What's wrong with the kids these days?
February 4, 2009 8:42 AM   Subscribe

What's wrong with the kids these days. . .or is it just me?

It seems that I'm encountering more and more kids these days who just seem so extremely coddled. I'm wondering if it's the whole "helicopter parent" thing I'm seeing here where children seem to be never without some sort of adult supervision, or it's just that I'm currently living in a different part of the country from where I grew up, and the norms and expectations are just different. For example, when I was in high school, it was the expected norm that kids would either drive or take the public transportation to the nearest "big city" on their own. High school kids also went on overnight camping trips on their own without adults. As juniors or seniors in high school, they also went to visit colleges on their own, driving or taking Amtrak/Grayhound/plane/whatnot on their own to do so, without parents tagging along or making the travel plans for them.

Now, it seems quite common to encounter high school and college students who've never gone to a city on their own, taken a train or plane on their own, traveled to an unfamiliar place on their their own, etc. Part of me thinks that it's just a generational difference, and that parents today seem much more protective (hovering) than they used to be. But I'm also currently living in a part of the US that is much much more insular and parochial than where I grew up, so I'm wondering if that is also a part of the difference as well.

So, the question is, what is the norm for the level of independence expected of high school/college age kids where you live? And is it different from when you were growing up?
posted by jujube to Society & Culture (60 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
There is a dramatic difference. Untll 2004, the university lecturers and professors I knew never got calls from parents -- except the occasional old money types.

Now it is several per class per semester.

Also, the "I have OCD, I get extra time on tests" thing is new (and is basically the modern version of grade inflation, now that grade inflation is tapped out).
posted by rr at 8:48 AM on February 4, 2009

But I'm also currently living in a part of the US that is much much more insular and parochial than where I grew up

Is this not obviously your answer?
posted by CunningLinguist at 8:51 AM on February 4, 2009 [4 favorites]

I never visited colleges on my own or went on unchaperoned overnight trips when I was in high school. This was in rural TN in the late 80's and early 90's. I certainly wasn't coddled- I was working at 15, had my own car, etc. I had very little supervision. But since we were so far from a "big city" those trips didn't really happen on our own. I didn't have the money for much of that kind of stuff anyway.

My mom went to visit all the colleges with me because I couldn't navigate the financial aid questions on my own for sure at age 17, and I wanted her input. In fact, I don't remember any of my friends making those trips alone. At one school, I did stay in the dorms overnight, while my mom was at a hotel, but that certainly wasn't very autonomous.

Once I was in college, (300 miles from home) I started traveling on my own, etc. But it wasn't a high school thing.

I think affluence may have a lot to do with your perceptions. Planes, Amtrak, driving hundreds of miles all cost lots of money. I wasn't able to take a trip by plane until I was 23 because we couldn't afford it. Train travel doesn't exist where I am from. Greyhound would have been the only option.
posted by kimdog at 8:56 AM on February 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

It has a lot to do with the scares our parents had to deal with as we grew up. My parents were not as overprotective and allowed the overnight camping trips with church or the weekend reward trips to disneyland with the supervised high school class. Our parents, depending on how old you are, did not have the Jon Benet or Elizabeth Smart headlines that the generation preceding us did. I graduate high school the year before Columbine. Since then, there have been more than a handful of issues concerning school security.

I think it also has a lot to do with the new psychological phenomena that so many parents are trying to avoid. They don't want their kids to have abandonment issues, so they smother them to death. It's like removing the red inked pens in the grading system because schools were worried that any negative critique would psychologically damage the child. I agree with you, there is a lot of coddling going on. I remember walking home 1.5 miles every day from middle school. Now, I see kids in high school getting picked up by family members. Teachers, in some schools, have telephones in their classrooms in the event a parent needs to contact either them or their student. It is ridiculous. In college, I knew some kids in my dorm had their parents take them to their home for the weekend to do laundry because they didn't want their child to venture into a laundromat. I am glad we grew up in a time that required a backbone.
posted by penguingrl at 9:00 AM on February 4, 2009

I am presently using a university library where I did my BA, graduating in 2000. I remember in the late 90s how it was insane there during exam time, with kids cramming all night in big groups and the coffee on permanent flow. This past December I witnessed something entirely different. Sure, the kids were all there cramming...but more than a few had a parent with them. Helping with study (I guess?) and bringing food and just basically hanging around. It totally freaked me out.
posted by meerkatty at 9:00 AM on February 4, 2009

My wife works in college admissions, and it has been a growing trend in the past several years for parents to attend counseling sessions with their children. While it is now practically routine, it was nearly unheard of 10 or 15 years ago.
posted by malocchio at 9:01 AM on February 4, 2009

I can not speak to the empirical truth of the question's observations but it reminds me of my grandfather telling me of the time HIS mother gave him hell for raising a "coddled" child in the 40's. And then my grandparents thought we were relatively "coddled" growing up in the 70's.

I do see subjective situations that confirm what you observed but I wonder how much of it is generational.
posted by Kensational at 9:03 AM on February 4, 2009

Yes, this has happened, though I tend to view it as more of a larger sense of entitlement than coddling, though the two are related. I teach at 2 colleges and it's ridiculous what the kids expect you do to for them, because they either can't, or don't think they should have to. I once had a kid suggest I should take notes for her in class because "She wasn't very good at it".

Additionally, I do college admission interviews, and I find it mind boggling what the kids show up dressed like for these interviews. The majority have come dressed in ratty jeans, sweatshirts, and sneakers. It's so bad that I now think, oh how nice, they put on a slightly nice shirt with those jeans. When I went to college interviews I wore at least khakis and a nice dress shirt. And many of these kids are dropped off by their parents... Who would let their kid come dressed like that. And this isn't a money thing, you can buy basic dress clothes are Target/Walmart for not much, and 1 outfit would get you through all your interviews.
posted by katers890 at 9:05 AM on February 4, 2009

Also, the "I have OCD, I get extra time on tests" thing is new (and is basically the modern version of grade inflation, now that grade inflation is tapped out).

No, it's not. I knew people using this in junior high in 1993.
posted by parmanparman at 9:06 AM on February 4, 2009

I don't know about high school or college students, but now that I am friends with kids in middle school, I think they smother their kids for sure. I grew up as a latch key kid (starting in late elementary school). I walked home from school, made myself a snack, did my homework until my parents got home from work. If I was sick, I stayed on the couch all day watching TV - by myself. The parents I know now will take a day off of work to stay home with their middle school kids if they are sick. I think it's weird.
posted by All.star at 9:06 AM on February 4, 2009

Oh, that should say "now that I am friends with people who have kids in middle school." I am not friends with the kids. LOL.
posted by All.star at 9:08 AM on February 4, 2009

Maybe it's an American thing, because I haven't seen anything like you describe here in Canada.

Also, this might just be you being overly nostalgic for the 'good old days'.
posted by chunking express at 9:18 AM on February 4, 2009

I have a friend whose child, at nine, had never walked down the street to his friend's house by himself. Another friend told me of his suggestion to other parents that their kids, who live in a pretty upscale, safe community, begin walking to their middle school together, sans parents. Another parent looked at him as if he were insane and said, "This isn't MAYBERRY."

I remember having a lot more freedom as a kid than does ANY kid I know now.
posted by OolooKitty at 9:35 AM on February 4, 2009

Maybe it's an American thing, because I haven't seen anything like you describe here in Canada.

I should have said re: my answer above. This is at a major Canadian university.
posted by meerkatty at 9:37 AM on February 4, 2009

I'm too old to be a high school kid and too young to be the parent of one, but the idea of teenagers going on camping trips or visiting colleges solo immediately makes me think of beer bongs and blowjobs. (I visited colleges with my mother, twelve years ago; the next year as a freshman, I quickly learned it wasn't uncommon for prospective students visiting on their own to vomit in their host's bed, hook up with seniors, etc.) I'd imagine some of these parents are protecting the chirrens from themselves.
posted by Metroid Baby at 9:40 AM on February 4, 2009

I wasn't overy coddled or protected when I was a teenager (graduated from HS in 1988) but I didn't take college visits by myself, nor did I go away on trips with my friends. Part of that was due to the fact that I didn't live anywhere with public transportation and the other part is that my friends and I couldn't afford to take trips without our parents. We were all working to save money for college. Also, my parents took the view that since they were helping me pay for college (though minimally) they wanted to see where I was thinking of going.

That said, I do agree that kids today seem more coddled and hovered-over. I have two of my own and they have been taught to be independent and to fulfill their own needs. They don't need me to fight their battles for them, or dispute their grades or whatever. If there's a reason for me to get involved (say, a discipline issue or bullying w/r/t a young child), I'll do so. Otherwise, I expect that they'll take care of it themselves. I don't yet have a child in high school (though not far away) so I'm not quite sure what the expected level of independence is for this area. It does seem, though, that I don't see kids in the mall or out-and-about as much as it seemed that we were when I was a teenager. Maybe that's a function of having more to do at home now as opposed to then (video games, the internet, etc.)
posted by cooker girl at 9:43 AM on February 4, 2009

With respect, I have to disagree with chunking express. I'm a college instructor in Alberta, Canada, and parental intervention in student's lives here is rife. Frequently it is the parents that write on behalf of the 19 and 20 year-old students when they fail, or don't do well in courses. This has grown over the seven years I have been an instructor here.

Conversely, I do think they have quite a bit of physical freedom... they fly to BC, drive to the slopes, break their legs snowboarding... but it is their parents that write in with excuses while the poor dears are recovering at home. I'd summarise that my students have a high degree of physical freedom, but have strong intellectual and motivational dependence on their parents.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 9:44 AM on February 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

I too work at a college (not in Canada) and have seen the same things that Bora Horza Gobuchul and others have mentioned. We have even had parents show up to minor discipline hearings to try to get their kids out of trouble.
posted by cbp at 9:50 AM on February 4, 2009

Haven't you been watching the news for the last 20 years? The rise of 24-hour cable news channels has given birth to "news as entertainment" and overblown manufactured news stories that capitalize the public's attention. The little girl down the well, the OJ trial, JonBenet, Rodney King, Scott Peterson, ad naseum. And now Michael Phelps smoked a bong. Who f-ing cares? What, it's going to snow 2 inches--better spin it into the lead story and interrupt regular broadcasting to let the public know that it might actually snow...OMG...run to the supermarket and buy 3 weeks of food!

It's the selling of fear. We recently ended an Administration that perfected the selling of fear and used media manipulation in ways that will be studied by socialogists for decades to come. Can you blame people for being afraid; it's how they've been told to be for the better part of 20 years now. I'm not surprised in the slightest that it's given rise to a legion of overprotective helicopter parents who hover over their little darlings.
posted by mrbarrett.com at 9:57 AM on February 4, 2009 [12 favorites]

I'd like to say that everyone is being overly dramatic and that the kids these days aren't more or less coddled than any other generation... but we know that's a lie.

Even 20 years ago I walked enormous distances on my own as a 10 year old boy. I played for hours in enormous state parks without supervision. My parents had no problem with me walking 5 miles into a road-less state park with my kid brother and goofing around building forts and such. Hell I'd walk two towns over by following the rail road lines to get to a card/toy shop I liked. It'd take all day, but as long as I was home by dinner nobody worried.

Yet here we are in the present, and the thought of letting a ten yearold.. especially my non-yet-that-old daughter wandering around in the woods doesn't sit well with me. It isn't that I think my child would be unable to cope or come home safely... I happen to think I'm raising a pretty tough an reliant child. But despite living in a very nice neighborhood, just two years ago a middle school girl was plucked right off the sidewalk in front of her school -during- the morning rush of kids walking to school and parents dropping off their kids, and raped in a tiny stand of trees with hundreds of people right there. Sure that's an isolated incident but it certainly doesn't make me happy or comfortable about my daughter walking around that area. I know stastically it's irrational to worry about my daughter getting snatched, and that despite the fear mongering on the news the world is a rather safe place... but the part of me that would rip a man's throat clean out to protect her doesn't listen to that side of things ;-)
posted by JFitzpatrick at 10:00 AM on February 4, 2009 [2 favorites]

I don't know if I've noticed a specific trend, but I agree with mrbarret.com.

We're obsessed with abductions, ones involving middle-class white girls. When Natalee Holloway went missing in Aruba during a barely-monitored high school trip, the news basically put the war in Iraq on hold to bicker over whether she was killed by local men or some rich playboy.

Also, kids are much, much more exposed to computers, text messages, social networking sites, etc than when I was their age (I'm 25, btw), and parents are trying to exert as much in-person control because those devices seem foreign and exclusionary. My own mother is now far more vigilant about my teenage sister's social life because it expands into minatory communication branches that she can't monitor 24/7. My mom (who's super-invasive, I'll save that for another time) used to listen into my phone conversations to make sure I wasn't hanging out with drug users and the like, but she can't break into my sister's facebook account as easily. This is also because everyone sees stories about "online bullying" and pot dealers summoned via text message.

And you know those "It's 10pm: do YOU know where your children are?" commercials? Good God. I don't even have a dog and those damn things immediately send weird paranoid brain waves until I'm frantically wondering my non-existent children are. Cripes.
posted by zoomorphic at 10:01 AM on February 4, 2009

I used to work at a nonprofit that recruits mostly recent college grads, and it was amazing to see how many parents are involved in their 22-YEAR OLD children's lives. Five or six years ago we used to hear from the occasional concerned parent. Now, the organization holds regularly-scheduled conference calls for parents throughout the year. It's also not uncommon to receive a call from a parent threatening legal action when their child has been fired for not performing to the high standards set by the organization. (Note that these are generally pretty affluent and well-educated young adults.)
posted by jrichards at 10:13 AM on February 4, 2009

I grew up as a latch key kid (starting in late elementary school).

Also, there may be more laws about parental negligence---it's not clear to me, if I left, say, a 5 year old by herself at home, would I be considered negligent? a 10 year old? It's just not clear.
posted by leahwrenn at 10:16 AM on February 4, 2009

A lot of good comments. I thought I would just suggest that I think the real question is "What is wrong with parents these days?"
posted by nameless.k at 10:17 AM on February 4, 2009 [5 favorites]

All anecdotal, from where I live, and yes, it's changed.

I grew up in the 70s taking city buses all over San Antonio. A couple of times I walked 10+ miles across town to go to the park and the zoo, just because.

I now live in the Houston area, essentially the same part of the country. I see parents driving their kids 3 blocks to the school bus stop in the morning, then waiting with them for the bus to come.

My 22-year-old nephew just visited from Ohio. At his age, I flew across country by myself and explored San Francisco on my own. I offered to drop him off at a Metro light-rail in the city; no dice.
posted by Robert Angelo at 10:18 AM on February 4, 2009

Mother of teenagers chiming in here. I am 52 years old, my youngest kids are 19 and 17.

Freedoms I had in high school:
1. Allowed to stay overnight at pretty much any friend's house.
2. Allowed to take public transportation into big city for concerts, etc.
3. Allowed to take many out-of-state trips with church youth groups, school functions, etc.
4. Allowed to walk/ride bike with friends pretty much anywhere in our suburb after the age of 13. Allowed to ride/drive with friends if my parents knew them, after age of 15.
5. Was responsible for my own grades/homework/schooling. Parents did not interfere unless they were contacted by the school, and then God help me..

Freedoms my kids had/have in high school:
Most of the above.

Except: My kids are not nearly as adventurous as we were, I think due to the many and varied entertainments available to them at home, in their rooms. I never allowed my kids to sleep over at anyone's home that I had not met. Yet I was shocked at how many pre-teen girls were dropped off at my front door for sleepovers by parents who didn't even know my name. I live now in the same type of middle-class suburb that I grew up in, but I believe my kids are much more cautious than I was. Again, we were always looking for something to do. Although my kids have active social lives, they seem to have set boundaries for themselves that I would never have stood for if my parents had done the same to me. I don't know why, but I really don't think it's due to my parenting.
posted by raisingsand at 10:26 AM on February 4, 2009

It's not your imagination, kids are definitely not as independent or self-sufficient as they were a couple generations ago. I grew up in a major metropolitan city and took 2 city buses alone to get to school every day -- when I was in 3rd grade. Nowadays, kids aren't expected to exert any effort to get somewhere.

My neighborhood has a little league baseball field. I can't tell you the amount of parents who purchased golf carts so they could drive right up to the field instead of having to walk from the parking lot. I'm not kidding, even a little.

One thing to consider, however, is what motivates some parents to drive their kids to the bus stop and wait until the kids are on board. Many of the kids where I live are disrespectful, antagonistic little shits and I don't want my children alone with them. If my kids had to take a school bus with them, there's not a chance in hell I'd leave them at the bus stop by themselves.

My point is, sometimes the hovering parents you see are doing so because a lot of kids these days haven't gotten enough good parenting to learn how to behave in a civilized society.
posted by _Mona_ at 10:37 AM on February 4, 2009

I think it has a lot to do with the US's culture of fear, aka the unabomber/tylenol effect.

Ok, some bad things happen on a VERY small scale. Whether that be the unabomber killing 3 people, tampered with tylenol bottles containing cyanide killing 7, or a few kids being kids do stupid things and die. Then what happens? The media gets a hold of it and puts it on the front page, because that's what sells. Now all the parents have to worry about their kids doing stupid things, so they will of course attempt to anesthetize the culture their kids are brought up in. Hence circuses like D.A.R.E pop up everywhere, and they work to enforce the idea that kids are out of control, or in danger of being influenced badly.

Here's the thing: (A lot of) Parents steadfastly refuse to believe that their own influence and the values they shove down their kids throats are messing kids up at all. Anyone with half a brain could figure out that they are molding their kids into fearful, unthinking, psychologically-dependent zombies. The effects are more than that though: witness the rise of depression. I heard somewhere that depression is on track to be the most widespread health problem by 2020, more than cancer or heart disease. That's fucked up, and it's what happens when people (especially kids) feel they have no control over their own lives, forced to live in a world where either you follow the rules or you have disfunctional relationships with your parents, or more common: both.

The expectations of most parents now are seriously flawed: that their kids get good grades and go to college, fear and hate anything illegal, and generally never step outside the boundaries of the norm to challenge themselves because god knows what could happen. THERE IS NO EXPECTATION OF ANYTHING BUT BASIC PHYSICAL INDEPENDENCE. (meaning getting them moved out of the parents house) Kids are expected to rely on the same old paradigms about how to live as their parents, but they're simply not meaningful, and they never have been.

The worst part about this whole thing is that fearful parents create even more fearful children, until the cycle tears itself apart. I think we're getting to that point pretty fast.
posted by symbollocks at 10:39 AM on February 4, 2009 [3 favorites]

I'm only 22 and I even think things have changed a lot. My boyfriend's about the same age as me and we've talked about this a couple of times, both remembering a much freer childhood. I remember walking to elementary school by myself when I was little (it was only 2 blocks away but i think a lot of parents would have problems with that today). The kids on my street and I would ride our bikes all over town. My middle school was a mile away and I still walked there by myself from ages 11-12. By high school I was allowed to go pretty much wherever I wanted on bike and with friends, or by car when I could get it. I grew up in Buffalo so my friends and I went into Canada all the time.

My mom did do college visits with me, mostly because they were far away so it was nice to have another driver around, and my parents were putting down a good sum of money so they wanted to check it out too. I did all the applying though, I don't think either of my parents even saw an application. And the summer after my freshman year I traveled to Ireland and England with a friend for 10 days (all on my own dime). And my parents were certainly never involved with my college academic life and aren't calling my employer to ask for updates on how i'm doing. and i'm shocked my peers' parents are doing such things.

i agree with nameless.k, this has to do with the parents, not the kids. you can't really expect the kids to grow up when their parents have coddled and over-protected them their whole lives. and as mrbarrett.com suggests, i think a lot of it is driven by the fearmongering media. though that doesn't explain parents looking over their kids' shoulders in college and calling up professors. there i guess parents never learned to trust their kids so the kids never developed any sense of responsibility.
posted by radiomayonnaise at 10:43 AM on February 4, 2009

As far as college visits go I'm pretty sure that in your generation your parents never went to college, so helping their child decide would have been so alien that they probably felt there was not much they could do to help a child decide except to figure out a way to pay for it or not.

As far as children not being allowed to travel alone you probably never experienced forced school busing, or never went to a school outside of your neighborhood. Kids today have their transportation from home to school and back, and woe be unto the school system that doesn't drop kids off in front of their house. So I guess once home there is less opportunity to travel to town centers, malls etc. since most of your school chums live in other parts of town.
posted by Gungho at 10:44 AM on February 4, 2009

Also, witness abstinence only sex education. Witness binge drinking. Kids aren't taught to figure things out for themselves, so when they finally do get the chance they fuck up really bad. Which just feeds back into parents fears about kids doing stupid things.
posted by symbollocks at 10:44 AM on February 4, 2009

My mom and I were talking about this just yesterday. She grew up in small town Kentucky in the late 50's/early 60's. She had to walk 5 miles home from school because she lived on the edge of town. Her mom wouldn't pick her up because she was watching Bingo on tv and couldn't be bothered. If the weather was really bad her mom might meet her halfway after bingo.

She could run around and play if she didn't have any chores, but she could only go on church approved outings to places like the skating rink or church camp. She never went to a sleepover. If she got to go to a pre-approved Disney movie, she and her friends were dropped off and picked up at the movie theatre. If she had a boy over, her mom sat between them on the couch and interrogated him.

A woman from her church drove her to look at a college she could attend and went with her to her interview and talked to financial aid with her. Mom wore her Sunday church clothes.

I grew up in the 80's and 90's in small town Illinois. I was a latchkey kid for as long as I could remember. Our school didn't allow anyone to walk home, no matter how close you lived because it was in a rural area. If I was sick, someone stayed home with me when I was younger and I stayed by myself when I was old enough.

I could play outside in my neighborhood, without supervision, until dark. I could do sleepovers and outings if my mom knew whoever was driving/chaperoning. I was allowed to go camping and to concerts if there would be someone's older sister or something who was in charge (I think she was in her early 20's). Our town didn't have public transportation and I didn't ride a plane alone until I was 19.

My parents went with me to visit a college I was considering, but there were no interviews or anything and we drove home same day. Once I went to college I drove home to see them (and do free laundry), and they only came to visit or help me move and once when I had emergency car trouble and couldn't get a hold of any one in town. When I was really struggling in a class, my parents gave me enough money to hire a private tutor.

But that's just me. We didn't have a lot of money so, I had unsupervised free time because they both worked, I knew I would be going to a state school, and they did what they could to make sure I could take care of myself.

My friend with really religious parents and a stay at home mom couldn't do anything without his mommy. He never went on a sleepover, he never learned to do his own laundry and couldn't fill out a form to save his life. He lived at home when he went to college and his mom probably went with him when he signed up for classes and such.

My college roommate didn't even write his own essay to get into college. His mom did it for him. They paid for everything for him. I think he ended up dropping out, but still living there with his friends.

What does all this prove? I don't think it's so much as kids these days or in the old days, it's the parents. If the parent's are super religious, they don't let their kid do as much unsupervised. If the parent's need to work to pay the bills, the kid gets a certain set amount of freedom. If the parent's have enough time and money they might make things too easy for their kids. And obviously it depends on where you are. Big cities lean more toward independence than rural areas, just because of public transportation options.

I'm also going to throw out there that some things are harder these days. My mom didn't have to write an essay to get into college, the competition just wasn't as fierce. She could get away with letters of reference and a interview. Some high schools are more crowded and can't help struggling students. Ok, this entry was way longer than I intended, but as a parting note Malcolm Gladwell discusses it really well in the book Outliers, which I found to be a quick read (although I skimmed one boring chapter on lawyers).
posted by CoralAmber at 10:50 AM on February 4, 2009

The NY Times suggests that it's just you.

And my apologies if someone else mentioned it first, but confirmation bias anyone? It seems that metafilter delights in pointing out how spoiled and coddled kids are today.

My dad said kids were spoiled and coddled in the 70's. And when pressed he admitted that his dad said it to him in the 50's.

When I read these posts, I keep hearing Dick Van Dyke singing "Kids, What's the matter with kids today?" from BYE BYE BIRDIE.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.
posted by cjets at 10:52 AM on February 4, 2009 [2 favorites]

Exactly. As I said up thread, this reeks of nostalgia. All of these threads end up with the same sort of answers. And as someone else pointed out, the real question should be, "What is wrong with parents these days?" But then the Baby Boomers might need to admit they aren't the best thing ever.
posted by chunking express at 10:57 AM on February 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

Google search for "Delayed Adulthood". Seriously, there a lot of relevant articles to dig through; this isn't a "Let me google that for you" snark.

Part of the issue, and I am speaking as 24-year-old whose job deals with a lot of high schoolers and college freshmen, is that financial independence has been delayed a LOT in the past few decades. When my father graduated high school in the early seventies, he was ready, able, and expected to find a full-time job that could support himself or even a small family. The only jobs available to a fresh high school graduate these days are increasingly scarce manufacturing or manual labor jobs or poorly-paying service jobs. It wasn't really financially feasible for me to move out until I was almost done with my undergraduate degree, and the only reason that was a possibility was because of scholarships.

Heard the stories about college students and credit card debt? For every frat boy blowing money on leasing a Land Rover there's someone working their way through school and eating ramen. I know "independent "students who have gone months with broken teeth before they had enough saved up to get it looked at, and who have no cable and steal wifi to do their coursework. Meanwhile those who stay at home with their parents enjoy their parents' medical insurance, cable television and internet, and well-stocked kitchen.

College has become more expensive pretty much constantly since the 1960s. Tuition has increased at twice the rate of inflation for almost every year since 1958. (1) Peak increases for private colleges were in 1997, after the U.S. economy began booming growth. Peak increases for public colleges were in 2003, after state budgets supporting most of them were crimped by a sharp economic recession. (2)

So what's the point in becoming more independent early? You're increasingly unlikely to be able to support yourself at 18, so you'll probably have to stay at home longer. You can easily reach six figures of debt with a four-year degree at a private school (and some good public schools), and have you seen the job market for new college grads lately? Even industries with "employee shortages" are putting hiring freezes in place. And, at least locally, high schools are preparing to move EVERYONE into a college/tech school prep path over the next few years, as the unskilled labor market is evaporating at snowball:hell rates.

I know people who have graduated college before they can buy a beer. I was in graduate school before I was "old enough" to make a reservation for a beachfront hotel, or to rent a car without a prohibitively expensive deposit.

The defining characteristics of adulthood are being expanded upon constantly, traditional requirements like financial independence and employment take a longer time to fulfill, and parents and young people seem to be reacting to this. Parents are treating their kids like adolescents longer because they are adolescents longer. It takes a college degree to get a job that a high school diploma could you a few decades ago, so I think it is understandable that young people are increasingly treating what was traditionally "young adulthood" as the weird state of arrested development that it has become.
posted by Benjy at 11:08 AM on February 4, 2009 [19 favorites]

Reading through some of these posts, I'm also reminded of this Monty Python Sketch
posted by cjets at 11:11 AM on February 4, 2009

I concur with it just being the new(er) thing.

I have a friend who for as long as I've known her, keeps bringing up how I used to walk her to school every day. It was one of "those" neighborhoods, we were kids, she was terrified and had a reason to be -- so I went out of way every day to pick her up. Our parents didn't get it, they were from safer times and towns and just assumed it was a mutual crush because what else could it be? That kind of thing wasn't all over the news yet (heck, there was barely cable TV), and whenever bad things happened the parents would hide it from all the other parents in the area because it was "embarrassing." But we knew.

Fast forward a decade to my younger siblings, and we were into the whole "we've all been horribly abused" movement (every man is a predator waiting to happen, etc.). It was all over the media, every adult I knew was in AA or something like it, and the old stigma against family embarrassment was turned on its head to something resembling fashionable. What used to be secret trauma suddenly became coffee table bonding chatter for parents... with the end result of scaring the hell out of everyone. My younger siblings got locked down in ways I'd never have dreamed of, with stories of the ills that befell us elder ones openly bandied about to justify it all.

My friend? Became one of those parents, because that's just where everyone ended up. I really can't blame her... heck, I'm impressed she found it in her to have kids at all.
posted by Pufferish at 11:22 AM on February 4, 2009

I'm not sure how much kids have changed, but adults these days seem just as eager to talk about how many miles they had to walk uphill (both ways, in the snow) to get to school, as they did 40 years ago.
posted by paradoxflow at 11:53 AM on February 4, 2009

More anecdotal data for the heck of it and to confirm paradoxflow's point:

I was a girl with a marginally functional parent near a big city; 1960s and 70s:

1. Walked or took public transport to school starting age 8.
2. Came home to empty apartment starting age 9.
3. Was expected to get self up in the morning, make and eat breakfast, do schoolwork on own starting age 10.
4. Did all cleaning and much of the grocery shopping for family starting age 10.
5. Got first job at age 13.
6. Took public transport into big city downtown for adventures starting age 14.
7. Was expected to leave the house at age 18.

The maid service I was expected to provide was too much. But some of my friends give their children no chores at all. They drive them everywhere, even places that are walking distance. Their kids don't know how to prioritize their time or do something as simple as wash a fork. So they have to turn to their parents for help, and the parents then feel needed, which I guess they like, because they seem to encourage it by keeping the kids dependent.
posted by PatoPata at 12:02 PM on February 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

I don't think that generalizations can be applied at all when it comes to people, even when it comes to age. Doing so puts limits and parameters and that's really not fair, especially when you don't know their personal story, and you base judgment on assumption. Every person is different - and what you see may very well be what you yourself are projecting without having basis in truth and what actually is. Some children are sheltered, some have led more structured lives - but alternatively there are those that are removed socially, outcasted and that may appear to be something other than what it truly is. There is no cut and dry reply. This is offered merely as context.
posted by watercarrier at 12:18 PM on February 4, 2009

I work at a small New England college. Last week, a professor said that, after a job interview that a student (recent grad?) didn't get, a parent called to ask why not. This, he said, was a first for him or any other faculty he'd told about it.

Points for following up, yes, but ultimately a problem when it's the wrong generation of the family.
posted by wenestvedt at 12:59 PM on February 4, 2009

I'm 22 and in the last year of my undergraduate degree. I can't imagine seeing parents with their children in the library as was mentioned above (maybe it's regional?). My parents never come to my school, but maybe once or twice a semester I meet them halfway in Manhattan for dinner. In High School I frequently took the train to Manhattan and went where I wished and so long as I came home (and didn't miss Dinner) my parents never cared.

However, now my sisters (18 and 16) and brother (14) are in High School. My mother DRIVES the 16 year old across the street (and maybe 100 ft down the block) to her friends house. Now the area has no sidewalks and no streetlights, but I used to walk much further to a friend of mine 1/2 mile down the same street. I once suggested to my mother that my sister walk over there and I was reprimanded for having such a ridiculous idea; she would clearly be abducted or hit by a car or bit by a wolf (this is the middle of Long Island we're talking about!).
posted by miscbuff at 1:38 PM on February 4, 2009

I'm 26 and had very overprotective parents, although oddly I was allowed to travel abroad by myself because that was a cultural activity. I wasn't allowed to work in high school (and my parents initially threatened to not pay my tuition when I got a job in college, although they didn't follow through). My curfew was 9 pm (I mean what kind of party is it that would go past 9 anyway, a drug and/or sex party?!!? Saw it on Oprah must be true). Wasn't allowed to have internet in my room (sex predators). Not allowed to date. My friends were screened (I'm serious my mom was a teacher and would try to get info on any of my friends and their parents and then would tell me what degree of friendship I was allowed to have with them, such as whether I could go to their house and things). Couldn't dye my hair, wear makeup, etc...

I think their behavior was a combo of intense fear of the world in general and an excuse to control me. I really don't think my parents wanted me to be independent at all. That's probably the difference. Independence was actively discouraged, whereas (at least from what I've been told) it used to be encouraged. They definitely had a life plan for me and being independent of them would have only have prevented that. I mean it totally backfired and I'm actually quite self sufficient, but that's really more due to my own rebellious streak than anything they did. It's certainly not how I'll raise my kids if I ever have any...
posted by whoaali at 2:02 PM on February 4, 2009

Recently, the mom of a Columbia University student called our bookstore trying to get a job for her daughter. We kindly suggested that her daughter utilize the career resources on campus and that she start phoning potential employers herself.

Yesterday, another CU parent came in to buy her son's coursebooks. It took forever because she wasn't sure whether or not he already had a certain text and needed to keep calling him.

I agree that the reason that some high schoolers/college aged students do not take trips on their own is that air or train travel can be prohibitively expensive.
posted by amicamentis at 2:42 PM on February 4, 2009

penguingrl: "Our parents, depending on how old you are, did not have the Jon Benet or Elizabeth Smart headlines that the generation preceding us did."

Tabloid coverage of abductions wasn't invented in the 1980s.

Uphill. Both ways. In the snow.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:00 PM on February 4, 2009

amicamentis: "Recently, the mom of a Columbia University student called our bookstore trying to get a job for her daughter. We kindly suggested that her daughter utilize the career resources on campus and that she start phoning potential employers herself. "

Has that never happened before at Columbia? Do you keep statistics on calls like that? What are the trends, historically?

Not to pick on you, but I'm finding this frustrating. It's an interesting question, but so far most of the answers are just anecdotes. I'm curious how the actual questions ("What is the norm for the level of independence expected of high school/college age kids where you live? And is it different from when you were growing up?") could be answered.

Women who attended college before the 1960s often had dorm curfews, a requirement that I doubt many non-religious American colleges have today. I take that as a sign of increasing independence.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:29 PM on February 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

What's more frustrating to me, corpse, is that you're more-or-less dismissing the anecdotal evidence as completely bunk. I think we're all intelligent enough here to understand that not all anecdotal evidence is trustworthy, and that it often should be viewed with skepticism. But to dismiss the many arguments and anecdotes above as being nothing more than common generational griping is a mistake.

It's also not fair to compare newspaper tabloid coverage of a kidnapping in the 1930's to today's 24-hour cable news coverage. They are not one and the same. Certainly people in the 1930's knew about Baby Lindbergh being kidnapped, but I don't think there's a historian anywhere that would argue it's the same as the over-saturated news and television coverage we're bombarded with over the last 20 years.

I agree with you that the questions could be answered more scientifically and empirically. However, lacking that, anecdotal evidence (seemingly overwhelming) all points to a significant change in behavior of this generation.
posted by mrbarrett.com at 6:21 PM on February 4, 2009

Despite what we are currently experiencing, life is so much more easy and people are so much more, well, rich, than they used to be. People of earlier generations got the hell out of their parents house because it sucked to live in a 900sq ft house with your 8 siblings, mom, dad, and grandma. People born after say 1982 simply have no experience of a world that isn't abundant with all manner of constant stimulation and personally controlled entertainment options. At least some of us older folks still remember when we had to watch what was on tv when it was being shown...

And yeah, the culture of fear is a big part of it. Fear of the boogeyman, but also fear of letting kids screw up. Remember a few years ago when there was a rash of girls-gone-wild parties and what-what being busted up? How many of those parents went apeshit because they were afraid little Fauntleroy and Muffy might, horror of horrors, have to own up to their behavior?

Parenting is always a balance between protection and weaning. It's just harder when we live in such an abundant society.

PS- I'm the Lindbergh baby!
posted by gjc at 7:57 PM on February 4, 2009

Throughout my childhood I lived down the street from a convicted rapist and murderer. That conviction has since been overturned (just last year), but I'm proud to say that no parents in the neighbourhood prevented their kids from playing with his. He was way too gentle a soul to be guilty.

There was a girl in our neighbourhood a few years younger than me with an overprotective parent. She asked us to have our parents sign waivers before we were allowed to play in her backyard. We just opted not to play in her backyard. I think my mother was offended by that waiver. I'm sure it was the talk of the street for a while afterward.

I can vouch for the fact that more parents are involved with the daily dealings of their adult children's lives. At my campus, parents pick up and drop off their kids every day. (These are undergrads.) Most of them live at home. All student affairs offices end up fielding phone calls from parents. They definitely notice an uptick.

I think there's less room for failure for kids these days. I flunked out of most of high school, but I had an extra year to make up the grades, so no harm no foul. That's just not the case anymore. It was dead easy to get into university for me (early 90s), but it's not that easy anymore. The economy is in the toilet and these kids need all the help they can get. Too bad that the more help they get the worse off they are.
posted by Hildegarde at 8:00 PM on February 4, 2009

Certainly people in the 1930's knew about Baby Lindbergh being kidnapped, but I don't think there's a historian anywhere that would argue it's the same as the over-saturated news and television coverage we're bombarded with over the last 20 years.

This isn't the place to argue this, but read your history. In an era of new newspaper editions every few hours and no TV, the Lindbergh baby was bigger than anything we've experienced. Look up the coverage of the Hauptmann trial.
posted by CunningLinguist at 8:05 PM on February 4, 2009

But the Lindbergh baby was kidnapped from a rich and famous family. Targeted for that exact reason. Ordinary people didn't worry about their children being kidnapped. JonBenet and other notorious murders, are of everyday people who (while maybe from eccentric families) are for all practical purposes everyday ordinary people. It's that kind of random act of violence by a mysterious and evil stranger that really scares people.

The Linbergh baby is probably most analogous to Princess Diana being killed. While just as notorious, no one worries about their mom being killed by a drunk limo driver while being chased by paparazzi, it just isn't going to happen.
posted by whoaali at 8:16 PM on February 4, 2009

I also want to throw out there that because of the state of the economy many young adults in their 20's aren't able to become fully self-sufficient adults. They have to move back home to save money. Some parents may be trying extra hard (panicking) to help their adult children get what they got relatively easily years ago (jobs, cars, homes).
posted by CoralAmber at 8:29 PM on February 4, 2009

OK, here's some non-anecdotal info. From a poster I saw tonight, attributed to "Safe Routes to School" (probably this place, which has more data on its site).

According to the poster:

"During the past 30 years, the number of children walking to school has dropped from 67% to 13%."

"The number of total walking and bicycling trips by children has fallen by 65% since 1975."

From the web site:

"In 1969, about half of all students walked or bicycled to school. Today, however, the story is very different. Fewer than 15 percent of all school trips are made by walking or bicycling, one-quarter are made on a school bus, and over half of all children arrive at school in private automobiles."

I don't think this change is 100% due to suburban sprawl or increased traffic. There were suburbs and busy streets in 1969. There has been a change in parents' attitudes. What was considered safe 30 years ago no longer is.
posted by PatoPata at 8:36 PM on February 4, 2009

I'm completely surprised no one has brought up the free range kids lady yet.

When my husband was 11 or so (this would have been in the mid-1970's) he watched his three siblings (ages 8, 3, and 1) on Saturdays while his mother was at work. (His dad was in the navy and on deployment for months at a time.) Today this would easily garner a visit from DHS, at the very least.

My son is 2 1/2. I hope not to raise him in a culture of fear; to let him have something close to the free range childhoods his father and I had. But I'm not sure that he'll be able to find playmates to go on long bike rides with. I know for a fact that this summer, in our kid-heavy small-city neighborhood I can count on one hand the number of times I saw pre-teen kids out on a bike without a parent.
posted by anastasiav at 8:58 PM on February 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

I agree that to some extent this softening can be attributed to increased expectations. What was considered a decent standard of living in 1970 is a lot different from what seems to be acceptable now.

For example, I grew up in an old apartment that was heated by a big pile of coal in the basement. The bathroom had separate hot and cold faucets. The hot water didn't always work, the stove regularly leaked gas, and the radiators spit and banged. The laundry was three stories down, in the basement. I played ball in the alley. The TV was black and white, and there were 7 channels.

This was all solidly middle class, but it would be considered uncomfortable or even deprived by some of the people my age who are now raising kids or grandkids. And like generations before them, they want their kids' lives to be "better." Part of "better" appears to be driving the kids around and making sure they're rarely uncomfortable or challenged.
posted by PatoPata at 8:58 PM on February 4, 2009

I would think that some of this behavior is related to 9/11. The teenagers-young adults of today are probably still freaked out about it, even if it's subconsciously. They were old enough to witness it, but probably not mature enough to process it. That event pretty much had to have changed their life. I can't imagine being a young kid and having to go through that. And then having to listen to George Bush's lies about 'terror' for 8 years growing up. It must have left an unfavorable impression about the world on kids (NOT all kids of course). And I'm sure paranoid parents haven't helped.
posted by wherever, whatever at 9:36 PM on February 4, 2009

I blame all those after school specials in the 70's and 80's, and all the guilt about the latchkey generation. The message in a lot of them is "self absorbed parents don't spend time with their kids and leave them to become drug addicts/teen prostitutes/have secret pregancies/become anorexic". We watched those afterschool specials, absorbed the message about the importance of being involved, and went a bit too far the other way.

My friends who are parents seem to have no interests that don't involve their kids. I catch up with them at their kids rugby matches, or on hikes with their kids in the local "wilderness" park, etc. They are never without their kids. I'm not talking about very young children, I'm talking about 12 yr olds. Their kids are either in a course or after school club of some sort, or are with their parents. Maybe all the parental involvement in their 22 year old kids lives has more to do with habit than the inability of the 22 yr old to cope on their own? I mean, what else would the parents do? Why bring on empty nest syndrome if it isn't necessary?

I've also noticed that the kids are rarely with their grandparents. Grandma/grandpa are away, or busy a lot. I don't know if that's a cultural difference between the US and UK, but the idea of spending at least one night a week staying over with grandparents, often getting to their house on your own steam, seems to not happen here.

For what it's worth, my time as a child was highly structured during the school year, but almost completely unstructured in the summer/holidays. This was unusual when I was a kid, and I was the only one of my friends who had some sort of activity scheduled five days a week. My friends had activities maybe two days a week, if they were on a soccer team or in ballet classes along with piano lessons. These days, it's much less unusual to have kids with one sport twice a week, perhaps another sport another day or two in the week as well, scouting another, and so on. I don't think it hurts kids to be busy. I do think it hurts them to have their parents around them 24 hours a day, though.
posted by Grrlscout at 11:32 PM on February 4, 2009

It's clearly not nostalgia. When letting your kid ride public transportation - as most kids did at some point (if not regularly) back when we were kids - is now such a shocking concept that daring to allow it is not only so shocking as to be newsworthy in and of itself, but causes a media storm, it's patently obvious that society has changed significantly.

And just because kids are more coddled today than we were doesn't mean we weren't more coddled than our ancestors, and they more coddled than those before them. The march of civilisation domesticates our lives further and further every generation.

But I do think the rate of change has accelerated drastically in a single generation as regards childhood freedoms. Kids today just don't seem to get any unsupervised time, other than by accident or deception. I think most people are aware from their own job experience that being perpetually supervised retards development of self-sufficiency in the workplace, and presumably it's no different with in life.

There was also a post in the blue a while back about a guy who mapped the free wandering range from home of kids from three or four generations of his family, from when they were the same age. The range decreased markedly with every successive generation.

I also get the impression that you can't give your kids the freedoms you enjoyed - doing so gets you branded by the other parents as an irresponsible parent and a danger that they should keep their kids away from yours. So if you want your kids to have any friends and activities, you have to toe the line and frogmarch your kids in lockstep with the other parents.

Norms are normative.
posted by -harlequin- at 12:06 AM on February 5, 2009

I wish I could say it was different in Australia. I floated the idea of my 7yro walking to school alone, and was told it would be veiwed poorly. I know a woman who got a citation from the police for leaving her 13yro in the car while she went to the shop (he was playing gameboy).
When I was in senior high school we went on holidays etc. with no adult supervision. In my first year of high school I could catch the train to the city with friends.
I hope my kids get a measure of that freedom, but I am reminded of a friend who I called on dropping his teenager to cricket practice:
"Sure only one in a million kids get killed, but I don't want it to be mine."
posted by bystander at 3:23 AM on February 5, 2009

It's the same in Europe. When I was recruiting in UK, Norway, Holland amongst other countries, I've frequently seen graduates turn up for interviews in jeans or dressed down.

When I was interviewing for jobs post-university in the mid-90's I wore a suit. Same was true for my university entrance exam.

I seem to agree more and more with my father in my "kids these days eh?" approach. Strangely comforting in and of itself.

That said, just because things are different doesn't mean that they're all a waste of space. With any generation, you'll find the good and the bad.
posted by arcticseal at 3:11 PM on February 5, 2009

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