Empower Not Enable the Echo Boomers
By: Archie Wortham

“Mine is to empower, not enable.” I have that on my door at my office. I use it with my email. It reminds of what Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make sure feel inferior except yourself.”

We just celebrated another independence day, a day where we regale have grown into a nation “of, for and by the people.” But what does that mean? Are we more on track than we were when John Kennedy told us, “When the time comes to lay down my life for my country, I do not cower from this responsibility. I welcome it.” I would like to add something for parents. “It’s about rules, and understanding when we raise them to leave, we have to be prepared to make sure we are ready,” and not cower from that responsibility.

A couple of years ago, Ruben Navarrette in a San Antonio Express News editorial entitled “Rearing America’s Work Ethic” epitomized what it means to really parent today. He talked about the Millennial Generation, born between 1982 and 2002 and implied that a good way to solve the immigrant worker problem is to have children who are willing to work; who don’t feel entitled. In countering parents who obviously had issues with Mr. Navarrette tersely worded comments that “not only do illegal immigrants do jobs that Americans won't do, but many of teh jobs they’re doing were once done by young people in their teens and 20s—your sons and daughters—who as a generation have shown themselves to have a terrible work ethic.”

It’s true. Many of today’s teenagers are so self-absorbed in doing things to put on a resume to get them into college, they wouldn’t know what a hard day’s work was if it stared them in the face. Yet as many of you might suspect, the group he was speaking to became angry at him. Why? They couldn’t handle the truth. Granted, their kids volunteered and worked hard at school, but these self-absorbed parents could not answer the question about what was their kids’ job besides school. If the parents can’t answer that, how can their children? School is merely a means toward an end; it’s not an end in itself. I understand and realize this as I refused to give our older son all the stuff some of his friends had. We couldn’t afford it.

We couldn’t afford him relying on us for everything. We told him things like you want $100 shoes when $35 shoes are fine, we’ll give you thirty-five, you earn the other $65. We couldn’t afford them ordering food and then not eating it, so we told them when we go to dinner, we’re not giving you a blank check. We expect you to pay with the money we give you, to include a tip, and any left over you can keep. It’s amazing how many meals they were able to find on the menu for $25 and a tip and have some left over for shoes. As parents, we generally shared dessert with them. We also told them we couldn’t afford a cell phone, or rather until the day came that we as a family needed a cell phone, they needed to find a way to pay for one on their own.

The results? It was hard. We negotiated on some things, but the bottom line was crossed when our older son felt that we weren’t doing as much as we could to satisfy his wants, and felt we should be giving him more. We refused. He threatened to move on and out. We said okay, and he did. We let him. That’s what we raise them for. It was hard. But it’s the best way we felt to correct the ill-gotten mistakes many Baby Boomers made, as they have forgotten what my friend Bea Overton called the second page. The echo-boomers are part of that second page.

They're called "echo boomers" because they're the genetic offspring and demographic echo of their parents, the baby boomers. Born between 1982 and 1995, there are nearly 80 million of them and are destined to become the next dominant generation of Americans. And whether you call them "echo boomers," "Generation Y" or "millennials,” they already make up nearly a third of the U.S. population, and already spend $170 billion a year of their own and their parents' money. As correspondent Steve Kroft first reported in October, 2004, the oldest are barely out of college, and the youngest are still in grade school.

You must not ignore them. They have power and many of them are beginning to realize that, as our son realized if he was going to become a man, he needed to start acting like a man, and standing on his own. That’s what we raised him to do. Made sure he had read the second page, where we were there to help, but not enable.

As I teach, I’ve found, when given the trust and the spirit of real conviction, kids today welcome the opportunity to do something that gives back to this country, when their parents don’t cower from the responsibility of accepting threats, and realize it’s not a popularity contest. That’s where parenting comes in. It’s on our shoulders to clean up the mess we created by having our kids think there are too special to work, only cut out for certain jobs. They have to learn, and it’s better for them to learn why we can still teach and help. We can’t afford to be here because they have drained us, financially, mentally and spiritually.

Once we learn they can survive on their own, if we let them, we understand we can survive without them…and they will let us. If we’ve show them we love them, and encourage them to do the right thing, that’s all we can do…the rest is theirs. Don’t blame them for our mistakes, and don’t allow them to blame us for theirs. Mothers have to let their sons go: wash their own clothes, and cook their own food. Daddies, let your daughters go, she’ll find a good job, be able to take care of herself.

Moms and dads, we must also realize that our children can and will find people they can love and will love them too, as long as they know we respect their choices and respect them by sometimes forcing them to live with the choices they make. We had to!