What next for Generation X-cess?
Many of the boom's children, who were reared against a backdrop of greed and self-indulgence, will now struggle to live happy and contented lives
Published 18/10/2010 | 05:00
It's quite clear now, with a bit of hindsight, the extent to which selfishness and greed drove the economy during the Celtic Tiger years. But now that boom has turned to bust, what will motivate us instead of such misplaced characteristics? And more importantly, what happens to children reared in an era when money was plentiful enough for their parents to placate them with every newest thing their hearts desired?
A significant number of these children of the boom will never grow up because what they now possess is a colossal but false sense of entitlement. They are selfish, arrogant and manipulative and blithely assume that the world revolves around them.
These spoilt adult children are recognisable by their failure to succeed in the real world: chronic job-hopping or lengthy unemployment, running up debts, poor motivation to even begin looking for work and a lack of respect for any form of authority are all symptoms.
Emotionally they suffer from low self-esteem and they have difficulty in establishing or maintaining relationships. They will regularly display rude and ungrateful behaviour. Most notably they will disparage, demean and discount their parents -- the very people who have given them everything.
Now I can accept that parents want to give to their children for many reasons. It's partly instinctual. Back in the Stone Age, giving to your child might have meant providing food, shelter and protection. Those urges are still there.
Indeed, as parents, every generation tries to give their children more, and better, than they had. We want our children to have easier, and perhaps more successful, lives than we had ourselves. We have a belief that we are, in some ways, growing as a society; improving it and moving it forward.
But that desire always came with the caveat that our children didn't take it for granted and that they appreciated it to the point that they, too, wanted to give more to future generations and continue to grow that society.
If parents give too much and give in to every little want and need their child expresses, they are really feeding and nurturing a sense of false entitlement which can lead to problems later on at both personal and social levels. These parents are probably quite diligent and responsible in their working lives but have lost their backbone entirely when it comes to raising their children. They probably despair of the demands that grow ever larger from what they will perceive as their ungrateful offspring but have no idea how they have fuelled these demands and failed to challenge the lack of gratitude.
Critically, their children are never challenged to take responsibility for their behaviour and are never helped to cope with any of their feelings of disappointment, frustration or indeed distress of any kind. Children growing up in this kind of an environment don't have to earn or work for what they want, they just get it.
As adults, they continue with their narcissistic beliefs that they are in some way 'owed' by society. They continue to be a financial drain on their parents, or if parents are no longer there, on the State because they are unable to get or to keep a job.
These adult children have an inability to tolerate setbacks, disagreements or criticism which makes them difficult employees or co-workers. It is recognised in some large companies in the US, where these young adults do not understand why they don't get stellar evaluations, have no respect for dress codes and expect rapid promotions.
In their day-to-day lives they will struggle to manage their money and will run up huge personal debt to keep meeting their desire for the latest and the best. It is quite likely that they learned about this kind of over-spending from their parents who also went into debt to try to give their children what they wanted.
It is also quite likely that many of them felt little security in their attachment with their parents. Secure attachments grow from reliable and trustworthy responses from parents that meet the needs of their children.
These parents were not reliable. Indeed their very unreliability was the reason they substituted their presence with TVs, iPods, the latest phones, cash, clothes, Playstations, more cash and so on. But this kind of transaction results in children never feeling valued for who they are. Instead their value is measured by the size or frequency of the gifts they receive.
Parents who don't set limits fail to express their own moral and value codes. This leads to children operating in a moral vacuum, with no internal set of beliefs that can guide them effectively through their lives.
It is quite likely that these young adults have not yet left home, why should they? After all, they believe that their parents should be supporting them and that any failure on their part to get a job and move into an independent life is in fact a failure of their parents (who should have organised it) or of society (which isn't giving them the break they deserve).
Indeed it is interesting to see how these adults struggle to interact in a meaningful way with society too. Society is built on the premise that we can achieve more when we feel supported, encouraged and work together with others. Adults with a sense of entitlement can't work communally, as they struggle to put in any effort and are only interested in the pay-off for themselves.
Mind you, the social and political policies that have been in place throughout the childhoods and adolescence of these young adults have further bolstered their sense of entitlement. Policies such as the individualisation of the tax bands led to higher numbers of parents opting to work outside the home.
The emphasis changed in social policy away from community and family and towards individuality and personal gain. There was an implicit and explicit sense that it was better to be working outside the home than inside the home. Men and women became more valued for investing in productivity than investing in children.
The high level of tax breaks for the wealthy encouraged everyone to aspire not just to wealth, but to shelter as much of their earnings for themselves. Selfishness and greed drove the economy. The staggering extent of this personal greed is still becoming apparent today. This was the social role-modelling that these entitled young adults grew up with.
I believe that Ireland is, and will be, a poorer place without strong, functioning communities. It is good to be able to rely upon others and to be a person that others can rely upon.
The good news, however, is that all is not lost. The current generation has not entirely been tarnished by this destructive sense of entitlement. We also have both an opportunity and a responsibility to offer our children experiences that will give them a clearer sense that good things can be earned through honest effort.
The learning needs to start young -- the younger the better. As a parent you can reliably meet the needs of your child. For example, if your baby cries then respond to it. Allow your children to trust that you will always give them what they need.
Give children sound money-management habits. Teach them that they can get treats if they earn them. Encourage them to save to buy rather than lending them money, even at a young age.
Be empathetic towards your children. Teach them the skill of recognising and regulating their own feelings as well as the ability to recognise the feelings in others. Children who have been coached to understand their feelings better will perform better academically. They will have better physical health and will be better able to get along with friends.
Encourage your children to be actively involved in their local communities. Role-model volunteering, perhaps by becoming a soccer coach, or by being involved on the parents' association or other such voluntary committees.
Allow your children opportunities to work hard for their achievements, at an economic, social or academic level. Let them feel good for the effort they put in.
Children with a false sense of entitlement do not grow up to be nice adults. Give your child the best chances to grow up with a realistic view of their own worth and a fair sense of what they can expect from society.