I saw the movie “The Internship” yesterday. Yes, it’s your classic Vince Vaughn/Owen Wilson comedy, but it also has a message: today’s whiz kids have issues. Without giving too much away, the movie is essentially about Vaughn and Owen’s characters, longtime successful salesmen who lose their jobs. They end up with an internship at Google, along with many others, all of whom are 20-something “geniuses.” These “generation next” kids know all about search engines, software, and Snapfish, but they know nothing about life. They have pent up personal issues they don’t know how to properly deal with, they have no social skills whatsoever, and they don’t know how to have fun. Enter Vaughn and Wilson who show them not only how to make a living, but how to make a life. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a terrifically funny film but it ceases the opportunity to emphasize that brains do not mean wise and that money does not mean happiness.
“When you stop doing things for fun, you might as well be dead,” Ernest Hemingway
So what, as a society, should do we do about this “problem?” It seems like instead of addressing the issue, we’re perpetuating it.
I remember when my daughter was in elementary school, many of her friends had private coaches for soccer because they were for sure going to get those college scholarships and Kumon tutoring was as common as dance class and T-ball. Surprisingly, many of those kids today are not on soccer scholarships or graduating first in their class. Kristen, on the other hand, was an above average student who graduated from an above average public high school but is today thriving in a major, competitive university. Turns out, she’s doing what she loves and loves what she’s doing. She’s happy and knows how to have fun…and she’s doing great in school. Isn’t that what we, as parents, should want for our kids?
Apparently not. Eaves drop on a mom conversation about their school-aged kids and you’re likely to hear nothing but AP courses and advanced learning opportunities. It’s a competitive world out there, but as Billy Nye says, “Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t.” You will never be the smartest or most talented ever and neither will your child. This coming from Bill Nye the Science Guy. It’s not all about science though. It’s also about people skills, communication skills, and listening skills. These are not the kinds of things you learn by texting or Tweeting though, and it’s becoming more and more apparent that those entering today’s work force are lacking these basic human interaction abilities. As perhaps even Bill Nye would say, it’s not rocket science.
School for most kids today is a “war of attrition, like some grisly TV game show where the weak and the kind and the quixotic and the dreamers and the gentle get dumped at the end of each year,” according to “Vanity Fair’s” A.A. Gill. In his December 2012 essay entitled “the Parent Trap,” Gill goes on to say we have essentially “managed to take the 15 years of children’s lives that should be the most carefree, inquisitive, and memorable and fill them with a motley collection of stress and a neurotic fear of failure.” A world of nannies, counselors, voice coaches, orthodontists at age 5, camps for everything, exam strategists, nutritionists, and speech therapists has fostered the belief in our kids that their main goal in school should not be actual learning, but getting into that university that will lead to a life worth living. Sadly, many of those lives are not filled with joy. As Gill writes, “nothing good ever came from peaking too early” or “scrapping happiness and settling for success.”
This does not surprise me, as a preschool teacher, who during the last year was asked to implement a new curriculum for three-year-olds that includes not only colors and shapes and numbers, but letters and their sounds, sight words, and rotating learning centers. It probably comes as no surprise to Vicki Abeles either, whose groundbreaking documentary, “Race to Nowhere: The Dark Side of America’s Achievement Culture,” asserts that schools are destroying our kids’ love of learning and ability to think creatively. This, Abeles says, is resulting in a generation of kids who are depressed, disengaged, and burned-out. Sadly, it’s those creative kids that even people like Bill Gates depends on. ““I will always choose a lazy person to do a difficult job because he will find an easy way to do it,” said the founder of Microsoft, he himself a college drop-out.
It’s also lead to a generation of deluded narcissists according to the “American Freshmen Survey,” that reported college students are more likely to call themselves gifted and driven to succeed even though their test scores and time spent studying are decreasing. This happens when every kid gets a trophy, receives inflated grades to keep a school’s ranking up, and is never held accountable for their mistakes or missteps.
Psychologist Jean Twenge authored the study and goes on to say social media like Facebook is also partly to blame. On Facebook, people can fool themselves into thinking they have hundreds or thousands of “friends,” can delete any unflattering comments about themselves, can “block” anyone who disagrees with their views, and can choose to only post flattering photos of themselves. Twitter is the same, on which people live under the assumption they are worth “following,” much like the celebrities they follow. On computer games, these same youngsters can pretend they are Formula 1 drivers, Olympians, or rock stars. They live in an unreal world full of inflated realities and mindless reality shows. Dr. Keith Ablow calls all of these the “psychological drugs of the 21st Century.” Scary, right?
Dr. Ablow, in his FoxNews.com article, goes on to report that today’s “young people are higher on drugs than ever, drunker than ever, smoking more, tattooed more, pierced more, and having more and more sex earlier and earlier and raising babies before they can do it well all because it makes them feel special.” In short, they’re doing “anything to distract themselves from the fact that they feel empty inside and unworthy.” Ouch.
What would all those voice coaches and math tutors think about their “gifted and talented” kids from years back? More importantly, what must their parents be thinking? In our haste to make our kids successful, maybe we’re subconsciously pushing our personal dreams on them, but as Dan Zadra says, “The best example you can leave your kids is an example of how to live a full and meaningful life.”
Striving for progress rather than perfection, and focusing more on the doing rather than on the getting it done are good starts, but wanting what you’re doing is just as essential. It’s been said that motivation is not enough because if you have an idiot and you motivate him, all you have is a motivated idiot.
In “The Internship,” it’s mentioned that on the list of “worst things ever” is waking up with regret. I’m guessing the movie meant waking up tomorrow, but for many of today’s kids and parents, the waking up is quite possibly happening a little too late.