Jaded Youth

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Tim White, PhD, LPC, NCC offers advice on family planning and parenting, LGBT issues, disability issues, education and work issues, relationships, ethics and “unusual” social issues. Send questions to Tim for future columns through his website

Hi Tim,
I hope you can clear something up for me. I am in my early 60’s, and a grandparent. I love my grandkids more than anything, and spend every moment I can with them. All three of them are 11-14, so they are losing interest in this old grandma and her tired old stories. They come to visit often since they are only an hour away, but usually spend the time with their faces buried in their phones or iPads or laptops or some other machine, or when the batteries run out they switch to the old standby, television where they surf for hours. In between, or when they are forced by their parents to interact with us, they sulk.

They are sweet and loving kids but they look and act bored out of their minds and I am tired of it. I don’t like feeling like a trip to my house is an obligation for them. My husband and I were thinking of using some savings and taking them on a trip to Disney World, something memorable that would be exciting enough to hold their attention, and make them smile for a change. Is this too much? I would be heartbroken if they were bored a few hours into the trip. Please advise.

– Betty Boring

Hi Betty,
Ah, first-world problems for children who seem impossible to entertain. When consumer-oriented kids do not appreciate what they have, even though they have a lot of it, upping the ante to a theme park adventure is not a solution I would recommend. So yes, it is too much. See one clever mother’s article about “magical childhoods” here, and her direct letter to kids here, for a good laugh and some excellent points. If children require mind-blowing, adrenaline-enhanced joy rides for which retirement savings must be bled then what they are in greater need of is an education. Part of that education and perhaps ours as well, is learning that is it is actually good for children to be bored occasionally, as it spurs creativity.

Children will be using screens, and thereby developing neural pathways we could never dream of, but that does not cancel out the entirety of all civilization that existed beforehand! You and your husband no doubt are flush with skills that these precious cherubs desperately need, and the world equally needs to preserve. Do you or your husband tinker with machines, cook, can or garden? Use this list to start to jog your memory of the many skills you two probably have. Plan projects for their next visit and share your talents with the grandkids. Plant a permanent smile on your face and ignore the heavy sighs, shrugs, and selective hearing loss/mutism that may very well ensue. If you have to, get the parents involved and agree that everyone turn off their devices during family activities.

Imagine Lois Lowry’s The Giver with a happier beginning, middle and ending. Children need desperately to be in touch with and learn from their elders. In addition to imparting your wisdom, volunteering as a family can provide an invaluable education to children about what real problems look like and how grateful they ought to be. Check volunteermatch.org for opportunities for adults and kids. They may not appreciate your efforts today, but rest assured the lessons will not be wasted.

Wedded Wallflower

Hi Tim,
I need your help. My husband and I are in our 30’s and we have been happily married for ten years. However, when we go shopping or out to eat, he constantly flirts with young girls! Not women, I mean teenagers; they don’t get much younger than some of these store clerks and wait staff. Yes, he is an attractive guy but you would think he was Brad Pitt the way girls carry on with him, complimenting his tattoos and even squeezing his hand or arms or rubbing his shoulders. Meanwhile, I could be a piece of the furniture for all the attention I get from her or even him.  

I trust him completely and I know, flirting is harmless and a few times is one thing, but we can’t even leave the house anymore for date night, without some kind of creepy exchange between him and whatever cheerleader of the hour we encounter. I brought it up to him and he laughs at me as if I am hysterical. He believes it would be rude to cut these girls short, and we often get better service as a result. How do I convince him to grow up? 

– Wedded Wallflower

Hi Wallflower,
I cringe at the thought of you trying to look deep into your man‘s eyes and share a romantic moment across candlelight on your anniversary night while a giggly and nubile Lolita with braces gives him a light shoulder massage before taking your order. Since you indicate certainty that your husband is not cheating, perhaps he is merely the merry extrovert, soaking up the social energy that flirting can provide so quickly and converting it to confidence. In other words, he is getting some personal need met. 

When you address this issue with your husband, and you will, do not argue about whether or not you are overreacting. His behavior with these girls is serving no purpose other than feeding his ego. Let him know that his actions are hurting your feelings, and you are making a reasonable request for him to stop. He must forego these “tit-for-tat” exchanges, at least while in your company. Ask him to imagine watching the same kind of nauseating display between you and a neighborhood Adonis who happens to be bagging your groceries, mowing your lawn or even giving you a full-on massage at your local spa! Verbally unfold that dreamy scenario until he gets the idea. When he does, he will be ready to make a behavior change. 

Your chatty hubby needs to practice some new lines, such as “Talk to the Boss Lady over there,” “My wife can tell you what we need better than I can,” or he can just hold your hand and make every pronoun “we” whether it fits or not. When you are introduced, and you always should be, let him know you will identify as his wife and permanently designated masseuse. Tell him to get the flirting out of his system when he is alone, and remind him that any escalation beyond flirting will win him a one-way ticket out of your system. 

In healthy marriages partners listen to each other and consider the others’ feelings. Those who cannot agree at this basic level should seek counseling together as soon as possible. 

Inattentive Ingrate

Hi Tim, 
I am a man in my 40’s, married with children. I have received quite a few gifts over the years, some of them quite expensive: family rings from my parents, along with cuff links and tie clips and an incredibly expensive watch from my wife. All these gifts are beautiful, but I am terrible about keeping track of jewelry and watches and accessories like those, so I just don’t wear them. They are stuck in a drawer, waiting to be handed down to my son. I lost about a dozen cell phones before I finally got the hang of keeping those safe. My wife is upset with me because I don’t wear these things, even to weddings and other events, I know my parents are hurt that I do not wear the rings but I promise you, I will lose them so I am just trying to be respectful. She would not understand because she is so detail-oriented and I won’t ever be like that. Is it dumb to keep a drawer full of stuff, which I am very proud of and treasure, but can’t be trusted to wear?

– Inattentive Ingrate

Hi Ingrate, 
You certainly are not generous when it comes to yourself! Maybe the world would be a better place if we could all festoon ourselves in our finest finery every time we stepped out of the house to be seen at some event; a living tapestry of the generosity bestowed upon us. Are you sure all those possessions you mentioned were gifts, or did they just rent them for you? If they were given from the heart, and received graciously, then what you do with them is your business. That includes wearing them or covering them with a glass dome and filling up a knick-knack shelf.

If you are trying to adjust for your own quirks and shortcomings, good for you! I can relate to your struggle. I am extremely forgetful and jewelry is nearly out of the question for me, having lost some significant items in the past. However, if it bothers you, I make a compromise that you may choose to try for yourself. If you know who is in attendance, wear the appropriate stuff and ask your meticulous wife to spot you and check on all the pieces throughout the night. Anything that is a trigger: hand-washing, using your phone, strolling outside for some fresh air, or going back to the car for something, etc. must never be done alone! Okay, she can stand outside the bathroom. Ask her to keep a hawk eye on you like you were sporting the Crown Jewels and, if necessary, wave or text you if she sees any funny business like you adjusting your ring or cufflinks. Make her understand that you are trying to be thoughtful as requested but you need to enact the buddy system and lean on her strengths in order to take your heirlooms on tour. Then laugh together at how absent-minded and silly you are, and remind her that you- and anything on you other than clothing- would be lost without her.

Grateful to be Grown

Hi Tim,  
So explain this for me. I am a woman, 22 in college and my brother is 15. I visit home frequently and notice that he spends a lot of time on social media. He is constantly taking selfies, some of them shirtless, and then checking how they are “rated” by his peers. If the rating or number is not high enough, he is down in the dumps for a few days.

Maybe I have just been getting sensitized at school to these behaviors since we have been talking about social media in a couple of classes, but seriously wtf? Is that what we do now, parade our faces and bodies out on the web and fish for approval, suffer depression if we aren’t rated attractive enough, then expose ourselves to the same scrutiny the next week? I was online a lot as a kid but not like that. Am I old already?

– Grateful to be Grown

Hi Grateful, 
Finally! Someone is grateful for something! I have only been waiting all day for that. To answer your question; Yes, in fact, that is what the kids are doing, and no matter how ooky it makes you feel, even after receiving your memo I believe they are probably going to continue. Our up-and-coming generations are so saturated with visual imagery and practically have consumerism coded into their DNA that these behaviors are inevitable.

You are not old, but you are growing older. Online relationships, cyber-bullying and social media addiction among other phenomena really are “things” now, a tide which will be washing inward indefinitely, and we have a better chance of coaching kids to be stronger swimmers than we do telling them to stay out of the water. This is the “review culture” we currently live in, where everything from fast food to schools to university professors to public officials to objectified adolescents can be subjectively and inexhaustibly over-analyzed and rated over and over online, often anonymously, by folks with simply too much time on their fingers. It is an unfortunate trend, and unsettling to see loved ones seeking approval as externally as possible.

Unplugging may be a refreshing experience for your brother, but will likely only be temporary. You may not be able to cure your brother of digital dependence, but you can help him cultivate his self-esteem offline, and that confidence may help him better weather anything he encounters online. What kinds of talents does he have? Encourage him to practice them more and be there to cheer him on when you can. Show an interest in what he is interested in, and that may include simply listening to him without judgment. Does he have friends? Maybe he would like to come and visit you on campus and have a “college weekend,” the PG version of course, but go see a band or go to a bookstore or a protest or volunteer together.

Yes, I mentioned volunteering again because it is the home run of productive activities to develop emotional maturity; it can also be as fun as it is rewarding, and something the two of you can share. In short, there is a world of experiences off-screen for a young man like your brother to explore, that also build more lasting confidence than a perpetual shirtless selfie contest. You sound like kind of a cool big sister already. Keep up the good work.

Editor’s Note: The opinions offered in this blog are the author’s alone. Tim White, and any experts he may consult and/or quote in responses to letters, will never provide medical or psychological advice, diagnoses, treatment, or counseling of any kind. General advice, opinions, and suggestions may be offered with no obligation on the part of readers to accept or act upon the content published within this column. Anyone in immediate crisis and/or mental/physical distress should call 911 or related resources of assistance.

Photo courtesy Bailey Weaver, licensed under Creative Commons

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