“Kids are brilliant these days,” said the taxi driver as we headed to the airport.
It’s true, I thought, remembering the story I’d read just days earlier about a 16-year Australian student who had dropped out of school to develop his successful iPhone app in New York.
But then the taxi driver added, “They really know how to charm their parents.”
He continued, his daughter is a bright and vibrant young woman that is part way through a law degree and recently had her article published in a national Malaysian newspaper.
But ask her to cook a meal, he said, and all she can do is fry an egg or whip up a bowl of instant noodles.
If she tries to cook rice, she can’t measure out the water and the rice ends up too dry he lamented.
She doesn’t wash up her own dishes, nor does she wash her own clothes (all those boring household chores she leaves for her parents).
When she wants to wash her shoes, she throws them in the washing machine, instead of cleaning them properly by hand to maintain their longevity.
He laughed and smiled as he told me that he and his wife help pay for her expensive law education, which puts them under great financial pressure, but they hide this truth from their daughter.
Sometimes, he said, they worry that they spoil her too much and that she’s taking advantage of them.
I laughed in response to be socially polite. But inside, I was quietly horrified.
His daughter, who was smart enough to become a lawyer, was totally incompetent at the most basic things in life. She couldn’t cook, look after herself or manage her own finances.
The cause: A drop in kids doing household chores
Research attributes such a situation – which is far from unique – to a change in parenting styles that occurred around 30 years ago.
Before that time, children were viewed as physical assets that were expected to contribute to the household by doing practical work, such as household chores, and providing financial support.
But in the 1980s, more modern and time-saving conveniences became available, such as washing machines and dishwashers, and disposable incomes increased.
As result, parents did not expect children to do nearly as many household chores.
Children were no longer seen as contributors whose work and efforts were needed for the household to thrive. Instead, children were seen as being important emotional assets whose main purpose was to be loved.
The focus of parents shifted to making sure their child was happy and successful in life, rather than teaching them a sense of family responsibility by involving them in household chores.
Me, me, me
Consequently, this approach has created generations of children (think gen Y and the millennials) with an inflated sense of entitlement but little appetite for responsibility and less empathy.
Sadly, I have met many people – both parents and children – for which the above rings true.
When in high school, I had a friend whose mother still made him breakfast everyday – cereal, mind you – when he was 16 years old.
A former boss, who was incredibly competent at her job that involved managing a six-person team and a multi-million-dollar budget, could barely cook a proper meal for herself.
Another friend, who had reached the highest grade in piano exams and was a successful engineer, would still take his washing home to be done by his parents every few weeks, even though he lived over 200 km away from them.
None of those situations, which I’m fairly sure are linked to their parents doing almost all household tasks, sound “brilliant” to me.
Teach kids to stand on their own two feet
So, despite my dismay at the taxi driver’s story, it gives me the perfect opportunity to reflect on my own parenting style and attitudes on household chores.
I think I’ll definitely take a leaf from my own parent’s approach, who firmly believed in my two older brothers and I, growing up in the 1990s, helping around the house.
As soon as we could hold a broom and safely operate the electric frypan, we were required to help with household cleaning and cooking.
If we didn’t do it, as per the roster that hung on the fridge, then we received no pocket money.
By the time we reached year seven, the start of high school, we were making our own school lunches and doing our own clothes washing.
According to the experts, household chores, despite being boring, tedious and hard work, help children develop a sense of social justice. Because everyone has to do them, it emphasises the idea of fairness and responsibility.
So in a number of years, when my one-and-a-half-year-old is more grown up, I’ll definitely expect him to help around the house. Because I believe that a parent who teaches their children to look after themselves and others is a true sign of brilliance.