by: Chris Warren.
It’s an informal birthright for each generation to complain that the generation coming after it is lazy and unmotivated. It pops up pretty much everywhere that “kids these days” are not as principled as the kids of years ago. Debate over which generation is morally superior misses the point, though. I think it’s more meaningful to first ask how “kids today” got to be the way they are, and second, be fair minded enough to admit that it’s just as wrong to cast the wide net of stereotyping over young people as it is with any other demographic.
I’m not clear on the concept: Parents are responsible for the values their children are exposed to, which is is the main driver of what kind of adults the children will ultimately become, yet the parents complain about the content of kids’ character. So if the kids have an attitude problem, then where did they get it from? Isn’t it kind of like screwing up your own do-it-yourself home remodeling project and then complaining that you’re the victim of an incompetent contractor? The most common defense to this is that your offspring are darling angels and everyone else is raising wretched beasts. Good luck with that lame justification. All the other parents think the same thing, too.
The adults who whine about children who aren’t respectful, who are not capable of dealing with the slightest disappointment, who cringe at the language and attitudes of young people, are the same adults who will raise hell with any teacher who dares put a kid in his place, who think kids have the “right” to feel awesome no matter how mediocre they actually are, who insist that sports are for self-esteem and not winners and losers and every child should get a trophy even if they do, in fact, suck.
The other half of the discussion is if it’s even fair in the first place to cast young people as being lesser than their elders. Adolescent basket cases such as Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus are over the top media spectacles who make it easy to write off an entire generation. But for every one of them there are thousands of nameless kids who are level-headed and well grounded. Either in spite of or because of their upbringing, they are quietly going about their lives, getting good grades, accepting failures with grace, and respecting others. We never hear about these young people because focused, well behaved teenagers do not make compelling news stories. They are too busy being positive and productive to worry about who is paying attention.
Anyone who has ever met one of the “good” kids knows they all seem to have a common thread: They have parents who expect excellence and don’t put up with any excuses, nor do they defend failure. When Junior doesn’t make the team, dad does not call the coach and threaten a lawsuit. He instead tells his kid he didn’t make the team because he wasn’t good enough. Get over it; don’t be a crybaby. Practice harder and try again next season. Kids who turn to Jell-O over every letdown were trained to act that way.
I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I used to believe if a kid grows up to be a bum, it’s the parents’ fault. I don’t believe that any more. There are tons of people who had dreadful, even abusive childhoods with no encouragement or support yet grew up to be very successful and respected. And of course there are people who had every possible advantage: A loving family, a stable home, a good education…and ended up as losers, in some cases committing famously violent crimes. A parent has a duty to teach their children morals and values, but at some point the child becomes an adult and makes their own decisions. If the parents truly did their job and the kid chooses the wrong path anyway, that’s not mom & dad’s fault. We can’t declare parents guilty forever.
I know someone –I won’t even say if they are male or female or how I know them– who was raised in a warm home by two very kind parents. Though of modest means, they went to great trouble and expense to provide for the children. The family attended church, sent the kids to upscale schools…did everything right. This person is now a middle aged adult and by any measure is a disappointment. They are not a criminal or a gang banger or anything serious, but their character is not at all in line with what they were exposed to growing up. The long retired parents are often visibly distressed at how their grown child acts. I genuinely feel bad for them because I know they are sincerely decent and honorable people who worked very hard to equip their kid to be so much more. Incidentally, the other siblings have solid jobs, a family, are respectful towards the elders, and are someone any parent would be proud of. Same environment, completely different outcome.
When a kid goes wrong, there is a real good chance that behind the scenes is a parent who at least partially failed in their role. I realize this contradicts my theory that it’s unfair to blame the parents for everything and good parents sometimes produce rotten kids and vice-versa, but if we accept that then we must also accept that it’s not fair to label kids universally as overindulged little brats. A huge majority of them are capable of making good decisions and exhibit their maturity every day. It’s disingenuous to denigrate young people as if they operate in a vacuum and their elders had nothing to do with how the kids formed their beliefs. In modern society, stereotyping minorities, women, religions, or ethnic groups is generally unacceptable and in some versions is even illegal! All adults, not just parents, owe young people the simple dignity of being treated as individuals, looking for the best instead of assuming the worst.