Craig: The kids are alright
“The young people of today think of nothing but themselves. They have no reverence for parents or old age. They are impatient of all restraint. They talk as if they alone knew everything and what passes for wisdom with us is foolishness with them. As for girls, they are forward, immodest and unwomanly in speech, behavior and dress.”
As you read this passage, perhaps you recline back and nod your head in assent, musing that the kids of today are nowhere near as respectful, hard-working, or decent as when we adults were their age. Perhaps, too, you would applaud the following quote and signal your ringing endorsement of its prevailing sentiment:
“What is happening to our young people? They disrespect their elders, they disobey their parents. They ignore the law. They riot in the streets inflamed with wild notions. Their morals are decaying. What is to become of them?”
You might well think to yourself that these sage interpreters of contemporary culture have a keen understanding of today’s youth and the problems associated with them. Kids today just aren’t as moral as they used to be, right?
It may then surprise you when I inform you that the above quotes were not written by Dr. Spock, Oprah, Dr. Phil or any other modern guru of child psychology. The first is attributed to Peter the Hermit in 1274 A.D. The second is from Plato or Socrates in the 4th century BC. The lesson to be learned from all this – the kids today are no worse than any generation that preceded them.
But how can this really be the case? We have all seen children be rude to parents and teachers and thought, “I never would have dared say that to my parents!” It’s funny, though, how time shapes our memories and self-perceptions. If our inner mind really allowed us open access to the memories of our past, we might recall that we derided our parents, challenged them and provoked them. We, in their minds, had our share of moments of recalcitrance, defiance and disrespect. I can still remember my mom’s ominous warning, “I hope your children turn out just like you.” Well, mom, you got your wish – not because you wished it, but because that’s what kids do.
We as the adults have to find a way to accept and coexist with our children’s challenging of authority. Their attempt for boundaries and self-control is natural and healthy. It is up to us to help them channel this into productive, socially acceptable behavior rather than condemn them for what simply comes natural to them.
Before I had children of my own, I remember teaching at Mullen High School in Denver during the Hurricane Katrina crisis. During the week leading up this tragedy, I was absorbed by an incident with the JV lacrosse team in which these students disgraced themselves and the school by “mooning” traffic on the way to a competition in Boulder. I, along with most the faculty, was outraged students would behave this way.
A week later, however, the same student body – of its own accord and without significant assistance from adult leadership – organized a massive relief effort to help the people of New Orleans devastated by this natural disaster. It was only then, as I focused on all the good things my students did, when I reflected on the positive aspects of their character and all the good they had inside of them, that it occurred to me that even though I was a member of student council when I was in high school, we had never stepped up to help a community in need the way these thoughtful, courageous students had. Suddenly, I was able to recall the unfortunate incident of my own youth when I embarrassed my school by making an obscene gesture at a teacher from a rival school.
You see, in the end, we are not so different from our children after all. Perhaps we just need to remember that we were once children, too.
Steven is a Silverthorne resident, educator, husband and father of two, and president of the Summit County Library Board. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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