Thursday, May 26, 2005

When Will They Ever Learn?

"This too shall pass" applies to so many things. Infatuation. Grief. Incarceration. But one exception is that the old folks never tire of talking about how awful the young generation is. How they're dumb, lazy, sex-crazed, and what not. Rich Karlgaard, editor of Forbes Magazine, had a piece in the April 11 issue, titled "Real-World Advice for the Young", which is more of the same nonsense:

Apart from the blue-collar kids who are fighting in Iraq, most American kids today are soft. That's a harsh statement, isn't it? But cultural anecdotes back it up. Kids weigh too much. Fitness is dropping. Three American high schoolers ran the mile in under four minutes in the 1960s. It's been done by one person since. Parents sue coaches when Johnny is cut from the team. Students sue for time extensions on tests. New college dorms resemble luxury hotels. College grads, unable to face the world, move back in with their parents and stay for years. Does this sound like a work force you'd send into combat against the Chinese? I don't know the answer here. But the trend is bad, and we can do better. For our kids we must do better.

The Times of London reports that Japanese youth are terribly rude here.

Talk to someone older than yourself and you'll find his parents and grandparents said the same thing about his generation, that they just weren't worth a damn. And undoubtedly his parents and grandparents heard the same thing from their forebears. You doubt me? Jeff Greenfield on NewsNight on May 12 had this to say:

How far back does our discontent with the young go? Well, here's how Socrates described the young Athenians of his day. Quote, "The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority. They show disrespect for elders. They no longer rise when their elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs and tyrannize their teachers."

I'd bet Socrates heard the same thing from his parents. It just shows you that, even after two and a half millennia, human nature never changes. To continue quoting Greenfield:

In the 1920s, parents wondered what was going on when young people's courting moved from the front parlor to the backseat of an automobile.

In the 1950s, now seen as the golden age of innocence, violent comic books, drag racing and sexually provocative rock n' roll were the culprits.

In the '60s, sex, drugs and rock n' roll became the axis of evil, and enough of the baby boomers were out in the streets to make the generation gap page one news.

Today, the same fears are fed by different sources. What are they getting from MTV, from rap, from video games, from the Internet? Well, a good deal of it is the basic impulse of young people to begin staking out emotional territory of their own.

Here are a couple of things you might want to ask yourself. First, how would your parents have reacted if they learned all about your teenage conversations, fantasies, desires, inner feelings about your life or your family back then? Today, while the language, the music, the dress may all seem to be coming from another planet, is it really all that different?

The times, they are a changin', but the kids are alright.


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