Recently my wife and I attended the college graduation of the youngest of our brood. This graduation was in Iowa, so there was plenty of time for conversation on the drive back to Texas. This graduation also got me to thinking about our younger generation and the unique challenges all the recent graduates, high school and college, will face in their hopefully long futures.
I often hear, or read, many of my generation taking our younger generation to task over their perceived laziness, or the time they spend on social media, video games, text messages and the like. I would be less than honest if I said I didn’t have my “get off my lawn!” moments, too. But, when I really stop to think about it, the ire aimed at this younger generation is a bit misplaced.
I remember distinctly being a kid somewhere around 5 years old spending the summer with my grandparents. One scene is as clear in my mind as if it happened 10 minutes ago — my grandmother handing me a serving spoon and a Matchbox Car that must have been made by Henry Ford himself. “Go outside and play and I’ll call you when lunch is ready,” she said as she opened the back door and gently ushered me into the backyard.
I stood perplexed for a bit, trying to figure out the correlation between these two items I’d been given. A spoon? “What in the world and I supposed to do with this?” I wondered. Then I looked in my other hand at the ancient small car and thought, “Maybe I’m supposed to bury this thing.” In the end, the spoon became a digger of trenches for the car to traverse, carrying sensitive documents while hiding from the Russian spies who were snooping behind every tree and peeping up from every ditch.
Back then, an attack from the evil Russians was my greatest fear, well that and the monster who waited patiently for the lights to go out and for my parents to leave the room so they could rise from under the bed to snatch me. Luckily, I thwarted those attacks with a well tucked blanket. Everyone knows no monster can solve the riddle of feet covered in thick cloth. It’s science.
When I was growing up in the ‘70s, the world was opened to us in small bite-sized portions. We weren’t bombarded with all the not-so-pleasant realities of life. Instead, we ingested the good and the bad at a pace to match our limited, but growing, understanding.
Fast forward more than five decades and the world of our children is a much different place. The world has changed, not the kids. Our kids are the same wide-eyed little information sponges we were at the same age. The difference is what those sponges absorb.
The veil of the mysteries and wonders this world possesses is removed far sooner than it was for us ‘70s kids. That’s not the fault of our kids, it’s just what life here and now is about. Information flows from an unstoppable fountain at a rate no one who has ever lived before has ever seen. I like to compare it to life before and after Adam and Eve ate the apple. Genesis 3:5 “For God knows that when you eat from it (the forbidden tree) your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil”.
Now, certainly the main difference in this analogy is that Eve willingly ate the fruit from the forbidden tree, and our society makes the apple part of a daily diet for our kids. However, the results of too much information, too soon is the same, whether by accident, intention or absorption from the world around them.
I read a news article the other day about the Uvalde school shooting and a young girl who survived by bathing herself in the blood of her slain and injured classmates to assist in an attempt to appear dead. She hoped this would spare her life, and it did. Can we all agree that this poor child has had her healthy dose of the forbidden fruit and had her eyes opened to the cruel realities of this world? The photo of that little girl sitting on a school bus, staring blankly into nowhere, covered in the blood of her friends, will haunt me the rest of my days.
When I was in fifth grade, my girlfriend broke my heart for the first time. Her and her new boyfriend ran over my “going steady” ring with his bicycle. That day, at recess, I penned a heart-wrenching letter expressing my feelings about the recent events, which I’m almost positive contained some ABBA lyrics. Unfortunately, I dropped that note in class before I could give it to the heartless girl who rejected my young love. The teacher found the note and read it to the entire class all while I shrank in my desk with each word. Maybe 20 people were there to listen to my professing of affection, but it seemed as if the entire world was given a copy of that letter.
The reason I share this sad, and a bit funny, memory is to show the contrast of how an event of that nature would be handled today. A video of the reading of that letter would appear on Tick-Tock, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and several other social media platforms. Pictures of the letter would be shared multiple times and the shame and embarrassment I felt that day would pale in comparison to the abject horror of being outed on social media for the world to see. So, what changed? Was it the child, or the world?
Billy Joel said, “The good ole days weren’t always good, and tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems”. Our children see more, hear more and deal with more in a day than we dealt with in years. Their exposure to “adult things” has opened their eyes to a world we didn’t see until most of us were grown. There are kids out there doing some amazing things in the world, despite the ugliness they’re seeing at an ever-increasing younger age. It’s tougher than ever to be a “good kid” and we need to make sure we do all we can to foster that goodness, recognize them for it, and applaud them for a job well done.
Let’s always remember that we, the generation complaining about the next, created the world these kids are bravely navigating. They didn’t ask for the problems they face, we gave them to them. With that in mind, I’m planning to be a little more patient, a little less quick to judge, and a lot more willing to understand these kiddos, who I hope are on their way to leave their kids a better world than we left for them.
Greg Weatherbee is publisher of the Lufkin Daily News in Lufkin, Texas.