You might have heard of the preschool for adults that has opened up in New York City. That's right—for adults. Fully grown human beings sign up and pay big bucks to go finger paint and nap and get in touch with their inner child.
As if our society needs more adults getting in touch with their inner child—I think that we are quite in touch with our inner children already, thank you very much. Our culture is replete with adults throwing fits that they aren’t getting enough of what they deserve, that life isn’t fair, that they shouldn’t have to work, that everything should be prepared for them and handed to them on a plate. These supposed adults throw their tantrums in all sorts of ways. Some create actual movements and organizations, rallying people to their angst-filled causes; others exercise outright regressive behavior—egging mansions and defecating on police cars. Either way, our nation has plenty of babies, and opening up preschools for adults just seems like a natural offshoot to the decades-long saga of petulance and tantrum-throwing that our society has embarked upon.
Part of the problem stems from parents who are, ironically, raising their children to be babies from the time they are born. As a high school teacher, I am in a unique position to see some of these parents. I once had to sit through a meeting with angry parents who called the administrator because I had hurt their son’s feelings by asking him to revise a paper. I once had to smile through an angry parent ranting about how I should have passed their son the previous term—even though he never turned in any work. I once had to listen to a father claim that his daughter should have a better grade in my class “because she really, really liked it,” and he believed that should count. Or how about the time a mother came to my teacher friend’s house—yes, her house—to try to tell her it was her fault that her son had failed an assignment. I could go on, and on, and on.
When we exhibit these kinds of behaviors—in any setting—we claim we are doing it “on behalf of our children.” While it is important to help our children and guide them, they also need to see that we trust them to handle themselves. Most importantly, they need to see that both the world and their parents hold them accountable for decisions. Quite the opposite is happening all too often: instead of teaching our children to be responsible adults who are capable of working hard and standing on their own two feet in this world, some parents are grooming them for eternal babyhood.
Every time we fight our children’s battles, every time we cut consequences for their actions out of their lives, it stagnates their maturity and halts their development, eventually dooming them to live in a state of coddled immaturity. College kids think they deserve a good grade just for coming to class and trying really hard. Self-esteem has been increasing over the past 4 decades, whereas test scores have been dropping. Administrations declare “safe zones” to protect the fragile egos of people who are afraid of free speech and don’t want to get their feelings hurt. Nearly one-fifth of 25-34 year-old males are living with their parents. People can’t clap at feminist rallies because it causes too much anxiety. Reality show contests are littered with people who think they are awesome and throw fits when they are told they are not.
“What’s the problem here?” you might ask. “So what? We’re all happy. It’s not a big deal.” Sure, sure, you might think these examples—including an adult preschool—aren't a big deal...except that for the fact that they even exist, because for them to exist, it means that we’re in the midst of a very long foray into the societal acceptance of immature behavior from adults. But no, that’s no big deal. It’s no big deal as our nation staggers under the crushing weight of our welfare state as fully capable adults check out of the burdening responsibilities of the workforce. It’s no big deal as, Huxley-style, we sing songs and eat our goldfish snacks in ignorant bliss while world-changing events occur around us. It’s no big deal as virtues like self-dignity and hard work are squelched as we nurture over-sensitive egos and pettiness. It’s no big deal as we encourage a culture full of childish hurt feelings by crying about how everyone is a meanie-head.
Besides all of that, what is going to happen when real life hits, when these adult-babies lose their jobs or have to deal with massive debt or get broken up with or don’t make as much money as their neighbor or are criticized by a manager at work? I’ll tell you what happens, because I’ve seen it: they are left emotionally crippled by the blow, because they weren’t strong enough to handle it.
Even beyond personal tragedy, what will the world do when something hits society at large that requires adults--functioning, independent, decision-making, responsible, stress-handling, backboned, steely-willed adults—to handle it? As it is, the flimsy resolve and peevish nature of our society is going to crumple under the pressure of any large-scale crisis. Our pre-entitlement generation weathered WWII and the Depression; I rue the day when our generation of babies has to deal with similar setbacks. I don’t think we’d be able to handle it with our current culture, I really don’t.
But, hey, don’t worry! We’re taking preschool classes that teach us “to feel good about the choice[s] [we]'re making” and to have a “magical” time. It’s just an escape from real life, but, no biggie, because while the world burns at least we will be in touch with our inner child, have our “most creative costume” ribbon on, and will be invigorated from the nap we took during rest time, right?
It’s time to pack up our finger paints and excuses and grow up. Nations of crybabies don’t last long.