhood a family drives 40 feet to sit and clog the narrow road while they wait to pick UP their child in the afternoon then drive their child home 40 feet. And we wonder why there is childhood obesity and why so many gravitate toward a sedentary lifestyle? Why can’t a child walk home by themselves—even 30 or 40 feet?

But perhaps the worst that I have seen many times with my own two eyes in more than one town around here, are the parents who drive to the end of their DRIVEWAY and sit with the car idling for the bus to come in the morning. Why are these people not concerned with the use of fossil fuels, about the low gas mileage they are getting, about the price of gasoline?

While driving around during the day I see even high school aged kids being dropped right at their doorstep. The busses seem to make a zillion stops, sometimes driving just 30 feet before making another stop (with middle school and high schoolers). This makes the bus ride longer and possibly increases the number of busses and drivers the town needs (inflating the education budget). We had about eight kids at our bus stop when I was growing up, and if the bus had to stop at eight places rather than one would it not take longer?

I have negative memories of ‘the school bus ride’. I have experienced things that today would be called verbal harassment and verbal sexual harassment as well as “assault and battery” (being touched when it is not with consent) and whatever you call the crime when you are a girl who gets physically groped in private places by horny middle school and teenaged boys.

Many other parents must have bad memories as in my town with an elementary school population of about 700 we have nearly 300 FAMILIES driving their children to and from school. (Most families here have at least two children if not three or four.) Our school busses in town are nearly empty. One mother told me there are never more than a dozen kids on a bus. Yet they keep expanding the number of busses the town needs as they say they want to keep the route to a certain short drive (but some kids have a 40 minute bus ride still). One mom I know complained about this waste of resources (town education budget money as well as fuel) and she was told they must run the busses as if they were at maximum possible capacity rather than polling to see what kids would never be on the bus due to the fact that they are always driven to school.

We have a new elementary school in town. In the first year they had to make the parking lot and driveway larger. There were so many parents doing drop-off’s and pick-up’s that the line of cars snaked around the school, out the long driveway and clogged the roads. The fire department claimed this was a hazard as if an emergency happened the fire trucks could not get through the roads. So more money was spent on that expansion project.

Another reason for the pick-up’s after school is the busy-ness of the children. Every child in this town does at least three if not five or six extra-curricular activities. In order to get to the appointments on time they must be picked up from school right at the time the school lets out and they are off and rushing to their appointment. I was told in my town if you want to be at the head of the line for the fastest pick up you must arrive 30 minutes before school lets out. A friend told me some days when she arrived near the end of the line it took 35 minutes to get their child into the car! If mom works and is unavailable to be the personal chauffeur, we have local businesses that are private car services for children created exactly for this purpose—to taxi the kids to each of their extra-curricular activities. Instead of setting priorities and scheduling things around the basics of going to school and taking the bus home the child is the top priority.

I think all of these things in combination are helping today’s children develop their sense of entitlement. Being cold at the bus stop is not required. Walking a bit to the end of the road is not acceptable. If they are late in the morning the bus will wait for you and toot the horn to nudge you to get moving (no need to develop time management skills). Mom will pick you up at the bus stop with a heated or air conditioned car to be whisked home in luxury---even if said trip is only 30 feet long. And even something like the drive home from school on the bus is too inconvenient to the child’s busy schedule then they get picked up after school by mom or the car service.

Growing up over-privileged and with a sense of entitlement has negative consequences. Psychologists say these children have higher rates of drug and alcohol use as teens, higher teen suicide rates and higher rates of clinical depression in the teen years. So raising kids who never suffer any negativity has bad consequences sometimes!


If you don’t believe me that raising children with a sense of entitlement is a bad thing, you can read some more on this topic.

As with everything we say “time will tell”. Well since some kids have grown up with these parenting ways and now are in their 20s, we have some evidence of the fallout.

Unresolved issue in my mind: Is homeschooling the ultimate act of over-indulgence of children? Is sparing our children the negative parts of attending school or never taking the school bus hindering our children? Will homeschooled children be the uber-wimps of society, having been protected from going through some of the more negative aspects of a typical American childhood? I surely hope not. I need to think about this some more to figure out how homeschooling in MY family is both developing a more self-reliant child and one who is socialized in the good and right ways yet has a tough enough skin to not crumble at the hands of others whose upbringing was so different.

Here are my suggestions for books:

Too Much of a Good Thing: Raising Children of Character in an Indulgent Age by Dan Kindlon

The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage Are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids by Madeline Levine

A few articles that have enlightened me:

The Most-Praised Generation Goes to Work article by Jeffrey Zaslow from The Wall Street Journal

A Nation of Wimps, a long article by Hara Estroff Marano published in Psychology Today in 2006

Scenes from the Culture Clash (about 20-something’s and problems in the workforce). Hat Tip: Number 2 Pencil

Or do a web search for articles if you feel like surfing. Try these keywords:

Kids entitlement
Over-privileged children
Over-privileged kids
Over privileged children
Over privileged kids
Helicopter parents

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Barbara Frank said...

Wow! You've made some excellent points here. What you've written about the buses, and parents driving to the stops, etc. was true in the suburb we lived in for the past 19 years. I could not believe how parents spoiled their kids; you're not exaggerating in your post.

My dd24 is a manager in retail, and she says most of today's young adults are like small children; they think the world revolves around them. They try to return items long past the date allowed or originally purchased from another store and have a temper tantrum when told no. She says it's almost comical sometimes.

As for homeschooling possibly becoming indulgence, I agree with you that it's a hazard. There were times I thought I was too hard on my kids in an effort to keep them from being spoiled, and other times I was too easy. But then, no parent is perfect. I do think if you're concerned about overindulgence (or even aware that it can happen), you're more likely to raise a relatively unspoiled child.

Great post!

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Excellent post and very good questions.

I think that among children who are schooled, there is more pressure to be a helicopter parent than among homeschooled kids. It has become part of the culture of going to school.

When N. was in school, his elementary school was just a block away. I used to have him walk to school and walk home. I was criticized by the parent across the street for this. Was I not afraid of child snatching? I reasonably pointed out that I could see the school from the living room window and watch N. walk all the way home. Alone. Unlike in my day, no other kids walked!

As I homeschool mom, I am conscious of the charge that I am homeschooling as a form of overprotection. However, I note that at the park days and the skateboard park and library, it is the homeschool moms who are sitting on the benches talking to one another while the kids organize their own activities. Also, N. takes a lot of responsibility for his own learning. We talk about what he is planning and I help him upon request. But I do not tell him when to sit, stand and when he can go to the bathroom.

So, no, I do not think that homeschooling my kid has to be an exercise in overindulgence. But then again, I was the Mom who made my little boy walk to school.

Linda said...

Outstanding thoughts! I thoroughly enjoyed this brought a few laughs as it brought back memories of walks to school in the rain and waits at the bus stop with frozen hair and numb toes. It also made me think about the sense of entitlement that our children are growing up with in this culture. It's scary. Thanks for a wonderful post...really thought-provoking!