Are We Really Raising a Generation of Nincompoops?

Filed under: Expert Advice: Family Time

Today's parents are raising a generation of children who, while remarkably tech savvy, are at risk of losing a grip on fundamental life skills, according to a recent article by Associated Press writer Beth Harpaz. Harpaz refers to 7-year-olds who can't tie shoes, teenagers who can't operate a can opener and college students who don't know how to address an envelope.

As impressive as it is to see a 3-year-old figure out how to use Mommy's new iPhone app, I have to wonder whether Harpaz is right. Are we doing our children a disservice by limiting their opportunities to solve problems without clicking a mouse or asking Mom for help?

Seth Godin, author of "Linchpin," describes his experience with a group of 10- to 12-year-olds when he asked them how a drinking bird toy worked. One child said, "It tips back and forth like it's drinking water." "I know that's what it's doing, but how? What questions could you ask to help you figure out how it works?"

"After a few minutes of silence, one child said, "Tell us." Not only were these children unable to explain how the toy worked, they could not even pose questions of a willing adult that might help them figure it out!

Mark Bauerlein, author of "The Dumbest Generation," says, "Growing up with cell phones and Google means kids don't have to figure things out or solve problems any more. They can look up what they need online or call mom or dad for step-by-step instructions."

As tempting as it is to solve our children's problems for them or give them access to electronic tools that can dish out a quick fix, we must let our kids engage their minds with real-life challenges. Whether it's figuring out how to use the can opener when they've grown up with pop tops, tying their shoes when they're used to Velcro, or addressing an envelope in an era of emails, our kids must be less plugged-in, and more connected to the real world.

Human beings thrive on stretching and growing, and achieving -- through persistence and perseverance -- what might have appeared impossible. As parents, we must be careful that in our desire to keep our children happy and entertained, we don't deprive them of the pleasure of genuine accomplishment.

I don't believe we're bringing up a generation of nincompoops. But I do agree that unless we're careful, we run the risk of raising kids who don't have the patience or focus necessary for coping with life's inevitable challenges. My advice? Make sure there are enough "power outages" around your house to ensure that your kids don't lose the chance to solve puzzles, build, read, compose, paint, cook, and maybe even write an actual letter (versus email) to Grandma. The Internet may come and go -- or at least our server could go down -- but those basic human skills will serve our children forever.

AdviceMama, Susan Stiffelman, is a licensed and practicing psychotherapist and marriage and family therapist. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in developmental psychology and a Master of Arts in clinical psychology. Her book, Parenting Without Power Struggles, is available on Amazon. Sign up to get Susan's free parenting newsletter.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.