The ‘Snowflake Generation’ was apparently one of the terms of the year in 2016. I didn’t know what it meant and wrongly assumed it was directed at my kids’ age. Instead it’s been described by the Collins Dictionary as “the young adults of the 2010s, viewed as being less resilient and more prone to taking offence than previous generations”. Apparently Millennials who are between 18-24 years old believe they’re special, but are more fragile than previous generations – hence the term ‘snowflake’.
After breathing a sigh of relief that my kids aren’t implicated, it got me thinking about what their generation will be called and the long-term impact of current parenting trends (something I previously wrote about in my Guilt article).
Parental approaches have reflected our view on childhood through the ages. We’ve gone from seeing them as economic entities (being sent up chimneys), to being seen and not heard, to rearing snowflakes. Even more recently, our child-centric parenting practices focus on increasing self-esteem and reducing conflict (e.g. “Calmer, Easier Happier Parenting”).
We empathise more with our children, there’s less ‘tell’ and more discussion. Rather than control them, we want to influence them. This paradigm shift manifests itself in:
- Choice: today’s children are often allowed to exercise their choice in what they wear, eat and do (to name but a few…).
- Listening: we’re encouraged to talk eye-to-eye with our kids and have conversations with them, rather than preaching at them. In return, kids these days expect to be listened to and heard.
- Apologising: I recently phoned my 5 year old up (via his Grandad’s mobile) to apologise for shouting at him before he left the house. He’d traipsed half the garden inside, but five minutes later my guilt set in (needless to say, the phonecall confirmed he appeared unaffected by my tirade). Apologising to a child in previous generations would have been seen as undermining the role of the adult. Now we consider it the opposite.
- Answering-back: the days of “because I said so” are long-gone. Parents now find themselves using their best persuasion tactics to do even the most simple things. Rather unbelievably, I found myself recently praising my son when he said “you’re annoying me” (TBH I was grateful for any alternative to a melt-down…).
- Feelings: just as we try to get our kids to explain how they feel, parents are also talking about their feelings more. Explaining to our children that we’re tired, have made a mistake, or are losing patience contrasts with previous generations where more authoritarian parents presented themselves as infallible.
- Table manners: there’s no longer the expectation that kids will finish the food on their plates. In the light of concerns about over-eating in the West, we encourage our kids to decide when they’re full by ‘listening to their tummies’. The slightly harsh “you won’t leave the table until you’ve finished” is no longer in tune with our democratic mantra.
More relaxed approaches to mealtimes invariably result in kids not learning to sit still, remain at the table, or eat anything at all – preferring instead to snack on the rolling buffet offered from the depths of mum’s handbag.
Most child-friendly restaurants offer colouring sheets and crayons as a distraction tactic; a park cafe near us has wide-screen TVs showing cartoons and it was even reported that a UK restaurant has introduced a 5% discount for families with well-behaved children.
- Supervision: kids from previous generations would disappear for the day and entertain themselves. Nowadays ‘baby-proofing’ is a verb.
- Over-scheduling: lots has been written about kids doing too many activities and not having enough free-play and time to themselves.
By being so child-centric and hyper-invested, we may be unwittingly setting our kids up for a difficult adjustment into adulthood and a lifetime of disappointment. Following such carefully-curated childhoods, will they become entitled and egotistical? Will they expect to call the shots, make the decisions and take the lead (despite lacking the life experience to do so)? The advent of the internet means that the notion of doing anything as boring as grocery shopping and queuing is an anathema to them. How then will they have the staying-power to make lemonade out of life’s lemons?
After having their needs met almost instantaneously, their desire for instant gratification may land them in hot water later on. Used to having their parents hang on their every word, will they expect the world to indulge them similarly? Growing up with parents as dedicated cheerleaders, they will feel capable of anything – but is this a recipe for narcissism? Having had their parents resolve disputes for them, will they expect life to be ‘fair’, yet paradoxically, to come out on top? Will they be able to sit still, use cutlery, or take responsibility for themselves?
We’ve put children on a pedestal like never before, but here’s hoping we don’t pay the price by rearing a generation of Sun Kings who see themselves like their namesake, Louis XIV: “omniscient and infallible… around whom the entire realm orbited”.