Home again: The boomerang grads

Annie Kasinecz, 27, lives with her mother in Downers Grove, Illinois. She borrowed $75,000 to earn a degree in advertising and public relations at Loyola University in Chicago. Now working as a project coordinator, she’s lived at home rent-free for four years.  Credit Damon Casarez for The New York Times

The Boomerang Kids Won’t Leave home, predicts the New York Times Magazine. With college loans and low-paying jobs, they can’t afford to pay rent.

One in five people in their 20s and early 30s is currently living with his or her parents. And 60 percent of all young adults receive financial support from them. That’s a significant increase from a generation ago, when only one in 10 young adults moved back home and few received financial support.

. . . Those who graduated college as the housing market and financial system were imploding faced the highest debt burden of any graduating class in history. Nearly 45 percent of 25-year-olds, for instance, have outstanding loans, with an average debt above $20,000. . . . And more than half of recent college graduates are unemployed or underemployed, meaning they make substandard wages in jobs that don’t require a college degree.

The photographer, who lives at home and freelances, was graduated from an art college with $120,000 in debt. 

Alexandria Romo, 28, also a Loyola graduate, earned an economics degree but says she “had no idea what I was doing when I took out those loans” at the age of 18. She borrowed $90,000. Romo wishes she’d been taught about student loans, math and finance before borrowing at 12.5 percent interest. Romo lives at home in Austin and works at a security-guard company. Her dream is to be an environmentalist.

Revenge of the uncool kids

Whatever Happened to the Cool Kids? asks a University of Virginia study.  If  “cool” is defined as “pseudomature behavior — ranging from minor delinquency to precocious romantic involvement,” then the answer is not so well. At 23, they’re more likely to have trouble with relationships, alcohol and drugs and run-ins with the law.

The ex-cool kids even rate lower in social competence, notes CNN.

To measure coolness, students were asked about their romantic behavior, including how many people they “made out” with. They were asked how many times they had damaged or destroyed property belonging to parents, sneaked into a movie without paying, stolen items from parents or family members, and whether they had used drugs and/or marijuana.

They were also asked how important it was for them to be popular with a lot of different kinds of kids, how attractive their closest friends were, and whom they would most likely spend time with on a Saturday night.

As young adults, to measure social competence, they were asked to describe how well they get along with friends, acquaintances and boyfriends or girlfriends, and whether romantic relationships ended because of concerns that their partner was viewed as not popular enough or not part of the cool crowd.

Jennifer Alsip of Robinson, Texas, was in the “cool group” all through school, she told CNN. “I was there to socialize.” Now struggling financially — ironically, she works trying to collect delinquent student loans — she tells her daughters to “be the bookworm.”

Sharing or theft?

Beth doesn’t teach her kids to share toys, she writes on PopSugar. At her son’s preschool, each child plays with a toy, the swings or the monkey bars until he’s done with it. Then the next kid gets a turn.

(A friend) and her almost-2-year-old were at the park one day. He had brought a small car from home to play with. Another child, a little bit older, wanted to play with the car and was demanding that my friend’s son give him the car. A typical toddler scuffle ensued, and the other mother told her son, “I guess his mom didn’t teach him how to share.”

When someone asks you to share, you have the right to say “no,” writes Beth.

What about a public play space? Friday mornings, her local rec center fills the gym “with tons of Little Tykes climbing structures and those plastic cars they can drive around, tricycles, big balls, even a bouncy castle.”  Her son drove a red car, which he loves, for 90 minutes. A mother tried to get him to give her son “a turn,” but he ignored her. “There were a million other little cars for her son to drive, including one that was almost identical,” writes Beth.

I think it does a child a great disservice to teach him that he can have something that someone else has, simply because he wants it. And I can understand the desire to give your children everything they want; we all have it. But it’s a good lesson for you both to learn that this isn’t always possible, and you shouldn’t step all over other people to get these things.

Furthermore, this is not how things work in the real world. In your child’s adult life, he’s going to think he’s owed everything he sees. This is already happening in the next generation. I read a fascinating article about how today’s teens and 20-somethings are expecting raises and promotions at their jobs for reasons like, “I show up every day.”

I would have told my kid to try the “almost identical” car and let the other boy have a turn.

A McSweeney’s satire features Atlas Shrugged on the Tot Lot as a father explains why his daughter wouldn’t share her Elmo ball with another toddler. Read the works of Ayn Rand since birth, she’s proud of what she earned — for consistent use of the potty — “completely antipathetic to the concept of sharing.”

That’s why, when Johanna then began berating your son, accusing him of trying to coerce from her a moral sanction of his theft of the fruit of her labor, in as many words, I kind of egged her on. Even when Aiden started crying.

“Johanna shouldn’t be burdened with supplying playthings for every bed-wetting moocher she happens to meet,” he concludes.

Sure, let ‘em all be winners

Do Our Kids Get Off Too Easy? asks Alfie Kohn in the New York Times. In a column adapted from The Myth of the Spoiled Child, he defends “participation” trophies for all — if we must have competitions with winners and losers. “Grit” lovers who think kids should earn rewards and honors want children to be miserable now to prepare for the miseries of adulthood, Kohn believes. They think children shouldn’t “be allowed to feel good about themselves” without “tangible accomplishments.” Conditioning approval on children’s behavior is a big mistake, he argues.

 (According to research), when children feel their parents’ affection varies depending on the extent to which they are well behaved, self-controlled or impressive at school or sports, this promotes “the development of a fragile, contingent and unstable sense of self.” Other researchers, meanwhile, have shown that high self-esteem is beneficial, but that even more desirable is unconditional self-esteem: a solid core of belief in yourself, an abiding sense that you’re competent and worthwhile — even when you screw up or fall short.

I think Kohn confuses parents’ unconditional love of their children with the world’s opinion of other people’s children. If Mom and Dad love their kids only when they score the winning goal or ace the test, that’s a serious problem. Children need to feel lovable.

But kids who grow up thinking that everything they do — however ordinary — will be cheered by non-family members are going to be very frustrated adults. And they won’t have the grit to deal with frustration and keep on going.

Outside your family, who think you’re wonderful just the way you are, the world is just not that into you.

When I was an adolescent, I found it comforting that the world did not revolve around me. It was less responsibility.

Preschool for kids, training for moms

Low-income mothers in Tulsa are encouraged to send their children to Head Start — and train for better jobs, reports NPR’s Eric Westervelt.

WESTERVELT: Two dozen students, all women, settle into long white tables and stiff metal chairs in a classroom at Tulsa Community College’s downtown campus. . . . It’s a required monthly seminar for the program Career Advance. Topics include resume building and basic finances. This week: Workplace Etiquette 101. Be on time, eye contact, firm handshake, basic hygiene.

Career Advance, run by the nonprofit Community Action Project of Tulsa or CAP, links low-income parents with education, career training in health care fields.

Consuela Houessou came to Tulsa from Benin about a decade ago. She works weekends as a nurse’s assistant, but hopes to become a registered nurse. She compares her grades with her children. “I get A’s today, what did you get?”

Helping parents helps children, says Steven Dow, CAP Tulsa’s executive director.

WESTERVELT: It’s heading for 8:30 a.m. at a bustling headstart center in East Tulsa and 32-year-old Tiffany Contreras is late to drop off her 4-year-old daughter. The on-time kids play with blocks, puzzles and books on the carpet while a teacher prepares a cereal breakfast.

8:45, still no Tiffany Contreras. Her daily juggle is on – four kids, a commute, classes, homework and meetings. Her husband, the father of her two youngest, works the night shift coating gas pipes and airplane parts at an industrial paint shop. 8:50, she finally arrives. Adding to Tiffany’s hectic mix this week, a dinner gone wrong nearly torched her kitchen.

TIFFANY CONTRERAS: A pan of grease caught on fire. It ruined my stove a couple of my cabinets. Thankfully, no one was hurt. The story of my life. Always something.

Many women in Career Advance go from one crisis to another, says staffer Megan Oehlke. “It’s my car died. I had a house fire. We had an unexpected stabbing in our family last week. My mom is hospitalized. She does all my child care. It’s all of those things together that they’re trying to figure out how to finagle, and still be successful in school.”

‘Boyhood’ movie is done after 12 years

Twelve years ago, Richard Linklater hired then 7-year-old Ellar Coltrane to play the central character in a movie about growing up. He filmed every summer for more than a decade as the boy grew up to make Boyhood. Ethan Hawke  and Patricia Arquette play the parents.

Fidgety boys, sputtering economy

Fidgety boys end up as unemployed men, writes David Leonhardt in the New York Times.

The gender gap in school readiness is wider than the gap between low-income and middle-class kids, researchers say. Boys are more likely to struggle in school, college and the workforce.

By kindergarten, girls are substantially more attentive, better behaved, more sensitive, more persistent, more flexible and more independent than boys, according to a new paper from Third Way, a Washington research group. The gap grows over the course of elementary school and feeds into academic gaps between the sexes.

The gender gap in school readiness is wider than the gap between low-income and middle-class kids, researchers say. Boys are more likely to struggle in school, college and the workforce.

In the last 25 years, the portion of women earning a four-year college degree has jumped more than 75 percent and women’s median earnings are up almost 35 percent. Men’s earnings haven’t risen at all, writes Leonhardt. “Men are much more likely to be idle — neither working, looking for work nor caring for family — than they once were and much more likely to be idle than women.”

Some blame the surge in single-parent families for the “boy crisis.” Girls who grow up with one parent — usually a mother — do almost as well as girls from two-parent families. Boys do much worse.

Others say schools aren’t boy friendly. In elementary school classrooms, fidgety boys are expected to sit still and pay attention to the female teacher.

81% of parents steal kids’ candy

Eighty-one percent of parents steal Easter candy from their kids, according to a survey by the National Confectioners Association.

89 percent first eat the ears off of a chocolate Easter bunny; 6 percent eat the feet first, and 5 percent the tail.

24 percent listed cherry as their favorite jelly bean flavor; 19 percent named strawberry; 15 percent said licorice, and 12 percent said lemon.

As not-very-religious Jews, we decorated eggs at Easter time, but I don’t remember much candy. My grandfather was in the candy business — he loved Easter — but my mother said sugar was bad for our teeth.

Growing up fast

Frans Hofmeester filmed his daughter every week from birth to age 14. In this viral video, Lotte grows from baby to teenager in four minutes, five seconds.

When she turned 50, an artist decided to draw her self-portrait every day for a year. She’s 51 now and still going.

Do we want a cure for Walter Mitty?

“Sluggish cognitive tempo,” a new medical term for excessive daydreaming, could save lost-in-a-fog children and adults from being misdiagnosed with attention deficit disorder, writes Diana Senechal. But she worries that Walter Mitty and Fern will be cured of imagination.

If James Thurber’s Walter Mitty had been diagnosed with SCT, he’d stay “on task” and remember to buy the puppy biscuits. There’d be no “ta-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa.”  (The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is one of my favorite stories of all time.)

Not all wandering minds are lost, Senechal writes.

I have had students who had difficulty staying on task because they were thinking about the subject in an interesting way – as well as students who seemed “off-task” because they were actually concentrating hard (and not taking notes as the others were). I myself tended not to take notes in school; I preferred to listen and think.

If we “faulted, diagnosed and fixed” all the daydreamers, “the world would fill up with dreary essays that never departed from the rubric,” writes Senechal.

In Charlotte’s Web, Fern’s mother pays a visit to the family doctor, Dr. Dorian, in order to seek his advice about Fern, who, in her view, spends far too much time alone with the animals, just sitting and listening to them. Dr. Dorian leans back, closes his eyes, and says, “How enchanting!”

Senechal will discuss solitude on BBC’s  The Forum this weekend.