Kids these days have it so easy. I’m sure you’ve heard this lament. It could be because I work on a college campus, but I hear it a lot. And between you and me, Odd reader, I don’t agree. Growing up now is so much harder than when I was young.
Let’s discuss! I’ll build my case with a few examples based on my experiences growing up, and you can share your thoughts in the Comment Section below.
When I was growing up, we played fast and hard
Craig-be-nimble, I am not (please refer to my ice skating post), so I’m grateful that I grew up during a time when falling down wasn’t fatal. Back in the day, your parents chased you out of the house each weekend and summer morning and told you to stay out. We rode bikes without helmets or knee pads. I even boasted that my bike didn’t have brakes. We played tackle football without gear unsupervised for hours. I don’t remember any injuries beyond the usual bruises and scrapes, and dehydration wasn’t a word in our vocabulary—we had garden hoses. Such play seems to be as lost as the dinosaur. Now, kids dress for play like knights riding out to battle in full armor. Four-year-olds on big wheels wear helmets, and seven-year-old scooter riders dress in leather jackets, helmets, and biker boots. And then there is the sun screen, hats, and water bottles. My parents’ biggest safety concern was that we didn’t kill ourselves on untied shoe laces.
I played this way all the way through college with big guys and never suffered a broken bone or concussion. Until recently, it never occurred to me that play could be fatal. One of my student workers fell of his skateboard. My initial thought was ‘no big deal.’ He went into a coma and almost died! He spent five weeks in the hospital and another three weeks in a physical rehab center. And guess what he did when he got out? He hopped back on that skateboarded! He is, without doubt, the bravest person alive.
When I was growing up, our moms were our social media
My mom and other moms talked. They talked on the phone or over the fence. If you stepped out of line, the mom posse would push you back on the straight and narrow, and life would go on as before. The world remained clueless about our transgressions. These days, kids have the ability to document every moment of their lives through social media. They Tweet, text, Facebook, and Instagram their life experiences—in most cases, less than 20 years’ experience. Who cares, right? Wrong. Parents, teachers, college admissions directors, and future employers all care and take notes. Nobody started paying attention to anything I said or wrote until … well, never mind. My point is, adults and friends did not hang on our every word. They sensibly ignored most of our opinions. If I said, “Hey Mom, I finished reading Mein Kampf and found it interesting,” she would nod and say, “How nice.” Compare this to the kid that posts on Facebook that they read Mein Kampf and found it interesting. It wouldn’t take long before the kid is labeled a Nazi; even worse, 10 years later, a potential employer may read the post and consider them a risky hire.
We had the freedom to be idiots, explore different ideas, and change our minds. We could hurl insults at our friends without the fear of suspension. There was no political correctness, gender correctness, or cultural appropriateness. Getting over it was a way of life.
When I was growing up, a spaz by any other name was still a spaz
Hyperactivity was a not diagnosis. If you couldn’t sit still, you had ants in your pants, and your nickname was “Spaz.” A nun’s ruler kept you in your seat, not medication. If Timmy liked matches, moms kept an eye on him and put the matches away. He would not end up a drooling zombie from electroshock therapy and medication. Today’s kid’s process the first time they saw daddy and mommy doing the “struggle-snuggle” with their therapists. We accepted and mocked the different in my day, but they mocked us right back. We all got on with our lives; it was easy to do.
When I was growing up, parents practiced benign neglect
Neighborhoods rocked with play, and I mean really rocked. We would battle with BB guns, rocks, and sticks, the goal being to bruise the other guy first. One of the rules of friendship was to first hurt each other and then help each other up. No one held a grudge, and everyone was a back the next day to do it all over again. No adult supervision was needed.
One of our favorite games was to corner someone and gang up on them. Trust me, it was fun for everyone. Or we would play “Kill the Man” with a ball. The object was to throw the ball up and for all the kids to pile on top of whoever caught it. We played this game over and over. I can’t imagine that either of these games would gain the seal of parental approval today.
The playground taught us about fair play and solving our own problems. We learned to duck, keep our eye on the ball, and wear a cup. Now, kids learn to wait for their parents’ applause and to pretend that the score doesn’t matter, because everyone gets a trophy.
When I was growing up, strangers with candy were a good thing
One of the most exciting days of the whole year was Halloween. The average costume was homemade and cost about $2.50. We would wait until it was pitch black and spooky and then go from door to door asking strangers for candy. After we had lugged our bags of candy home, we consumed the massive amounts of sugar until we passed out. Today, costumes are seldom homemade, and kids only trick-or-treat at homes that have been preapproved. A candy checklist replaces the candy at the end of the night, and the allowable amount of candy is one piece per day, with large and small pieces on alternate days. Parents no longer steal all the good stuff because stealing sets a bad example for the children.
When I was growing up, it was easier to identify the perverts
They didn’t have screen names and troll you into unfamiliar Internet territory; they hung out by the swings at the park and asked you to help them find their puppy. They wore a lot of black and then put on a dress every Sunday. Our parents pointed to the back of milk cartoons and warned us of stranger-danger and then sent us out to play.
When I was growing up, gender wasn’t an issue
Girls could be girly girls and wear dresses and play with dolls. They could also be tomboys. It was fine; nobody thought much of it. A girl taught me to throw a football. Eventually, the tomboys would grow up and become interested in boys, or the girls who were not interested in boys became PE teachers. Nobody cared or talked about it. Now, kids have to decide how they want their gender identified. We had it easy. You were a boy or a girl, and you liked whomever you liked. Today, there are a dozen different choices, made at an age when the only decision kids should have to make is answering, “Do you want fries with that?”
Kids these days have to grow up too fast—they have too little time to play, make mistakes, and experience failure. It’s true that each generation survives despite the obstacles, and kids today have opportunities, both in life and careers, that we only dreamed of. I wish them well, but I’m grateful that I grew up when fear wasn’t rampant, people were more accepted, and we could all just live and let live.
Now, it’s your turn to share your thoughts in the Comment Section below.