I’m neither a GenX-er, nor a Millennial, by standard. Some sources say I am the last year of GenerationX, being the last few stragglers to belong to the pre AND post-internet age, some say I am a Millennial by definition, but neither could truly describe what it is like to be a child of the 80’s and 90s. It was such a different time. I know, I know, every decade is “special” because we are each nostalgic for our own childhood- a life without worry or priority, caring about nothing more than soaking in the influence of your culture. The children of the 80s became the teens of the 90s, and we lived a very specific experience, falling through the cracks of generational labeling.
When I was young, single digits, I could fly to China if I felt like it, just as long as I came running when my dad told me to. Nobody cared where you were, or what you were doing, if you weren’t causing harm. We could ride our bikes to the next town. We could play at the park, and then walk to a friend’s house, and then go explore the arcades and stores and any cool architectural or industrial structures that caught our interest. We didn’t take anything strange that might be drugs or medicine, but we ate food off the ground. We didn’t approach strangers, because we were taught that there are fucking creeps out there, and people get kidnapped (or worse) every day just for talking to strangers. We had code words, just in case a stranger approached us. We knew the “No, Go, Tell” rule (for those not familiar, that means 1: Say ‘NO!’ 2:GO away and 3: TELL an adult what happened) so if someone came around to fuck with us, that would become an adult neighbor’s problem, and the creep would get his ass kicked. It’s funny now, looking back, to think the correct action when confronted by a stranger… is to go tell another stranger. A truly good kidnapper could easily loophole that shit, I think. I don’t know any, but I’ll ask one, next time I see one, see what he or she thinks.
When I think about a textbook Millennial, several of my friends and relatives pop up in my mind. Coming of age as the century/millennium turns… not just for teenagers anymore! Many of my acquaintances have clung desperately to their childhoods, possibly to slow the sands of time, and make the good things last a little bit longer. I can’t be mad at that. The part with which I take issue, is that it results in a culture of 40 year-old men subsisting on microwavable food, because their coming-of-age was not facilitated by any rite of passage. Some cultures still have religious rites of passage for boys transitioning into manhood, but outside of that, family traditions have done little to preserve the importance of proper rites of passage confirming that the boy has met the maturity and responsibility of manhood. These days, we let 10 year-olds act like grown adults, by placing them in front of first-person shooter games, conditioning them to take lives without thinking, rather, rewarding a higher body-count or more brutal kill. No 10 year-old is ready to take a life, and we shouldn’t be using that as a way to shepherd them into being a grown-up. We encourage girls to wear layers of makeup on their faces, and show more of their body skin, only to feel the reward of more ‘likes’ because it really is a chemical reward. People want to be so beautiful, that they will do whatever they need to do for the approval of others. They want to know that someone else – even if it’s a complete stranger – finds them attractive, and it has gotten so out of hand, that we no longer value how WE feel about ourselves.
I like to think I came of age long before I became an adult. I was forced to grow up very early, and was exposed to a lot of what professionals call Adult Themes before I knew what the fuck a theme even was. As much as I knew about being an adult, I couldn’t wait to be one. I read books that probably weren’t for me. I watched movies and heard music and eavesdropped on conversations and studied people and memorized lingo and developed ideas and wrote books and poems and didn’t give a shit about how old I was. I became cognizant of things my peers couldn’t even comprehend when pointed out to them. I got laughed at, because I was thinking too deeply. I found it difficult to relate to my age group, and sought relief in older friends. It helped me stay on the trajectory of growing up as quickly as possible.
I remember when I was in 8th grade, I went and knocked on every single door in my town and my neighboring town, for a fundraiser. I can’t imagine my kids doing that in today’s society, because today’s society has erased those golden times of safety and security. Stranger Danger has taken over, and now we don’t want to NoGoTell, because getting to that point is even too much. Perhaps everyone already thought that was a weird idea, and I’m late to the party. There you go, kids… proof that we don’t know shit until we’re grown. So stop thinking you do. I didn’t even know everything, and if I didn’t, then you didn’t either, because I knew EVERYTHING.
Today’s society is so afraid of what bad things could possibly happen, that we rob kids of any chance of great things happening. “Only 0.09% of kids are successful in that field, so he shouldn’t waste his time and intelligence doing that… he should definitely go and change the world!” That’s an actual quote I overheard, said by an otherwise great father. He wants what is best for the child, so he wants to keep him primed for intellectual growth and success, but doesn’t realize he is willing to sacrifice the WANTS and GOALS of the child himself. They are equally important; a child will try much harder to succeed in an area where they are interested, and the positive reinforcement by the parents should be supplemental to that. We get too afraid of our kids failing, and in effect, reduce their opportunity for individuality and autonomy.
Let me put it this way, and this is not regarding the dad previously mentioned: if you’re trying to control your child’s path, don’t ever expect them to know what the fuck to do next, because their free thought is clearly unimportant. They can’t do the right thing until you tell them what the right thing is, and it had better be in line with what YOU think they should do once they actually are a free-thinking adult. They are just letting you do all the work in the meantime, which is really what you want, right? Oh, it’s not what you want? You want your child or teen to pick up some slack and do some of the thinking and work themselves, to reach YOUR goal? That’s a bit of a contradiction. They’ll never learn to do anything, if you’re doing it all. Don’t tell them they shouldn’t do something they’re passionate about, out of YOUR fear of failure. That is delivering a very unsupportive message that reads: “Your confidence does not matter.”
Parenting is impossible to do right, and I can prove that, just by informing all of you who have been blessed enough to go this long without realizing this shit, that kids say things like “I hate you” and “I wish you were dead,” no matter how good of a job you do. They’ll tell their friends all about how mean you are, and they might tell their counselor something in anger that can seem much worse than it is, and they tell their friends’ moms “I wish YOU were my mom” no matter how good of a job you do. They will say “That’s unfair” before they say “Thank you” for the most part, no matter how good of a job you do. Kids’ brains are so far from being fully developed, it’s ridiculous to think they ever know the right thing to do or say. It’s ridiculous to think there IS a right thing to do or say, and parenting is a shining example of that.
Parenting is hard, and everyone is constantly judging you, and you get tons of unsolicited advice, and don’t forget that everyone is scrutinizing every decision you make, either way you make it, and childrearing standards change every day, so you’d better keep up so you don’t get DHHS visiting you, and that’s just on top of the constant state of worry and disaster prevention that is the involved parent’s mind. It doesn’t end when the toddler turns into a walker. It doesn’t end when they are adults, either, but instead GETS WORSE! I don’t want to start down the road of arrests and drug addiction and poor life skills creating even the most minimal ripple effect in my family. We all want our kids to do right, and to be okay, but there is so much out there that appeals to our mid-brain (aka, the pleasure center that makes us love gambling and sex and drugs and being all wild and chancey) that we can’t possibly control. Parenting sucks. You worry, but you don’t want them to know about it. So you foster their current state of happiness and you try to enjoy the moments in real-time, while still worrying in your mind, hoping that you’re not making a face that says “hostage.”
I wonder what kind of generation will be after this one? Will we ever go back to childhoods without screens 14” from our faces? How will Screen Babies raise their children, not having grown up with varied experience with the outside world? Will their kids talk to each other? Will they ride bikes and jump out of trees and swim with leeches and explore and get hurt without having to be kept home “for a few days, to monitor”? Will they make up handshakes that you have to be IN PERSON to perform? Will they have a better NoGoTell? Will trust and independence given by the parent create a more responsible child, maturing at a younger age? What will the studies on Screen Babies be, once they become adults? The future is an endless branching of uncertain paths. There are so many questions to ask. Will one of yours be “What do you want to do when you grow up?”