We Need a Few More Sturdy Kids

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What has happened to all of the sturdy kids?  You know the ones.  They are not cocky or arrogant but have this sense of “I bet I can do that” or “I can figure that out.” The sturdy kids have an intense desire for independence and can’t wait to get there first pocketknife, BB gun, .22 rifle, or driver’s license.

They often are looking for ways to earn some money before they are out of elementary school by doing odd jobs for the neighbors.  They are the kids that want to be outside and enjoy being dirty for most of the day catching frogs, worms, and snakes.  They are the teenagers that helped settle the West and lied about their age to defend their country in both World Wars.

They are the young adults that knew they could make a place for themselves in the world and demonstrated a fierce desire for faith in their life and knew that pursuing God boldly was the only way . . . Where are these kids today?

  I’ll bet many of us saw our grandparents like this.  Unfortunately this type of kid is harder to find  . . . and we are paying the price.  As our children’s sturdiness has been eroded, the level of anxiety and depression in their lives has increased dramatically.

Now some who just read that paragraph are saying, “a pocketknife, a BB gun, a .22 rifle……is he nuts”?  Actually no, these things are not that dangerous and our kids are not that fragile, we just think they are. We are a big part of the problem.  We have allowed ourselves to be convinced that dangerous (code word for adventurous and usually fun) things should be avoided at all cost.

This has been a really slippery slope that has led to thinking that our kids are even incapable of cooking a meal or doing laundry.  No wonder it is common today to see 16 year olds afraid to get their driver’s license.  We live in the generation of the bubble-wrapped kid.

One thing that is greatly lacking is self-confidence.  Today’s child has traded that for arrogance and false bravado.  We have a lot of kids that talk big but lack substance.  We have to be careful though on how we deal with this topic.  I heard recently on the radio that the way we increase our child’s self-confidence is by listening to them and giving them praise.

While that sounds good and both are good things, the notion that this is the path to self-confidence in our children is just more psycho-babble. While both are important, I would assert that neither works directly on the development of confidence.  We long ago bought into false logic that giving continual praise to our children somehow aids in their healthy development which culminated in the “everybody gets a trophy for just showing up” cause of today.  Even the kids know that is silly.

Self-confidence by definition cannot come from an outside source.  It is an internal process based not on what another thinks of you, but what you assess about yourself.  The question is not how do we increase our child’s self-confidence but how do we set the stage for them to develop it.

 Take a look at our grandparents’ generation.  What you see are kids that were required both by life and parents to do more.  I don’t mean as punishment, we just expected more of kids in their generation.  When we require more of kids, they acquire skill or competence.  It was not uncommon by the age of 10 for kids  in the early 1900’s and before to know how to cook, hunt,  pluck a chicken, start a fire, and on and on.

Today when we require our children to be functional and learn to navigate as many different aspects of life as possible, they acquire skill.  This is not because all of these things are necessary in these modern times, but because they are beneficial.  Before long they have multiple skills and begin to see themselves as competent.

As this competence and sense of mastery builds with the development of more skills across a broader arena of life, children begin to have an attitude about themselves.  They start believing that “I can do that” or “I bet I can figure that out.”  That is self-confidence and it is not based on what another has told them . . . it is ingrained.

When you see these children today, they stand out.  They are comfortable in their own skin and seek out new and usually adventurous (“dangerous”) things.  We need more of these sturdy kids.  It is time to take off the bubble wrap.

 – By Keith McCurdy