Sunday, 26 July 2015

Beyond Comprehension

I want to start this post with a general spiel about what people consider normal, or refer to an article I've read recently, or any of the usual intros that these things often kick off with but this time I honestly can't.

What I'm starting with is this: my 21 year old cousin does not know how to cut her own fingernails.

Yes, you read that correctly.

I've always known she was sheltered, a bit lazy, and that her parents do more for her than they should* but this was the first time that I truly grasped the magnitude of the issue.

We were at a family gathering and halfway through she realised that she had netball afterwards and had to trim her fingernails first or she wouldn't be allowed on the court.

She didn't have anything useful with her so she started biting them off.

Seeing what she was up to, I pulled out a basic set of nail clippers that I keep in my handbag and passed them over.
These sort of dealies, you know the ones.
She thanked me, put them over the end of her nail without opening them and then proceeded to swivel them about, trying to get them to work like a man unsure of how to apply a can opener to a can in a way that will produce food.

Starting to get a bit worried now, I said 'oh here let me get that' and popped them open for her and demonstrated the clipping motion.
She thanked me again, applied the clippers to her fingernail, clamped down and then instead of clipping through, ripped the end of her nail off, then calmly applied it to her next fingernail to do the same.

At this point I think my brain started screaming, and a nail later I managed to get my body to move, plucked them out of her grip and said 'let me tidy those up for you'** and cut her nails for her because Jesus Electric Sliding Christ!

How do you get to 21 without learning how to cut your own nails?

This means that someone else has been doing it for 21 years!

Outside of the times she's presumably gnawed them off.

And if she hasn't learned how to trim her own nails what else hasn't she learned?

There have been a lot of articles written about helicopter parenting*** in the last decade particularly.

Articles about how helicopter parenting is leaving adults stuck in adolescence because overly helpful parents have sought to protect them from disappointment too effectively or have not been able to step back and allow them to learn from their own mistakes.

Articles about how parents are pushing their children into learning environments or professions that make them miserable in the belief that they're setting them up for success later in life which will counterbalance today's misery with future happiness and security.

One of the most extreme manifestations of this inability to deal with 'the real world' or life in general comes in the form of Japan's Hikikomori, individuals so overcome by the pressure to succeed or the fear of social missteps that they lock themselves in their rooms, barely emerging for years.

This of course the extreme but it all has to start somewhere.

Wanting your child to be successful, to achieve their potential, is an admirable goal but it has to be seen within the context of a full life.

Kids also have to be taught how to manage their time, to cook, to take care of themselves, and to balance priorities.

This means introducing chores, encouraging them to manage their own responsibilities during childhood and letting them experience the consequences of failing.

I know my parents bailed me out more than a few times when I panicked about having left an assignment until the last minute or accidentally left it at home and begged for someone to run it to me at school during lunch time so I wouldn't get in trouble.

They also let me fall on my face sometimes so that I realised that I'm the person who needed to remember to do my homework because no-one else was going to do it for me.

My Dad wouldn't give me the answers, he would ask me questions until I started forming my own.

It was a balance that did see me wide-eyed and more than a little nervous at the idea of failing academically but in a position where I could - after having a bit of a panic - manage to talk myself down and through what I needed to get done.

I'm still a bit prone to doing things at the last minute because I know I'm smart enough to get away with it in certain situations but I've also come up against enough situations where being smart doesn't cut it because the task required time and effort to be put into it that couldn't be papered over with a good vocabulary.

But I learned this through trial and error, sometimes having to run smack bang into consequences multiple times before the lesson stuck.

Without encountering natural low-risk failures during their younger years, kids can't possibly get a realistic view of what failure means and how to cope with it or overcome it as they get older.

Every prospective failure will be seen as terrifying.

And you will end up with someone who can't cook, doesn't clean up after themselves, drops out of multiple university courses and can't cut their own fingernails.

Because good lord, there is an age at which children should be put in charge of their own personal grooming and it is a lot younger than twenty-friggin'-one!

*She's been diagnosed with a borderline personality disorder in the last 4 years so now the waiting on her is more of a 'keep an eye on her so she doesn't hurt herself' thing rather than anything else but I can't help but think that if they had given her more rules to follow and boundaries to respect that 'none', she would have been in a better place to deal with her mental illness.

**I know I should have shown her how to use them properly and returned them to her but by this stage I just couldn't bear the idea of her doing something else outlandish. I did point out that if you squeeze them firmly they cut right through and I had shown her how to open them and close them but I'm guessing the lesson won't have stuck.

***See, this is where I would have started this post if I could have stopped my brain wailing 'Her nails! Can't even cut her own nails!'

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