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I was born in the 80’s, but most of my childhood memories are from the early 90’s.  My husband and most all of my friends grew up during this time period too.  Parenting was different in the early 90’s.  It was the mid-point between the distant parenting of earlier generations and the helicopter parenting of today.  Our parents loved us, but they didn’t hover over us or try to satisfy our every desire. No one had cell phones in their pockets, and books and adults still had the answers, not Google.  Only a few people had computers that took ages to connect to the internet by dialing up, making a loud eeh-ooh-eeh-ooh noise, at which we were all amazed.  We had fun, but no one entertained us or set up playdates for us, unless it was our birthday. In general, our time was not that scheduled. We explored the things we were interested in and played with the kids in the neighborhood.  And whichever parent or adult was around felt free to parent us along with their own kids.  If we got out of line, they didn’t mind telling us so. The blog post that follows is the first in a five-part series of lessons based on stories from that time.  I hope they help you to remember how to bring out the awesome 90’s parent in yourself this summer!

Early 90’s Lesson #1- If you want something so badly, prove it.

For the first part of his childhood, my husband “J” grew up without cable.  But one day little J decided that he really wanted it, after all everyone else had it.  After yet another back and forth where little J pleaded for cable, his dad said the magic words, “If you want cable so badly, prove it.”  

As  J saw his window of opportunity open, he ran to prepare.  He began gathering information on rates, pricing, cancellation policies, and channels.  And this was before Google,  so, J made phone calls and read every brochure he could get his hands on.  Then J constructed a poster board to display a compelling presentation on cable and why it was worth the investment; (Yes, this was before Power Point, too).  He spent hours doing research, preparing the perfect pitch.boy holding a white board

And moms and dads, as you may be thinking, this was a parenting homerun.  Not only was a middle school student entertaining himself for hours, he was doing research, writing, and reading.  Also, by doing this, he was saving his parents a great deal of work.  

I think there is a lesson here for all of us in 2016: If your kid really wants something, make them “prove” it.  Play dumb.  Say, “I don’t really know how that works”, even when you do.  Let them research it and figure it out for themselves.  Compared to how we often respond now, this may seem harsh.  But as our parents knew, kids are capable of doing a lot for themselves. They realized that kids would feel empowered when they got something by working for it.  When we asked for something, they  often demonstrated this by suggesting that we  put it on our Christmas list, buy it with our own money,  find out how we can work to earn it, or “prove” why it was necessary in the first place.  They knew that giving can be a beautiful thing, but like many things in life, it is better within limits.

As a parent, I know that every day my daughter finds something new that she wants:  dance lessons, gymnastics lessons, a new necklace, or a toy.  As she gets older and knows of more possibilities, there will be even more things that she asks for. I want to make her happy.  Instinctively, I want to give her the things that she needs.  But I have to remind myself that this is not the same as giving her all that she asks for. Getting her everything she asks for might make her happy in the short run, but it will have the opposite effect in the long-run.

In 2016, I think that parents often get the message that being a good parent means being able to give your child everything they want, right when they ask for it.  Parents imagine that if their child does not have all that other children have, it will make the child feel “less than”.  This pressure often causes parents to give their kids more than they really need and sometimes even more than they, as parents, can afford.  By receiving things without ever having to work for them, children do not make the connection between hard work and having things. This can cause the child to develop a sense of entitlement and feel that their parents, adults, and the world, owe them something.  As you can imagine, this attitude only leads to disappointment and frustration in the long-run.  

As a teacher, I know that this issue can carry over into the classroom, as well.  Students who have made the connection between hard work and results perform better.  They understand that if they want to do well, it will take hard work; and if they don’t work hard, they may not do well.   They get that learning and earning good grades, just like anything of value, will require effort exerted over time.  

So you may wonder, what ever happened to little J?  Did he get his cable after all of his hard work?  The short answer is no.  The long answer is not right away.  He did his presentation for his parents and instead of praise or concession, his dad gave him several suggestions for more research.  So, he looked into those suggestions and presented his findings again.  And I am happy to report that after months of targeted marketing by J, his family did get cable, which they still have to this day.  And he was finally able to do what we did with cable back then, watch cartoons on Saturday morning.   J also realized that he enjoyed selling things and grew up to major in marketing and business.

Early 90’s parents saw an opportunity to spark our interests while getting us  to work for free and to learn from that, and they jumped on it.  After all, the late 80’s and early 90’s was the high point of the self-esteem movement. And research has found that the basis for genuine self-confidence is built on effort and persistence rather than vacuous praise or immediate gratification. Parents of that time knew that in order for kids to feel good about themselves, they needed to be encouraged to pursue their interests while at the same time developing independence and follow through.  They knew that kids needed opportunities to demonstrate their competence while making a valuable contribution. In the early 90’s when we asked for something, we learned that opportunity often looks a lot like work. And that if we really want something, life will make us prove it.  

-Nina Parrish, M.Ed.
Owner | Parrish Learning Zone, LLC

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