Archive for category Children

Let Children Play

Debra Harrell became a social media celebrity when she was arrested for letting her nine year old play in a park without supervision

Debra Harrell became a social media celebrity when she was arrested for letting her nine year old play in a park without supervision

In a surreal story that made its way on Facebook, a South Carolina woman was arrested for child abandonment for allowing her little girl, age 9, play in a park all day while she worked at McDonalds to provide for the family.

Still, yeah, I get it.  Nine may be too young for that.  Though I’m pretty sure the odds of something bad happening to the girl would be greater if she rode in the car to her mom’s job and spent the day at McDonalds.   But the initial result – the woman was arrested, her daughter taken away and she lost her job  – was absurd overkill.

Luckily the backlash has gotten her reunited with her daughter and she’s back working as a shift manager at McDonalds.  She still has a court date ahead though – and if it wasn’t for social media spreading her story, who knows what would have happened!

It still says something about our society.   Everything is so controlled and regulated that parents have to worry that any misjudgment might get reported by some nosy adult.   An 11 year old didn’t want to go into the store so her mom ran in leaving the girl in the car just a few minutes.   An adult saw the child, called the cops, and the mom was arrested.   Huh?  The girl was happy, there was no abuse, but the police swooped in.

They said it was 85 degrees outside, the windows were closed and the car wasn’t running.   But the girl wasn’t hot, and hey – she’s ELEVEN!  I’ve known 11 year olds who babysit!  She can open the door and join her mom in the store if she wants.   It’s not like she’s a dog unable to operate the door handles.

When my kids went to day care I had to send food for lunch.   Both were somewhat picky eaters, so I made sure that I sent food they’d like.  It wasn’t always government approved healthy.  Luckily I don’t live in Manitoba where I could be fined for such a thing.  The unhealthy lunch in question?  Left over roast beef, potatoes, carrots, an orange and milk.   How could they feed their child such rubbish!  Luckily the day care gave her Ritz crackers to make it healthy.  I mean, HUH?

What this does, of course, is push parents away from allowing kids unsupervised creative play.  If I let my kids, aged 11 and 8, go on a bike ride around town, will someone think it’s unsafe and that they should be supervised?   If they go across the street to the playground, do I have to be there with them the whole time?

Of course not, kids need freedom to explore.  If every activity is supervised and controlled, they’ll not learn how to improvise and make do with whatever life gives them.  They’ll want some kind of formula or activity – or else be bored.

Since nature is so dangerous, parents rely on the safety of videogames.  It keeps kids inside and safe.

Since nature is so dangerous, parents rely on the safety of videogames. It keeps kids inside and away from all those dangers out in the world.

Parents respond to the societal push towards rigidity and control by allowing kids the freedom to do one thing nobody will get in trouble for: play video games.  You can shop, drive, or do anything with your kids heads focused on screens and nobody will bother you.  That is far more accepted than a little creative unsupervised free time.

The culprit here isn’t just the state, but all those businesses and companies that make money off of kids.  Nobody makes money when kids run out to explore the local stream or trails.  Yet if my 11 year old falls off his bike two miles from home, someone will certainly wonder why I would let him ride so far unsupervised.

Then there is fear.  Parents imagine what could happen, no matter how unlikely, and think it will if they don’t protect their kids.  People get so obsessed with safety that they lose a rational capacity to calculate probability.   Many activities that people think are dangerous are far more safe than a car ride across town.

When I was 11 I explored Sioux Falls on my bike from one end to the other, and I’d zoom down hills reaching 40 MPH (I had a speedometer), having to be really careful no cars were coming down the cross streets.  I’d spend hours away from home, stopping by friends, exploring or just being a kid.   Yes, I’d read, watch too much TV and sometimes have to be pushed out the door.  But no one was going to arrest my mom when my sister and I would walk to the park when I was nine (and she was seven).

finland

Schools play into this by demanding more work, tests, and seat time, leaving kids only a few hours a day for real play – and much of that gets taken up by lessons, activities or clubs.   Recess ceases in sixth grade, and parents complain about early release days.   I don’t mean this as criticism of the schools or teachers – I was President of the PTA last year at my younger son’s school and really admire the work they do.

And in rural Maine I think we have a bit more common sense.  When my youngest was in first grade he was playing with a nerf gun in the car – and proceeded to walk into school with it.  My eldest told me that he took the gun in so I headed back to the school.  The staff thought it was funny – and apparently my son turned it in voluntarily, realizing he shouldn’t have it there.  But geez, in some suburban areas I’d probably have been arrested!   Sending a kid to school with a toy gun!  And, of course, many would think I was a horrible parent, worthy of jail, for letting my first grade son have toy weapons!

So I don’t worry that the parent police will get on my case here, and there are local streams, trails, and play areas for the kids to explore.  Yes, unlike me they have to wear bike helmets when they ride, but at least they can ride.  Let kids play.  They’ll have enough serious time when they have to pay the bills and work.  This time should be magical.  They need to be in nature, not just learn about the environment.  And give parents leeway to decide what their kid can handle.

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Children are not property

The Daily Beast reports another bout of silliness  by the religious right in the reaction to a statement by Melissa Harris-Perry that “Your kids don’t belong to you-but the whole community”?

Now, I can see someone not liking the statement, but the silliness is where they go with it.  They trot out the old 20th Century foes of “communism” and “Leninism” to make it sound like the goal of the “left” is to confiscate children and make them loyal to the “state” because they “belong” to the whole community.

Do you belong to a community?  Of course!   You belong to many communities; we all do.  I belong to the Farmington community, the Mallett PTA community, the University community, the community of faculty who lead travel courses, etc.   Belonging to a community is not communistic, it is natural.

Children belong to the whole community, not just the school community or the community of parents.  They will work to support the retiring generation, they will keep society going and enhance the life of the community.   Her point was not to say that the community should control children, but that we should invest in education and programs to help make sure our children have the best possible future.

So why the wild reaction?   One word: property.   Some groups on the religious right have a notion that children can be seen as the property of the parents.   The parents can raise them as they want, educate them or not educate them, indoctrinate them, control them, and sometimes even abuse them.   To these people the parent owns the child, just as a master might own a slave.

Such thinking is inhumane.   Children are humans with all the rights of any human.    Beyond that if you look at human history we are by nature a collectivist species.  We form families and villages.  Villages look at the good of the whole, including not just all the people but the traditions and values of the community, as being more important than the individual.  This is true world wide, and throughout history.

Erich Fromm notes that what changed in the West was the process of individuation, whereby people started to separate from the community and think in terms of their own self-interest.   This is not a bad thing.  It is a particular part of our culture.   That individuation is why we strive, compete and progress – why we reject traditions and embrace change ranging from giving women equal rights to allowing gay marriage.

Yet this capacity for progress rests on a potential contradiction with our collective nature.   We still yearn to form communities.   Look at the popularity of social media, Facebook and blogger communities.    People have psychological difficulties with the demands of trying to be an individual responsible for their own happiness and choices, ranging from depression to anxiety and eating disorders.    People try to escape the pressure of the modern world through alcohol, drugs and other addictions.     We seek the comfort of tradition and a supportive village in a world that finds us disconnected and on our own.   Life for us has become materially easy and psychologically/spiritually difficult.

Which brings us back to the children.   The greatest gift we can give the next generation is the capacity to exercise their cultural individualism with a proper respect for community.   Respect means to recognize I do belong to my community.  I am part of it, I should act to support it and others who are in it.    Individualism requires that people be strong enough to be themselves rather than conform to the expectations of others, secure enough to look inside and learn who they are without feeling like their real self is weird or inadequate, and tolerant enough to accept the choices others make in expressing their individualism.

We have to give children the tools to navigate a world that can be daunting and intimidating.  Only if they learn to be strong, secure and tolerant individuals with respect for their community can they live awake, not giving in to the cultural hypnosis aided by marketers trying to define what one needs to be happy, normal or ‘acceptable.’   They will rejoice in who they are, rather than fear that others will see beneath the facade.  They will accept others for who they are, making real friendship and love, both personal and within the community, possible.

Unfortunately, the lack of funding for education, the removal of the arts from so many school districts (while competitive sports remain hot), the lack of respect for teachers, and our fetish with an individualism devoid of community with children seen as akin property, makes it difficult to give children the life skills they need to remain strong, secure and tolerant.   I take that as Melissa Harris-Perry’s point, and agree.

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The Spirit of Sandy

Make "Sandy" a word meaning action

Make “Sandy” a word meaning action

With all due respect to those of you out there named Sandy, the destruction of hurricane Sandy and the trauma of the Sandy Hook shootings cause me to think maybe “Sandy” should become a word to embrace.   The “spirit of Sandy” should be a call to action in defiance of the odds, a motivation to make fundamental changes to our world to make it a better place.

“Sandy” may seem like a nominal link between two tragedies, best left unnoticed.  I disagree,  I propose to turn it into a word of change and transformation.   For example, the “spirit of Sandy”  is seen in the actions of Sandy Hook teacher Vicki Soto, who died while trying to save her students from the crazed killer.   She had told friends the day before she loved her 16 “angels.”  On the day of the killing she hid them in the closets and told the gunman her kids were having class in the gym.  He shot and killed her.   Her angels survived.

Vicki Soto, hero, displayed the "spirit of Sandy"

Vicki Soto, hero, displayed the “spirit of Sandy”

These tragedies point to two issues that threaten our children’s future: climate change and violence.  I’m not ready to make Sandy Hook primarily about guns.  Yes, our level of gun violence is so much higher than any other industrialized state that anyone saying guns aren’t a cause can’t be taken seriously.   We also have high levels of accidental gun death, recently I read about a three year old shooting himself.

Yet here in Maine we have lots and lots of guns.   We are very safe.   If I forget to lock the door, I don’t worry.  If I see a guy with a rifle walking along the road, chances are he’s clothed in orange and looking for deer or whatever is in season.  It’s about the kind of weapons available, and also about mental health, our culture, and our attitudes.  To turn this into a question of gun control is to belittle it.  We need to look more fully at what kind of society we have become.

We need to embrace the spirit of Sandy.   (Hey, Steven Colbert started a word with Truthiness, maybe I can do this with “the spirit of Sandy”!)  Ask difficult questions, change course, try to bring our culture to a better place.  Compromise on gun control, improve mental health awareness and support, and display the “spirit of Sandy” with acts of kindness.

Strange weather

Strange weather

Hurricane Sandy needs to open our eyes to the real problem of climate change.   There is every reason to do something.  While the US has dithered, the Europeans have not only met the Kyoto Accord targets, but proved that it not only didn’t hurt their economy to do so, but it gave them a leap forward on green technology.

Climate change is real.  Islands in the South Pacific are sinking, some are signing agreements for population transfers in the coming years.  Yet in the US big money wants to try to obfuscate, hide the science, raise questions, and stymie political action.

Sandy must mean courage – we need the “spirit of Sandy” to recognize that the world we give our children requires on making wise and courageous judgments today.

The spirit of Sandy is the spirit of liberty

The spirit of Sandy is the spirit of liberty

The “spirit of Sandy” must entail the courage to confront issues that were deemed too hard or controversial.  Not to choose the path of least resistance, but the path of change and transformation.

We’re on the edge of a new century.  Technology is changing rapidly, our world is in motion.  The problems that confront us can’t be solved with the old thinking of self interest, us vs. them, and fear of difference.   The spirit of Sandy is to embrace new thinking: us with them, and an embrace of difference!

The tragedies that came in the latter half of 2012 don’t have to be seen as meaningless.    These can awaken us to a better future.   Change is difficult.  Transformation requires sacrifice.   But with the “spirit of Sandy” we can work towards a better future for our children.

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Lives in the Balance

childsoldier2

The descriptions are heart wrenching.   Young boys and girls taken from their homes, forced to become killers and/or sex slaves.   Boys having their skin scrapped so cocaine can be rubbed right into their blood stream before a battle, told that if they have faith they’ll be invincible.    Even when rescued, they often find themselves unable to fit into normal life. How can you kill, maim, and brutalize at age 13, feeling powerful and in control, and then suddenly blend into village life?

How can you go from having people cower in fear at the sight of you to begging for food or doing a menial job for people who you know you could terrorize and kill?

I admit, I had tears in my eyes much of Friday as I read about the heinous school shooting in Connecticut.   Having two children (ages 9 and 6) I imagined myself in the shoes of their parents.  I visualized what it would be like to have my six year old screaming as someone pointed a gun to his head and blew it away.   I let myself imagine those images in order to not let my mind abstract the suffering that this act brought about.

Children being led to safety Friday after the shooting

Children being led to safety Friday after the shooting

Yet, as debate turns to gun control, school security and other such “solutions,” I think about other children.   Dr. Mellisa Clawson and I co-teach a course on Children and War.   It includes child soldiers, families in war zones, the children of deployed American troops, and children growing up in gang ridden ghettos.

Back when my oldest son was three I got a book called Shake Hands with the Devil by Romeo Dallaire.  Dallaire was the Commander of UNAMIR, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Rwanda, from 1993 to 1994.   Pleading for support and more soldiers he watched the Rwandan genocide unfold as the Hutu majority tried to exterminate the Tutsi minority.   Instead of stopping the killing, the UN pulled thousands out of his mission leaving him with just 250 soldiers to protect groups of Tutsis who happened to get to a UN zone.

Not an easy read, but one of the important books of our time

Not an easy read, but one of the important books of our time

Dallaire’s ordeal itself is worth learning about – he went from suffering PTSD and attempting suicide to now being a true humanitarian fighting against the use of child soldiers.    But I still remember the day I got his book.    I had just brought the kids home from day care and the three year old wanted to play in the driveway.   His younger brother was still an infant asleep in the car seat.  So I took a chair and started reading while my son was playing.

In the introduction Dallaire describes a time when his convoy was stopped and he saw a three year old boy nibbling on a UN biscuit.  The boy looked lost.  Dallaire had warned his troops not to get emotionally connected to the children they saw – they couldn’t bring them all into the compound.  But he broke his own rule.  He followed the boy to a hut, where the child stepped over his dead father and went over and snuggled against his dead mom, still trying to eat the biscuit.

Dallaire lost his capacity to close off the pain.   He said he decided then and there to adopt the boy.  He picked him up and started carrying him back to his vehicle, but before he got there Tutsi boys came and demanded the boy.  “He has to be raised by his own people,” they curtly told Dallaire.  These boys were 12 or 13 and well armed.  They snatched the boy and disappeared.

I put the book down and looked at my son and imagined that happening to him.   I sat in the garage with tears running down my cheeks thinking about him in such a situation.   I vowed to inject the human side of world politics into my courses — we Americans get used to abstracting the violence and suffering into concepts and terms we can discuss with apparent intelligence but no feeling.    But if we lose the sentiment, we lose the humanity.

These things cross my mind in the wake of the shooting.   20 dead children is a tragedy, horrific and vile.  Yet these children aren’t more valuable than children being manipulated and brutalized in war zones or young girls being turned into sex slaves.

These things are on going.  Every day there are lives in the balance.   So I feel a bit put off by the Facebook posts of people sharing a “prayer chain,” listing the names of the children or getting into emotional debates about gun control.   I felt the national pain on Friday, I had tears just like the President did as I thought about it.   But what do we do next?

Thinking of his daughters, the President let his emotion show

Thinking of his daughters, the President let his emotion show

We spend a lot of money on weapons systems, corporate welfare, and ways to support huge financial institutions because they drive the economy.   With a fraction of that money and a fraction of the energy there could be a global focus on bringing stability to sub-Saharan Africa, creating conditions where communities there could be self-sustaining, and do immense good.

The same groups that hate any kind of gun control here don’t want the US to participate in the UN Small Arms Treaty being negotiated.   They claim it will circumvent the constitution.   They’re wrong – no treaty can do that, by law any treaty that violates the constitution is invalid.   What they don’t want anything that might suggest guns are bad.  Yet those flows of small arms into these war zones is one reason we have so many child soldiers and war lords operating in areas of anarchy.

As the Jackson Browne song notes, "there are lives in the balance."

As the Jackson Browne song notes, “there are lives in the balance.”

So yes, let’s debate gun control and domestic issues.   But I wish that we’d expand our vision a bit and think about children suffering violence and despair elsewhere, especially since our weapons and policies helped create conditions where these problems could fester.   Wouldn’t it be nice if the emotion people feel after a tragedy could yield long term action on a variety of fronts to protect children rather than either fading away after the media cycle or getting gobbled up by partisan fights over guns and schools?

Because tragedies like the Connecticut school shooting happen every day.   We just don’t notice them.

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My Father and Me by Ryan Erb

My son Ryan is in the third grade, and as an assignment he had to write something about his father to give me for Father’s Day.   Needless to say, it made me feel real good, even if he does emphasize buying things a bit much!  This is what he wrote:

My Father and Me by Ryan Erb (for Father’s Day)

My father has (many times) gone out of his way to help me.  Most recent of all, he spent FIFTY dollars to fix my favorite video game.  Also, he is understanding when I can’t go ghost hunting (new hobby) and I get mad.  He listens to me when I have something to say.  He helps me on everything.  And he never gives up (except homework).  He has bought a lot of stuff for me and he’s still buying more.  Like ghost hunting equipment.  Life is good.

I think my father (Scott Erb) is the best father ever.  It’s like he knows the future of what will happen and what I want to happen.  I also love that if I fail, he doesn’t regret having me as a son.   He taught me a lot of things over the years, like riding a bike or using a video camera.  There ain’t nothing he can’t do!  His attitude is so strong that if he were falling out of an airplane to his death he’ll say “Wow, it’s a nice view up here.”   Life is good.

So I thank him for all that and much, much more.  It’s like I was given super luck or something to have him.  He’s so nice.  He is going to take me ghost hunting at Nordica!  Yes.  He literally reserved Nordica for me to ghost hunt.  Yes, a real haunted location.  He’s even letting me drive his car!  And we use ghost hunting equipment!  (You already know).  He tries everything to make me happy!  He took me (when I was five) to Chucky Cheese when our cat died.  Life is good.

I am like way too lucky to have him as my guardian.  I appreciate everything that he did for me.  Our bond is UNBREAKABLE.  I mean literally.  Thank you so much Father.  Life is good.

You comfort me Dad and when I need it, you do everything you can.  Sometimes I feel like you’re magic, you’re so good.  Life is good.

Poem:

You comfort when I need it.

You help me when it happens.

You bring joy and happiness right into me.

You come under, and over obstacles for me.

You are more than just a father.

You are mine.

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Male and Female

Watch that Youtube video.   It’s only a couple minutes long.  It’s a powerful poem by Lauren Zuniga to the Oklahoma state legislature concerning their efforts to force women to get ultra sounds or other things before having an abortion.

This post isn’t about abortion or the Oklahoma legislature.   What this poem really symbolizes is how little empathy and understanding we men often have for the life experiences of women.

Men often complain about how mistreated they are, especially white men.   They complain that affirmative action leads to reverse discrimination, that women get better treatment and that somehow white males are victims of a wave of political correctness.  That’s utter nonsense.   Not only are white males still disproportionately wealthy and powerful, but very few ever suffer reverse discrimination.   Sometimes if a woman gets a job males wanting the job will all think that it should have been them, but in the world of discrimination and victimization, white males suffer very, very little.

But it’s deeper than that.   The reality of how different life is for men than women really hit me when I was in grad school, working late in the computer lab at the University of Minnesota.  It was 10:30 and a female student was getting ready to go, and asked if anyone else was leaving.  Someone was, in ten minutes or so.   She asked if he could walk with her to the parking ramp.   Simply, she didn’t want to be alone on that walk.

That concern would never have occurred to me.   I would walk home, sometimes through sketchy sections of downtown, pretty late at night.  I was young, had long hair and figured I’d just blend into the scenery.   A woman would not have that freedom.   Things I took for granted were often due to my male gender.   Sure, I could be assaulted or mugged, but the risk was different, and perceived very differently.

When it comes to public policy issues such as abortion, aid for dependent children, food stamps, child care, health care for children, etc., it’s much easier for men to take a very abstract perspective on these issues.   Dismiss such aid as coming from “hard working taxpayers” to “loafers.”   To accuse women having kids just to get welfare money.   That happens, but rarely.   It isn’t as real to us because no matter how progressive or forward thinking we are, males usually are not the ones that have to deal with unwanted pregnancies and trying to raise children alone.   Men can still disappear.  Or as in the poem above, men can assault and get away with it, paying no consequences.

One hopes that perpetrators of violence and disrespect end up feeling karmic retribution.

But for women, these issues are real.  If she has a child her life is forever changed, and she may not be able to give the child the care and attention it deserves.   Adoption is an option, but even that comes after a life altering episode.  Suddenly she’ll have to deal with issues like how to have a career, what to do about child care, how to feed the child properly, how to get adequate health care.   And while the Rush Limbaughs of the world might sneer that “that’s the consequence of having sex,” it’s a consequence that men can quite often evade.

And when the man does get caught and is forced to pay child care, the tables get turned.  Suddenly that’s not fair — the woman could have had an abortion, why should he have to pay for years because of one mistake?   A lot of women must shake their head at such a complaint and think “welcome to our world.”

So if you oppose abortion, support expanding health care to all children, support food stamps, after school programs, free day care, and efforts to help such women get real careers.   Make it as easy as possible for women to go through the trauma of having their lives turned upside down.   Make it easy for the children to have quality opportunities.   Have a huge infrastructure of support available, disconnected from religious organizations with side agendas.

Even if all that were to get done, we men have to avoid the arrogance of talking down to or about women who are in these circumstances.  That’s why Rush Limbaugh’s comments were far more vile than Bill Maher calling Sarah Palin a “cunt.”  Calling politicians offensive names is common, but attacking women for having to deal with difficult circumstances men like Rush easily evades is disgusting.   For men to accuse women of wanting to avoid the “consequences of sex” is obscene given how easily and often men avoid those same consequences.

None of this is meant to say that women are oppressed and downtrodden.  The overall situation now is so much better than a generation ago, women have real opportunities and discrimination has been declining.   And certainly there are aspects of life where being a woman is easier than being a man.  But on issues like abortion, birth control, rape/sexual assault and all sorts of issues involving children, schools and health care, we men have to be far more sensitive to the very different experiences of women.

And it’s not just men either.   Some women can be even more judgmental if they either never were in such a situation or if they fought through such circumstances — they may think ‘if I can do it, so can they.’   But life doesn’t work that way; context shapes individuals as much as innate character and life experiences are diverse.  It’s easy to stand on the side lines, abstract the issues away from their human meaning and then judge and pontificate. For some people, that can create a sense of self-righteous pride.   But it’s a misplaced delusion.

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Street Collage

“And if you’ve got enough money where you don’t have to work, let’s face it, who wants to work? There’s no reason why anybody, that five generations of people got to be on welfare…Kids nowadays, that’s the whole thing, too much money, they’ve got too much money. They don’t have to struggle and work for things like when I was growing up had to do. And I was lucky if I got that job delivering hats in a hat store for twenty-five cents per hat. Too much money today is with the young kids, everything was handed to ’em, and that’s why they are the way they are.”

If you read that quote and reflect, you may find yourself agreeing. This generation of kids grew up with DVDs, cell phones, computers, video games and everything they wanted just handed to them. This is why they’re “the way they are” – selfish, lazy, unambitious, entitled, etc. Yup, not like when my generation grew up, we had to work!

Teens often seem entitled, aloof and arrogant to many

However, the quote comes from a street interview (not sure if it’s real or staged) in the middle of the song “Movement for the Common Man” on the album Styx I, which was released in 1972. That means that the ‘young people’ talked about in that quote are probably nearing 60.

In other words, how elders view youth hasn’t changed much in 40 years, even if today’s elders are yesterday’s youth! Why would that be? First, consider another part of that track “Street Collage” from Movement for the Common Man:

Well, you see now, I’m a depression baby and I remember the WPA. If we could just start the same thing again and get people working out there, why not? Is it too menial for somebody to sweep the street?

The elders of 1972 looking at the youth of that time compared them to the depression era. By the early seventies consumerism was beginning, the convenience society was forming (TV dinners were becoming standard fare, the microwave oven was gaining popularity. 40,000 were in use in 1970, by 1975 it was 1,000,000. Fast food was popular, but not yet omnipresent. McDonalds still kept track of how many million had been sold, not just “millions and millions.”

And then there’s this, from the same section of the song:

I had one gentlemen get in — No offense to you gentlemen, he had long hair and a beard — And I told him, he had better go home and take a bath; He had B.O. so bad, it was terrible! I said “You might be educated, but did your parents tell you to go dirty?”

It was the era of the hippies, protesters against the war, for civil rights, and sometimes against the western industrialized society completely. Having survived the depression and used to being thankful for a chance to make money, the counter culture movement of the seventies was a different cultural world. Emblematic of this is a television show that started in January 1971, All in the Family. Just consider the opening tune:

Those were the days! Now many “elders” look at see gays marrying, have the same reaction to Occupy Wall Street that their parents or grandparents had to Vietnam war protesters, and see a youth that has grown up in a time of plenty being used to having material abundance. Beyond that there are cell phones, video games, facebook (and the younger generation seems to disregard the intense concern about privacy that earlier generations cling to), a black President, and a very different world.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose….the more things change, the more they stay the same!

Frankly, I’m impressed with today’s youth. Teaching at a university I see them engaged, concerned about their future, and more knowledgable than ever due to the internet and connections made often across borders. To be sure, these are college kids, but I teach at a rural state university not an elitist private school. If students here are engaged and connected, that’s a good sign.

Today's youth - ready to change the world!

Yes, they are used to technology. I hear students talk about how hard it would be to go without their mobile phone for even part of a day — they are more connected to friends and family than I would have wanted to be when I was their age. Parents are often almost tyrannical in their desire to keep in contact with their kids, even at college (note to self: I will not be that way as my kids grow up!). When we’ve done travel courses to Italy and Germany, parents increasingly try to demand students stay in contact with them every day.

In fact, if anyone deserves criticism its the parents’ generation. There is so much effort done to protect kids or make sure they succeed that kids often get stifled by the attention and control. It’s a well intentioned stifling, and certainly better than ignoring kids or not caring, but it can go too far. If the youth of today seem spoiled it’s often not their fault — it’s being forced on them by their elders.

Being over protective leads to sometimes irrational and harmful efforts at control

That’s probably the biggest difference I notice between my youth and now. There is so much protection now – a kid brings a swiss army knife to school to show his friends and he’s expelled. Who does that protect? An ESPN announcer has “chink in his armour” about a Chinese athlete and the fact “chink” had a double meaning as a pejorative for Chinese folk and he gets fired. Really? Protecting us from double meanings in popular expressions?

Yet with all the protections, the ubiquity of fast food, video games and other temptations overpowers those who would want to protect kids from themselves. It’s a bit surreal. Yet through it all, I think we underestimate the youth — just as my elders were doing back in the 70s. They learn to navigate their reality, they understand dangers and risks, even if their belief in their immortality causes them to sometimes foolishly disregard them. But my generation was the same way. That’s youth.

Today’s youth are being handed a country in debt and decline and asked to fix things. They are pioneers in a world where even the phrase “high tech” sounds old fashioned. They are crafting new realities, throwing off old prejudices (such as the prohibition against gay marriage) and are cynical of the ideology-based politics of the past. Kids these days? Well, count me impressed. The most hope I have for my country and its future comes when I consider today’s youth. They’re no more spoiled than my generation was, and they seem to grasping the information revolution tools that can reshape the world with a gusto.

Anyway, given the mountain of debt and the myriad of ecological, social and political problems my generation is leaving in our wake, I don’t think we elders have any standing to complain!

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