A guide to Gen X parents

Susan Gregory Thomas offers A Teacher’s Guide to Generation X Parents, who were born between 1965 and 1979,  on Edutopia.

In preschool, we’re the ones anxiously arranging developmentally appropriate playdates for our Siouxsie-and-the-Banshees-T-shirt-clad three-year-olds. In kindergarten, we’re frantic that other parents’ children are starting to read cat and rat, while our Ruby and Dylan are still having trouble identifying lowercase letters. We think the gold-star system and its ilk are archaic and punitive, and we want to have a meeting to present our suggestions for alternative achievement systems.

By grade school, we’re demanding to know why the math program is not challenging enough for our child. We email our complaints about the seating chart. We openly deride the arts instruction and may rally other parents to the point of a coup d’état. By middle school, our kids have schedules and professional support staffs that resemble those of corporate lawyers. Look out, high school: We’re coming.

Gen Xers’ are “so obnoxious, self-righteous, implacable” because they were underparented, she theorizes. Half of their parents are divorced. “We were the first to be raised in record numbers in day care, and some 40 percent of us were latchkey kids.”

We’ve been taking care of ourselves since we started going to school, and we don’t trust authority figures, because they weren’t trustworthy when we were growing up. Our parents didn’t know what was going on at school, and our teachers didn’t know what was going on at home. We’re not going to let this happen to our children — not even for a second. We’ll do whatever we have to do to make sure our kids get what they need.

She has advice on how teachers can work with GenX parents, despite their unrealistic “artisanal” expectations.

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  1. SuperSub says:

    As a Generation Y teacher, I have been appalled by the actions of Gen X parents… and this article doesn’t even scratch the surface of the entitled and self-centered behavior of parents.
    Last year I had a mother curse me out because I wrote her senior daughter up for responding to a text in class… from her mother. I had a student this year whose mother worked in our building as a substitute. One day I caught my student texting in class, only to find out that she was texting her mother, who was teaching that block.
    While I agree with the article that the X-ers behavior has to do with being left on their own… I think the article misses the influence of the self-centered and self-indulgence movement of the 60’s and 70’s. I’d say that parents’ behavior is so bad that it is not merely due to a lack of parenting, but instead that they were also taught whatever they wanted to do was justified, no matter the effect on others.

  2. “Self-centered and self-indulgence movement of the 60s”: I love it! I remember hering the “if it feels good, do it” mantra. We are now dealing with the consequences, which range from undesirable to catastrophic. Compared to the almost complete absence of marriage and intact families at the bottom end, divorce at the middle and upper ends seems almost benign, although it certainly isn’t. Both are really about unwillingness to accept responsibility.

    I’m glad my husband and I were raised in the self-control era and we did our best to pass it along to our kids.

    However, the math program IS probably inadequate. Even if – a huge if – the school is using a good curriculum (Singapore), the class may not cover a full year’s material every year. The pace may be far too slow for many kids because of the heterogeneous classes. While some parents want more challenging, others DEMAND inclusion (my kid has an IEP!), however negative that kid’s presence may be for the rest of the class. It’s not limited to math, but the usual math curriculums (Trailblazers, Everyday Math etc.) are inherently flawed.

  3. Cranberry says:

    The writer should speak for herself, not an entire generation. Most of us are not hysterical twits.

    The list of what teachers and administrators should do to make “us” happy is a call for schools to cater to the most attention-hungry parents. The most egregious is perhaps, “Invite us to teach in the classroom for an afternoon. Or assign students free-choice homework one night a week, to be completed with a parent. Many Gen Xers are genuine intellectuals with interesting ideas and hobbies. We’d love to share them!”

    If you trust your school enough to send your children into the school’s care, you should also trust the teachers to create a stable, well-thought out curriculum.

  4. “we’re demanding to know why the math program is not challenging enough for our child”

    I suspect this may have more to do with the new Reform Math curricula, which aren’t challenging enough period, than with the mathematical tastes of Gen Xers in particular.

  5. @SuperSub – As a Gen X parent, I am appalled by your lack of professionalism. It’s unfortunate that you are generalizing a whole generation of parents – people who are the parents of the students you are are supposed to be motivating. How much respect would you have for me right now if I said something nasty about YOUR mom?

    My response to your post would be that a Gen Y teacher just insulted me (a Gen X parent) for the actions of someone I neither know or care to know. I find that appalling.

    If you ever want to get off on the sub list, you’re going to have to learn how do deal with the bad parents without offending every good parent in the world.

  6. ….and others of us who are that picky homeschool.

    I have very low expectations of institutional schooling.

  7. While I think some of the reasoning may be flawed (my parents didn’t divorce until I was an adult and I was never at home alone until middle school and there really other Gen X-ers with that history besides me) I think there is a desire from parents of my generation to give their kids the best education possible and it is a deep worry for us because many of us don’t trust our school systems.

    I also don’t think this is entirely new. I do think the tactics used by my generation are new, particularly going over teachers’ heads for every little thing. In a graduate course on the history of the US educational system I remember seeing a political cartoon done during the baby boom with a room crammed full of students, including some on the teacher’s desk, and a parent saying something like, “Give my darling special treatment.” The chapter was about parental expectations, and they really haven’t changed much since then. As parents, we’re just more obnoxious about it as a group. Not everyone is, obviously.

    The math curricula used in our area are all bad. Last I checked, Indiana hadn’t approved Singapore math (I haven’t checked in awhile so I could be wrong here) so getting a really good curriculum at any school, public or private, is unlikely. It’s frustrating as a parent to see my kid doing worksheets that don’t teach him anything new or help him practice the stuff he’s not doing well. The teachers rarely go over mistakes in the worksheets. They’re just turned in and checked off as done. I’ve found this in multiple grades, so it’s not just one teacher. It’s hard to learn without feedback, but there’s little time for the teacher to go back through worksheets done yesterday when there are more to do today to keep up with the curriculum.

  8. As a Gen-Xer, I find today’s parents to be self-entitled and irresponsible — worse than the kids.
    Am I atypical? Perhaps.
    My parents were Depression kids and not self-centered Boomers, so I find more in common with the principles of that age set than my own.
    Likewise with Xers with non-Boomer parents.

  9. I think the excerpts from Ms. Thomas’ “Guide” are spot-on for the most part for me (except for the designer clothes). My parents were unaware and uninterested in what happened at my 1980’s middle-high school. I don’t want my own children to suffer the way I did.

    “If you trust your school enough to send your children into the school’s care, you should also trust the teachers to create a stable, well-thought out curriculum.” I’m really confused by this statement. Cranberry, do you believe that we all have a choice in our local public school? I might actually trust my children’s teachers (at least some of them) to provide a well-thought out curriculum, but that is not allowed in our district -it all comes from above and it is substandard. We do many hours of homeschooling each week to make up for the huge gaps in their education.

  10. SuperSub says:

    Been here for a long time…been off the sub list for quite a while. Am I making a stereotype? Of course, yes. Do I actually need to remind you that while I am making broad assumptions about a generation, I do reasonably accept that there are exceptions? I didn’t think that I needed to, but I guess I do.
    Secondly, how do you even make the even the slightest connection between my opinion of parents as a whole today to my conduct in the classroom?

  11. I’m part of Gen X. My parents never divorced and my mom only worked very part time. This was the norm for my family’s social circle- only a few kids I know had divorced parents and/or a mom with a full-time career. I don’t have any major childhood wounds that are driving my finickiness about my children’s education.

    I think what’s driving the whole “artisanal” expectations is that my generation is the first to experience “mass customization” on a wide scale. We were the first generation to grow up with hundreds of cable channels instead of just 3 broadcast networks; being able to order whatever niche products we wanted off the ‘net instead of settling for whatever was in stock at the local store; the 87,000 different drink combinations at Starbucks rather than just regular vs. decaf; iPods to customize our own music playlists rather than having to purchase entire albums; and so on.

    Is it any wonder that the “one size fits all” model of government-run schools leaves us dissatisfied?

  12. Cranberry says:

    “Cranberry, do you believe that we all have a choice in our local public school? I might actually trust my children’s teachers (at least some of them) to provide a well-thought out curriculum, but that is not allowed in our district -it all comes from above and it is substandard. We do many hours of homeschooling each week to make up for the huge gaps in their education.”

    First, I’d like to point out that Susan Gregory Thomas was writing of her experience in a “small, private school” in New York. She had, thus, already exercised a greater degree of choice than most American parents. If she, and her friends, are dissatisfied with the school’s math curriculum, it has nothing to do with any public school’s curriculum choices.

    Second, however deficient the set curriculum may be in a classroom, it would not be improved by diverting class time to allow parents to “teach for an afternoon.” Many schools are reportedly approaching 30 students per classroom. 30 x 2 = 60. If every parent wanted to come in and teach for an afternoon, that would swallow 1/3 of the curriculum for that school year–probably more, as that doesn’t even allow for field trips, school assemblies, and special projects, let alone individual children’s illness. (Yes, I know that most parents won’t want to come in. Doesn’t it add to the teacher’s headaches, to suddenly worry that Bobby Smith’s mom feels left out because Susie Jones’ mom was able to parent teach in October?)

    I’m not a fan of curricula such as Everyday Math. Our school system supposedly uses EM in the elementary years, but the system doesn’t budget enough time for math in the school day to meet the curriculum’s minimum time guidelines as it is.

  13. Cranberry says:

    By the definitions in the article, I’m the GenX child of non-Boomer parents. In my childhood, I can think of one couple who divorced, in the entire school.

    I’m also influenced by the experiences I’ve had at our local school. Some of the parent volunteers have been stellar, but some have been terrible. Many seem to have problems with the requirement not to gossip about things they’ve witnessed at school. It’s lovely, if a teacher wants parents in her classroom, but it shouldn’t be expected. Parents should respect a teacher’s right to control the classroom environment. The existing public school system allows her little control as it is. She shouldn’t be required to offer an avenue for fulfillment to dissatisfied adults.

    Listen to (Us) Me
    Include (Us) Me
    Put (Us) Me to Work
    Give (Us) Me Limits
    Work with (Us) Me


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