Zen and the art of child development

Lately I’ve been fretting. I thought initially it was because I was seeing, tasting and smelling pumpkin everywhere, but upon further investigation this is not the case. The other night while in between drinking a large glass of wine and trying to figure out how to parent a depressed teen successfully, I realized why I was fretting. I have been trying to understand what is going wrong with the youth of today. I thought about social media and its effect on our youth. I thought about television and movies and their effect on our children. I thought about maybe that aliens had invaded the earth and were taking over the minds of our youth. And really, that was closer to the truth than the other two options. Because what I finally came to realize is that we are preventing our children from experiencing life. From participating in life. From enjoying the process of life.

We are so end product oriented these days. How did they score? What did they do? What do they have to show for it? Show us the evidence. Show us the DATA. That dirty four letter word. I detest it. Data driven decisions, data driven education, data driven life. Data has become the end all be all of everything. Show us your work; make us believe you’re smart enough; The proof is in the pudding. And that’s the biggest mistake right there. The proof is not in the pudding at all. The pudding can suck it. The pudding is nothing. It is the process of making the pudding that is important and this somehow has gotten lost. It is the fun in picking out the ingredients and mixing them up in a bowl and getting a tad bit messy and tasting and fixing and tasting some more and messing up and fixing and ruining the whole thing and then doing it all over again until you are so immersed in the pudding that the pudding itself doesn’t even matter anymore. All we care about now is some brown shit in a bowl that we call pudding without any excitement around it.

Our kids used to know about experience. They used to get so messy in life that no amount of soap and water could take that away from them. They were immersed in the mud and the mire and the gunk of life. Gunk is a great word and should be used on a more regular basis if you ask me. But you didn’t so anyway. Children used to be able to just be instead of be expected to do and accomplish. They were able to mess everything up and fall down many times and then pick themselves back up again and rinse and repeat. They were able to learn from every fall how to fall with more grace and dignity and humor than the last time. They were able to learn that when things don’t work out exactly how they thought they might, they just maybe had to change their approach or change their plan or change an idea or be a little flexible in order to get closer to what they had hoped would happen. It was less about the end product, whether it was a tree fort or a new game to play or a paper they were writing for school. It now has become all about the angles of the tree fort and how they fit into what we know should be for tree forts. It has become all the rules of the game that need to be followed according to all the social and known norms. And it has become a rubric to follow for everyone in order to get an A on a paper. There is no joy or curiosity or failing or wondering or becoming lost in the process when engaging in life for our children as we’ve told them that all that matters is the end product. The score. The completion of the rubric. The angles of the tree fort. The getting into the best college. The making varsity. The taking 4 AP classes. The show me the data. We have sucked the life and the resiliency right out of our children.

Why are our children more and more so unhappy and anxious and frustrated and angry and unmotivated and not resilient? Because we make them that way. We have taken the experiences away from them one by one. We have set them up only to succeed and never to fail. We pull them up constantly when they fall without letting them do it for themselves. We blame everyone else for their underwhelming performance but we never look at the fact that they don’t give a shit because we don’t let them ever have the chance to give a shit. We need to change this immediately. There needs to be a happy medium between the completely disinterested parent and the helicopter-snow plow-bull dozer parents and society that we have become. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance should be required reading for all of us on how to grow children who explore and ask and get dirty and mess up and learn over and over again. Life is messy. Life is full of mistakes. Life is full of beauty to be explored. Life is full of experiences that our children can immerse themselves in if we just lose our fear that they will fail trying. Let’s give them this gift now before it’s too late. Before we create a world of doers rather than thinkers and feelers. I don’t want to live in the former personally. Do you?

“The test of the machine is the satisfaction it gives you. There isn’t any other test. If the machine produces tranquility it’s right. If it disturbs you it’s wrong until either the machine or your mind is changed. The test of the machine’s always your own mind. There isn’t any other test.” – Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

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