The Story I Never Tell Part 11- *aside*
I read this article today and it’s reminding me to share a thought I’ve entertained for years on this subject. This is not the first such article I’ve seen. It might be the hundredth. We are raising our children to be more fragile, they say, and we are raising them to look for outside help to solve their problems. They are more fearful, more sedentary, more easily thrown off course by their emotional state. They are less independent, less adventuresome, more immature. They are more easily offended. They need to be bailed out of all their problems. The authors of the studies cite statistics showing the increase in numbers of calls to psychological and counseling services in college compared to when their parents were in school and compared to at any other time in history. Our litigious society has created a situation where failure to have thought of every way in which a child could get hurt might result in criminal charges. We must plan for any possible hazard: uneven surfaces, falling acorns, poorly marked paths, dry brush, splinters, spikey shrubbery, merry-go-rounds, swings. We cannot leave our children unsupervised at all. We cannot take any risks with them, therefore they do not take any risks. Since we live in a vastly interconnected and immediately informed society, our mistakes get broadcast widely within minutes of our transgressions, and the whole world feels justified in passing judgement in the comments. I agree that there is an overkill, hyperbolic edge to all this micromanagement that cannot help but create exactly what it was meant to create: immediately-supersafe children, and all the good and bad that comes with them. But another perspective strikes me whenever I read such dire commentary on our young people. I like them, and I’m impressed with them, and maybe they are being groomed perfectly for life in a world so different from the one that awaited us when we were very young. And furthermore, it’s not like our parents or their parents necessarily had it right.
Hang with me while I make a case for our children.
Mine was not a typical American upbringing, but I was witness to the way things were, and it’s not like I didn’t get into a lot of trouble, as I’ve been laying bare in these last several posts, despite all the watchfulness and restriction. I was raised with an uncomfortable and unnatural combination of fierce love, fearful overprotection, and benign neglect. I wasn’t allowed to do anything social with my American friends, pretty much ever. But, allow me to state without reservation that my friends were some of the best people in the world, and within this subset of fantastic people, I was definitely among those with the most questionable sense of morality and behavior. Regarding what my parents were so afraid of, the irony abounds.
I had a lax relationship with the truth; I had an unquenchable curiosity to explore anything forbidden to me; I had very little respect for arbitrary authority; and with the exception of being a lifelong teetotaler averse to violence, unkindness, cruelty or physical pain, I was really a dangerous friend for your kids to hang around with. I lied constantly, for many reasons. I lied to my parents to do what I wanted to do, but I also lied to my friends sometimes, because I didn’t want to be judged for my actions or decisions. As I grew older, my lies grew more complicated because my life grew more complicated. My friends often knew what I was involved with but they were my friends and no one would ever have told on me or even made a case to stop or to seek outside help. These were the lauded and hailed days of figuring things out on our own. In the 80s we got into trouble and we suffered the consequences of our trouble alone. If we got depressed, we were depressed. We dropped out of school, or we sought solace in drugs and alcohol, or we committed suicide. We were sexually abused, and harassed, and raped, in high school and college, and we didn’t make a big deal of it. We told our friends and maybe we cried with them and then we shook it off and went to class. More often than not, we laughed together about it. And we kept on drinking and partying, despite the fact that we were almost certain to be date raped. We didn’t go to a counselor for these things. No one told their mothers that insanity was happening in college. We didn’t have cell phones so we didn’t talk to our parents much anyway; we were not micromanaged. We didn’t have any social media so we weren’t constantly comparing our insides to other people’s outsides, but we were still binge eating and throwing up all over campus. We still starved ourselves before big events to get into dresses. We had unprotected sex right in the middle of the AIDS epidemic. We were a right solid mess in the 80s. We got into crazy trouble. We didn’t ask for help. We didn’t have “code words” for our parents to extricate us from dangerous parties. Our parents didn’t have an eye on us via Find My Friends. We just dealt with dangerous parties. We got hurt badly. We got stuck in strange places. We got stranded by the side of the road. We walked home without shoes in the rain because no one was there to bail us out.
And now we are all old with kids that age and we have a million-long string of “#MeToo” on Twitter, and Facebook and Instagram. Was it so great that we had to deal with that alone?
Kids were mean to each other back then and literally no one cared. Are we so much better because we lived through that? Or did we just grow up anyway, all crooked and gnarled and broken, because what was the alternative? How many mistakes have we made because we tried to handle our crap while crooked, gnarled and broken? How many people have we hurt, ourselves included, because we navigated our gauntlets with a skewed sense of acceptability? When we mock and diminish the concept of “microaggressions” as making our kids soft, how many of us are considering what it meant to go into a classroom and have kids hoot like monkeys because you walked in? How about when your teacher told you you couldn’t play Snow White in the 2nd grade play because you weren’t White, and “that would be ridiculous,” so you pretty much stopped at the age of 7 even thinking of yourself in any kind of “lead roll” because none of the lead rolls were written for brown people, so what was the point? What about when the school counselor tells all the Black boys to apply to technical school instead of to regular 4-year colleges, even though your goal is to be a surgeon? What about all those gay kids who killed themselves every damn year because they just handled it best they could, and there were no “safe spaces,” and no one would consider asking a counselor for help? This crap was also part of those good ol’days, lest we forget.
So, in defense of our young people, I think our kids are nicer than we were. I think they are more inclusive and more aware. I think they are less racist, more open minded, less judging, and more willing to defend the rights of others. I think our children are more likely to ask for help, and are therefore less likely to grow up crooked and broken. We failed and rose, and we did it without the constant support and guidance of our parents, this might be true, but I don’t think it necessarily made us so damn great and certainly not so much better than our kids.
Our kids are growing into a world that is conducted almost exclusively online. They are choosing not to marry, not to own property, and remarkably, not even to engage in sex at the rate their parents did. They go to school dances in massive groups precluding the necessity of having a boyfriend or girlfriend or even of being asked at all. They see no problem in going to a dance with a bunch of friends and being one without a date. Their friends have their backs. Maybe this sensibility grew out of the much maligned “Participation Trophy.” While we were all worried that the participation trophy has taught our children they are all winners when that isn’t true, maybe they always knew who had won and who had lost. Maybe they always knew who was the MVP and who was struggling to stay on the field. Maybe we ascribed fault to the participation trophy without considering that there might have been other results, quite lovely. Maybe participation trophies taught our children that despite there being obvious winners and losers, and despite the fact that some of you are talented athletes and some of you clearly aren’t, it doesn’t matter right now. Right now what matters is that we all came out to play this game together and we all want to feel good, and we all want our friends to feel good. We the talented want our friends less talented to know that we were happy to share the field with them, even though. We are happy to have played together this season, this game, today. Maybe we accidentally taught our children something wonderful.
Are my kids missing some skills I had at this age? Absolutely. Being left on my own without a lick of guidance, mired in rules without having learned discernment, taught me some seriously hard knocks lessons that my children don’t have. The same with their dad, who came up pretty much raising himself, though his process was decidedly less full of breathtaking mistakery. But my kids, being raised in the way of today, are more truthful, confident, diligent, focused, protective of their emotional boundaries, and happy than I ever was at their age. They are strong in ways I couldn’t imagine. They are wise and good with tenacity I didn’t have until I was in my 20s. I think this happened because they have been taught to seek help and to ask advice. Really, what I felt like saying today is that I think is that our kids are going to be okay, even if we are watching over them too hard, and for way too long.