Oh boy. Here it comes: the parental diatribe on how incredibly hard life was growing up and how ridiculously easy kids have it these days. Cover your ears and run from the room screaming as the pontificating starts:
- When I was your age, if we wanted to watch TV, our only options were black and white or a fuzzy snow screen. And there weren’t 163 channels. On Demand? What: are you nuts? Who were we to demand anything? We were at the mercy of the three major networks. Are you whining because you can’t find anything on Nickelodeon, Disney Channel or Cartoon Network? Don’t you know how lucky you are? When I was your age we had cartoons once a week on Saturday morning. One lousy morning a week, for crying out loud! You punks don’t know anything about suffering.
- Are you complaining about writing a book report? When I was your age, if we had to write a book report we actually had to go into this deathly silent mortuary called a library. And use the Dewey Decimal system to look things up! The Doo-eee what? Google-Schmogoogle! You don’t know how lucky you are to plunk your little tush in a comfy chair, in the privacy of your own home, and Google to your heart’s content while researching, checking Facebook, eating chips and listening to your iPod. Are you crying because the Internet is loading to slow? I’ll give ya something to cry about.
- When I was your age, we didn’t have fast-food. We were lucky to have food at all. In fact, have you seen the Four Yorkshiremen? Take that, you ingrate!
Now raise your hand if you ever told yourself you would never be that kind of a parent. Come on, it’s bad enough you are a hypocrite, but don’t be a liar, too. Listen, I am right there with you: I heard the diatribe growing up, and what’s worse, I heard in it in a rapid-fire stream of Spanish from a crazy Latin mama. I am still in therapy to this day. And I promised myself I would never pull a “Cuando Yo Fue Una Nina” on my munchkins.
I am keeping that promise.
Instead of ranting, I am taking a real look at how things are for kids these days. I work at a K-12 school and over the years have observed kid culture up close and personal. (A little too close. “Um, would you mind removing your half-eaten lunch off my desk? And the smelly gym clothes?”)
Sure, they have a lot more creature comforts than we did growing up. The little twerps have a sportier car then me! They have more cool technology and gadgets: cell phones, iPads, iMacs, and iDontknowwhyyouhaveitandidont. But that all comes with a price. They have “stuff” and “easy lives” we never had, but that doesn’t mean their lives are better. Look around and it is easy to see that kids deal with a more complicated, convoluted world than we ever did.
Bullying: Bullying began when Cain killed Abel, and ever since then everybody picks on their little brother. These days, though, the viciousness and frequency is alarming. Its prevalence is fueled by social media. It was bad enough when we got picked on at school, but we could go home and escape. Our kids don’t even have that refuge anymore. The ridicule lives forever online and it hounds them. The incessant nature of this type of harassment has led to tragic teen suicides.
Early Sexualization: Our kids are exposed to sexuality earlier and earlier with damaging results to their psyche and self-esteem. Preteen girls worry about how pretty they are, or how “hot” they are. Boys are told in subtle ways that it’s okay to view girls as casual sexual partners and that hooking-up is what every normal kid does. When I was a preteen I worried about losing my house key, not my virginity. I worried about catching hell from my mother if I didn’t clean my room, not catching an STD. There was no sexting growing up, so the chances of a naked picture of you being passed around to the entire school were nil. Today, this happens commonly with horrific results.
Pressure to Achieve: Kids these days are staggering under a mountain of pressure. They are pressured to do well academically, and athletically. When we were growing up we did not have AP classes. At the most, you might be tagged, “gifted” and given a somewhat modified curriculum to keep you from being totally bored in school, (or making the teacher look dumb). But for the most part, everyone took regular classes and did just fine in college. Nowadays it is almost a requirement to take X amount of AP classes if you want to go to college. There is a boatload of AP summer work that has to be done before the first day of school.
Can you imagine if we had summer homework growing up? That would have been an oxymoron. Anyone caught doing homework in the summer would have been committed to Sunny Hill Farm for the Disturbed. The summer vacation we all knew and loved is a Smithsonian relic.
And little league? It used to be fun, but now it’s the first step in a fast track athletic career, that leads to hours upon hours of practice in hopes of being the Golden One.
The Electronic Age: It is almost considered an Olympic feat if a kid can finish a book, focus for more than two minutes or construct a sentence longer than 140 characters. The hyper stimulation of the electronic age, including social media and excessive screen time, has truly rewired our kids’ brains. We no longer have teenagers, we have screenagers. Studies have shown the truncated ability to focus has long-term implications for cognitive development and healthy mental maturation. So, they have it easy with their 163 channels, but do they have it better?
Every generation thinks the following generation is a pack of hopeless slackers, doomed to a vapid existence. Weren’t the hippies all going to hell in a hand basket? (And why is it always a hand basket? Can’t people go to hell in a wheelbarrow or a bread box?)
Are there things we need to make sure our kids learn? Yes. Maybe not in the exact same way, but generally.
A solid work ethic (When I was your age, we did chores every day).
Respect for authority (When I was your age, if I sassed my mom I got my mouth washed out with soap).
Reverence for God (When I was your age, only the most horrible and rotten of sinners used God’s name as a swear word).
Love of neighbor (When I was your age, we took meals to the crabby lady down the street even though she was a pain).
There are timeless truths we need to teach, but we also need to remember our kids live in a different era. Next time we are tempted to drag them to When-I-Was-Your-Age-Ville, let’s remember our kids may have it easier materially, but they also live in world that was utterly unimaginable in our time. Let’s help them navigate that world with compassion and understanding.
Black and white scrollbar image: Creative Commons