Friday, June 12, 2015

Kids these days! Rassum frassum...

Kids these days, am I right? 

Actually, no. If I'm about to gripe about how they're less courteous, less playful, bigger wusses, ruder, like stupid music or anything like that; I'm not. At least, I'm not any more correct than the zillions of other people in literally every generation who have said that.

Still, you see it all the time. Lamenting the degradation in today's youth is far from new. Just for fun I Googled various combinations of "kids," "youth," "these days," "generation," and phrases about older writings. It took me about 60 seconds: Turns out in 423 BCE, Aristophanes makes fun of  the idea. That means "kids these days" hasn't just been around for thousands of years; it's been a cliché for thousands of years. One of the latest rants, shared on Facebook by many of my friends lately, most recently has been paired with this image:

And back in the '80s we TOTALLY never complained about having to play with our siblings, and also never snickered at the word "booby."

Here's the text that accompanies it:

It's been going around for a few years, but I just saw it twice this morning and once last week, so I thought I'd pick it apart. Because kids these days are different in some ways, but they're just as good/spunky/nice/responsible and just as rude/lazy/ irritating/preoccupied as we were. I'm as baffled by this as I am by blind patriotism. Congratulations! You were born in a certain place/decade just like me! We're better by default! I was born in 1980, but I don't need the distinction.

My childhood and my son's: TOTALLY DIFFERENT. 

Seriously. There's hardly any similarity at all. 

OK, on to the picking. 

CONGRATULATIONS TO ALL BORN IN 1930’s, 1940’s, 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and Early 80’s !!!
So, like, everyone who's not a kid/young person today. Casting a bit of a wide net, aren't we? This seems to be much more about kids these days than the childhoods of previous generations. You can't tell me that someone born in 1930 has as much in common with someone born in 1980 as that person has in common with a 25-year-old today.

First, you survived being born to mothers who smoked and/or drank while they carried us. They took aspirin, ate blue cheese dressing, tuna from a tin, and didn't get tested for diabetes.
My mom neither smoked nor drank, and felt terrible for the single Tylenol she took across three pregnancies. Turns out there's nothing good or nostalgic about fetal alcohol syndrome. Also, major findings about tuna weren't released until after my own son was born, so it's not like our parents were being reckless—and the study only warns to limit one's tuna intake due to rising mercury levels, a reasonable prevaution. According to the FDA, six ounces a week of tuna should be fine. If you want to be on the safe side that's obviously fine. Looking at the information and eating accordingly is the key—there's nothing wrong with parents who didn't yet have this information nor is there anything wussy about using it now. It's not like this is a dichotomy between absolute paranoia and a total laissez-faire attitude. Either of those is dumb. 

You are supposed to avoid blue cheese, though. (And no, fellow word pedants, I'm not going to pick on the "blue." There's a good case to be made for "blue" cheese.)

And diabetes? For the record, many mothers in these generations would have been tested, since gestational diabetes was discovered several decades ago and can lead to a whole host of complications for the mother and baby, including death. These silly ninnies today; wanting to save people. What are they thinking? 

Then after that trauma, your baby cots were covered with bright colored lead-based paints.  
Lead paint, seriously? You do know lead in many forms is a neurotoxin, right? Ah, for the days of brain damage via lead poisoning. Also, baby cots?

You had no childproof lids on medicine bottles, doors or cabinets and when you rode your bikes, you had no helmets, not to mention, the risks you took hitchhiking ...
Pictured: A childhood devoid of adventure.
I never hitchhiked. Neither did the vast majority of my friends. I have helped, and have been helped, by strangers on the side of the road, but most of those happened in these "overcautious times" in the past decade. I mention this first to differentiate it from the other items in the list, which are merely advances in safety. Why should it be considered "tough" or admirable to do without safety measures that weren't widely available at the time? I know someone who hopped on a bike in his driveway for literally a few minutes, fell, struck his head, and died. Somehow, these stories of fun-times grit ring hollow to me.

As children, you would ride in cars with no seat belts or air bags. Riding in the back of a van - loose - was always great fun.
No air bags in the first several cars; that's correct. But always seat belts. I rode in the back of a van with no seat belt a few times, as well as in the bed of a truck, bouncing around and almost falling out a few times. I'll be honest; it WAS fun. I don't think that was any great consolation when my parents found out. Risking death because "wheeee!" isn't the smartest thing in the world.

You drank water from the garden hosepipe and NOT from a bottle. 
No, we didn't usually do that. I drank water from the faucet growing up, and still do. But you just taught me that "hosepipe" is a word, so thanks!

You shared one soft drink with four friends, from one bottle and NO ONE actually died from this.
People hardly ever intentionally spread germs and backwash around anymore, folks! Childhood as we know it is dead. Seriously: First of all, I never did this as a kid, and still don't. Ick. Second, I know plenty of people from both my childhood and current life who did/do this regularly. Still, ick. Also, are you saying that NO ONE has ever died from spreading germs? Really?

You ate cakes, white bread and real butter and drank pop with sugar in it, but you weren't overweight because... YOU WERE ALWAYS OUTSIDE PLAYING!!
I've consumed or served my kid three of these four things in the last week, along with more healthful fare. He also plays outside. True, it's tough to get him off his butt and outdoors sometimes, but I seem to remember that being a perennial complaint that I heard in my own childhood. In fact, bet you could find "kids these days" comments about every generation, leveled by the one just above them. I'm sure Aristophanes' contemporaries had a thrashing in mind for laze-abouts.  

You would leave home in the morning and play all day, as long as we were back when the streetlights came on. No one was able to reach you all day. And you were OK. You would spend hours building your go-carts out of scraps and then ride down the hill, only to find out you forgot the brakes. After running into the bushes a few times, you learned to solve the problem.
Why are we changing from second person to first person, back to second? Also, nope, never made a go-kart. I did do many dangerous things as a kid, and sure, I learned from them. But I don't think the GOAL was to put myself in danger.

You did not have Playstations, Nintendo's, X-boxes, no video games at all, no 99 channels on cable, no video tape movies, no surround sound, no mobile phones, no text messaging, no personal computers, no Internet or Internet chat rooms.......... 
No, wrong. Nintendo came out in the mid '80s. We had a Nintendo, and in another meme you'd be reminiscing about everyone gathered around it. Also, "video tape movies" were quite prevalent, starting in the late '70s and surging to tens of thousands of rental stores in the '80s. I would wager more '80s kids have fond memories of going to the video rental shop to pick out a movie with their families than risking vehicle-related death. And most of these other things came out during the adolescence of '80s kids.

Look, of course it's possible to misuse or overuse video games and other electronic entertainment. But the idea that any regular use of it is misuse is just dumb. Real-life relationships can be and have been nurtured through computers, text messages, video games and shared television show-watching experiences. If that's all you've got going for you there might be a problem, but that's the case if all you have going for you is volunteering together or taking cruises. It's part of a bigger picture, and Nintendo was part of the life of every early '80s kid I know (and some '70s kids).

YOU HAD FRIENDS and you went outside and found them!
Yeah, my son still does. And he finds them on X-Box Live and over Skype! I know because they annoy me with loud conversations, giggling, and planning social get-togethers. (Did you know it's possible to have an hour-long conversation of veiled silly threats and inside jokes over whether you're "griefing" each other's Minecraft worlds? Yeah, I don't know what that means either, but I gather it's a big deal.) They're getting together next week for a party, talking about their families as I type this, and learn more about each other over a video game chat session than I've learned/divulged over entire visits with adult friends. 

Too bad he doesn't have MY childhood experience of being an awkward loner. The horror.

You fell out of trees, got cut, broke bones and teeth and there were no lawsuits from these accidents you played with worms (well most boys did) and mud pies made from dirt, and the worms did not live in us forever.
Yep! Did all of those thingsand I'll be happy if my son misses the totally mangled arm, knocking out seven teeth and various other injuries I incurred. Just because they make for fun stories doesn't make them desirable. But if he does suffer something similar, he'll be in good companymillions of kids injure themselves playing each year. (Some fraction die. But that doesn't make for a fun, golly-gee meme, does it?) The vast majority of those have no legal repercussions. Also, why would only BOYS play with worms? I proposed to myself with a worm ring. Sorry to nitpick, but I can't help but be unsurprised (but still disappointed) at the latent sexism in this clueless rant.

You made up games with sticks and tennis balls and although you were told it would happen, you did not poke out any eyes.
Was never told that, though we did injure each other a few times. My son LOVES sticks, and has amassed quite a collection. The games he plays with them are endless. We toss out sticks on the sly when he's not looking.

And look. A few times now we've seen the weird claim that we're better ... because things were worse. I'm all for funny tales and nostalgia (things that endangered and/or gravely injured me as a kid include a swing set, a half-built house, the mountains, a tree, another swing set, a set of monkey bars, a swimming pool and a brick, a contraption of my own building, a shoe eyelet, a grill I was trying to light and many more)I get it. It's hilarious and gives you a strange kind of pride. Me too! But are you really saying it's better to be in more danger? You do know it is possible to have fun, even go on adventures, without necessarily risking life and limb, right? And that our kids are free to engage in even more adventures (while, you know, not dying) than we were? Oh noes!

You rode bikes or walked to a friend's house and knocked on the door or rang the bell, or just yelled for them!
No. No, we didn't, because that's freaking annoying. I hate when neighbor kids do that. How hard is it to plan five minutes in advance? These ARE the same folks advocating teaching kids manners, responsibility and common courtesy, right?

Local teams had tryouts and not everyone made the team. Those who didn't had to learn to deal with disappointment. Imagine that!!
I will have to imagine that, because it's not what we experienced. My dad, the most passionate youth athletic coach I ever knew, was also the most compassionate. Every kid made the team (except for all-stars and special cases), and every kid played. If he was going to sub in a new player, he'd leave a kid in until they had a shining moment, even at the expense of the score. Because it turns out that encouraging effort and sportsmanship is more important than vicariously bragging through a number on a scoreboard at a kids' game.

The idea of a parent bailing you out if you broke the law was unheard of. They actually sided with the law.
Maybe, maybe not. When I stole candy my mom made me bring it back and formally apologize to the store manager. When I  got speeding tickets I got a what-did-you-expect lecture. But I was also told if I were ever arrested for protesting for a good cause, or if I ever found myself in too deep (even if it WAS my fault) that I could count on my parents. Because that's what good parents do. We've continued the policy with our son.

This generation has produced some of the best risk-takers, problem solvers and inventors ever! The past 50 years have been an explosion of innovation and new ideas. You had freedom, failure, success and responsibility, and you learned HOW TO DEAL WITH IT ALL! And YOU are one of them! CONGRATULATIONS!
Well, sure! There are greats, lows and highs in every generation. We should be proud. We should also make use of those problem-solving skills and insights to see where we can still improve. Because I sure hope this generation didn't produce the least self-aware, most sanctimonious group ever.

And it's not "this generation." Unless the Greatest Generation and early Gen Y are now the same generation.

You might want to share this with others who have had the luck to grow up as kids, before the lawyers and the government regulated our lives for our own good. And while you are at it, forward it to your kids so they will know how brave their parents were.
You might want to share my notes with others who had the luck to grow up during some damned good years, but still recognize strides we've made since then. While you're at it, forward it to everyone who thinks law, regulation and government are new-fangled concepts; and talk to your kids about your real childhoods, while also valuing theirs.


We all think our own everything is the best. If we seriously apply that logic to kids or society these days, though, we've been getting worse with every passing generation. I tend to think the opposite is true: By most measurements (with notable exceptions in the environment and current economic hardships), we're getting better with each passing generation. Social justice and acceptance. Gender equality. Racial equality. Infant mortality. Maternal mortality. Teen pregnancy and drug use. Worldwide education. There are dips, for sure, but we're headed in the right direction, and often thanks to advances that new generations thought of or challenges the newer generations overcame. We've all but eradicated many deadly diseases, for heaven's sake. Here's the key, though: We can't be complacent. All these things have improved in our lifetimes. That is, in the days after those halycon days of your childhood. Say all you want about how tough you were as a grubby little rugrat; I'll take seat belts. 

Want to raise a child as resilient, motivated, imaginative and tough as you were? How about telling them about your childhood, and then asking about theirs? What about exploring the ways the world has gotten better since they've been born? What about exploring how they can help make it better? Don't tell them you "had freedom" in your childhood. Tell them they still have it. 

Unless you think we peaked with dangerous cars and brakeless go-karts. Unless you don't trust this generation to produce brave kids too. Me, I'm looking at one right now.

Just a snapshot my son's anti-social, over-stimulated indoor childhood.