A generation of ninnies

Are we raising a generation of nincompoops? asks Beth Harpaz, an AP writer.

Susan Maushart, a mother of three, says her teenage daughter “literally does not know how to use a can opener. Most cans come with pull-tops these days. I see her reaching for a can that requires a can opener, and her shoulders slump and she goes for something else.”

Teenagers are so accustomed to either throwing their clothes on the floor or hanging them on hooks that Maushart says her “kids actually struggle with the mechanics of a clothes hanger.”

. . . “It’s so all laid out for them,” said Maushart, author of the forthcoming book “The Winter of Our Disconnect,” about her efforts to wean her family from its dependence on technology. “Having so much comfort and ease is what has led to this situation — the Velcro sneakers, the Pull-Ups generation. You can pee in your pants and we’ll take care of it for you!”

Harpaz saw a visiting 12-year-old stare helplessly at an ice-cube tray from the freezer, unsure how to get the cubes out and unwilling to try.

Lenore Skenazy, who writes Free-Range Kids, said many parents raise their children to be incompetent.

“There is an onslaught of stuff being sold to us from the second they come out of the womb trying to convince us that they are nincompoops,” she said. “They need to go to Gymboree or they will never hum and clap! To teach them how to walk, you’re supposed to turn your child into a marionette by strapping this thing on them that holds them up because it helps them balance more naturally than 30,000 years of evolution!”

When my preschool daughter wore sneakers with Velcro straps, I wondered whether she’d ever learn to tie a shoelace. She learned, because I taught her. If your kids claim they don’t know how to use a clothes hanger or a can opener, teach them. That’s what parents are supposed to do.

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  1. I think before we get too judgmental about the younger generation, we need to imagine their frustration watching middle aged parents text or use other technology.

  2. I find it hard to believe that a kid would make it into her teens and NEVER need to open a can of tuna or hang up her coat.

    Unless her mother never made her. Same with ice cubes. Since my clumsy, ADHD 6 year old can use an icecube tray (and fill it and put it back in the freezer!) I have no sympathy for the mother of a 12 year old who can’t.

    My guess is that these kids have been too institutionalized. If you’re in daycare 10-12 hours a day from infancy, then go on the school-aftercare-sports-homework-fastfooddinner-sleep track, you may never learn basic life skills– because you’ve never LIVED.

    But that’s the parent’s responsibility. If we’re ‘raising a generation of nincompoops,’ it’s because we’re not really RAISING them at all.

  3. Also– I disagree with the expert who blames incompetance on google.

    Google has made me MORE competant–if I don’t know how to do something, I can find instructions and videos on line.

    The problem is that these kids are so used to having constant supervision, schedules and structure that they can’t function without it.

    Why? Because parents didn’t just outsource the lawncare and laundry–they outsourced their kids!

  4. I think Pogie nailed it – this is a *technology* issue, not a “nincompoop” issue. If a 12 year old grows up in a house with an automatic icemaker, I don’t know why she would know how to use ice cube trays…any more than that she would know how to churn butter. The same is true of can openers, for that matter.

    As for clothes hangers, the excerpt didn’t say that the kid didn’t know how to use it; it stated that she “struggled with the mechanics of the clothes hanger.” In other words, she knew how to use it, just wasn’t as good at is as, say, the head nazi in “Indiana Jones.” I don’t think that’s cause for despair.

    And I think her point about “pull up pants” is just bizarre.

    The real point is that there is an author who is trying to sell a book based on the idea that technology has made us incompetent, and is using exaggerated examples to convince us that our kids today are largely helpless…a claim which fails upon even cursory examination.

    It is interesting to me that her example focus not on fundamental skills, but simply on tech skills from an older era. There is nothing “timeless” about can opener technology; if a kid doesn’t know how to use it, it’s because it’s not that useful anymore. I (just barely) remember when soda cans didn’t come with a pull tab and had to be opened with the pointy end of a can opener. Teenagers today would probably look blankly at a coke can with no pull tab…but that’s not a sign of the decline of the republic; in fact, my horseshoeing and mule-skinning skills are even more non-existent.

    In fact, these claims are just as much hyperbole as the advertisements she complains about – exaggerated to convince people that they need something that they don’t really need at all.

  5. I don’t think the problem was that the girl didn’t know how to use a can opener: it was that she didn’t spend a few minutes trying to figure out how to use it.

    Tom Wolfe obesrved that a high % of engineers involved in the space program, and also in the microelectronics industry, had been farm kids: and were often in a position where they had to figure out how to fix a particular piece of equipment.

  6. Deirdre Mundy says:
    “My guess is that these kids have been too institutionalized. If you’re in daycare 10-12 hours a day from infancy, then go on the school-aftercare-sports-homework-fastfooddinner-sleep track, you may never learn basic life skills– because you’ve never LIVED.”

    Wow, I think you hit the nail on the jackpot. If the kids don’t know how to use a hanger, then who is hanging their clothes for them? If kids help their parents with dinner, then they’d learn about can openers and cooking.

    Sometimes, things like dialing rotary and non-cell phones or cracking ice cube trays just get missed. I remember my kids asking what a dial tone was. I’ve had to teach quite a few of their friends how to use our non-cellular phone. My son is so accustomed to velcro he actually forgot how to tie a shoe. What’s even worse is that he’s a Boy Scout! Trust me when I say he was soon reaquainted with the lowly shoelace.

  7. Interesting. I just went on a field trip where our kids were required to set the table for meals. Very few of them knew how. None of them really wanted to touch the dishrag to wipe the tables off after each meal. I taught all the kids I supervised how to set the table, just as I’ve taught my own kids. I think they both know how to open cans, too. 🙂

  8. All of these comments really hit the nail on the head. The writer is manufacturing a crisis where one does not exist. Either that, or she has somehow raised lazy/stupid kids, which is not indicative of this upcoming generation at all. Much more importantly, however, is Peter W. writing what may be the funniest line I have ever read on this site (the head nazi from Indiana Jones and his clothes hanger skills). Soup went up my nose I was laughing so hard! Thanks Peter for a good laugh!

  9. Richard Aubrey says:

    I know how to use a can opener. We have several. I struggle with the new models, the ones that don’t leave a razor edge on the can. Goes this way??? No, the geared wheel goes…. No, you put it flat on top….
    No kid is going to starve if left alone with a can of tuna and a can opener.
    Just quit taking stuff out of their hands when they fumble their initial attempts.
    There are two things to learn. One is how to do something and the other is that things can be figured out.
    Neither require the parent to do everything for the kid every time, until some arbritray date at which the kid is supposed to be omnicompetent.
    Call me crazy, but I enjoyed teaching my kids to do various things, sometimes (frequently) ahead of their age mates, which had to do with getting through their week without help.
    My granddaughter and I were making up some kindling today. My daughter-in-law told the kid that the hatchet was only for “poppa”, which was her way of telling me not to let a three year old have a hatchet. IOW, she knew I liked to teach kids various competencies at ages some would feel inappropriate. Presumably, should my granddaughter get old enough to manage a hatchet, I will teach her. There is no cash outlay for this, and it’s fun.
    Sometimes, looking at and listening to younger couples, I get the impression that competence, except at the keyboard, is sort of a below-the-salt thing.

  10. CarolineSF says:

    This is ridiculous considering how much more adept our kids’ generation is with technology (to put it very, very mildly) than we are. They don’t know how to use carbon paper either, and our generation didn’t know how to use an old-fashioned telephone switchboard — it’s called obsolete technology. Oh, and my kids poke fun at how slow I am when I text-message — their fingers are flying on those teensy keys.

    This is a cheesy way for a writer to try to whip up a bogus crisis — epic fail, as our tech-savvy kids would say! Get a job, Susan Maushart.

  11. Richard Aubrey says:

    Your point is valid, until the issue isn’t one of high-tech.

  12. I remember back in the late 1980s, teaching some of my college dorm-mates how to use a washing machine, and how to separate colors so you didn’t wind up with pink underwear. And what temperature to use for what clothes.

    If kids are incapable of using basic technology, I don’t think it’s society’s fault so much as it’s the parents’ fault. My mom and dad saw to it that I knew how to wash clothes, cook, sew on buttons, change a flat tire, etc. It’s really not that hard to teach someone to do any of those things, and if you get them at the right age (as I was when I learned to cook), the kids learn willingly.

    I suspect there have been incompetent young adults since there have been young adults. My mother speaks of how she and the women who lived in her co-op when she was in college had to teach one of the women how to cook, because her mother never taught her how to even cook an egg.

    The problem is when parents do everything for the kid and expect nothing of them.

  13. They’ll figure out the can opener, I’m not really worried about that. That apostrophe in “it’s”, though; that worries me. The inability to multiply 9 times 15 without a calculator; that worries me.

  14. JackDoitCrawford says:

    Well, I don’t think many of those in my OLD generation could churn butter or shoe horses, either. The old skills get lost because they aren’t needed.


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