I will be 73 years old in a couple of months. The day I was born the New York Times headline screamed that the Russians were retreating at Stalingrad before General von Paulus’ all conquering German 6th Army and the end was nigh.
Having been born in 1942 I spent my adolescent years in Brooklyn in the 1950s. Ike was President. I graduated high school at 16 on a Thursday and went to work on Monday.
As a kid I always had Summer jobs. One Summer I worked on a fruit and vegetable truck; another year I delivered groceries. At 15 I was an usher in a movie theater. Today there are few Summer jobs for kids that young. They’ve all been filled by adults working for the minimum wage thanks to capitalism. And getting a Summer job is no longer expected; indeed most parents wouldn’t want a 15 year old to be working.
I played stick ball with other kids – in the street. Traveled on the subway to Ebbitt’s Field or Yankee Stadium with friends, rode a bike without a helmet; sat in the front seat of my dad’s car without a seat belt. I rode the subway alone to the Museum of Natural History many times; went to the library; went to the beach at Coney Island. I attended the 1956 NFL Championship Game at 14 years old in Yankee Stadium – alone. No parents. I don’t know how I survived! Mom and dad must have been guilty of neglect!
At 16, working full time, I was no longer considered a “child”, though I couldn’t drink or drive in New York City until I turned 18 and couldn’t vote until 21. At 16 I was viewed by society as a working man. My father treated me like a man as I was contributing to the household budget. By the time I was 20 I was standing in awe at the Parthenon in Athens and traveling in East Africa,
When did a 17 year old become a “child” without responsibility? Are kids “growing up” faster or slower these days? My wife to be was 17 when I met her. She was no child. I married her 7 months later while both sets of parents went nuts. We were together 40 years.
Maybe it started when kids were no longer allowed to ride a bicycle without a helmet and knee pads. And no longer allowed to play stick ball in the street. When a baseball game could no longer be played in an empty field with only kids in attendance; when it had to be played under the supervision of adults, parents in the stands making fools of themselves; helmets mandatory. Trophies for everyone.
Perhaps it was the helicoptering in of parents to solve every problem of childhood. Or the scheduling of “activities” by the social secretary mom.
Am I starting to sound like an old crank? Yeah, I know.
In many ways childhood is ending sooner; homework in Kindergarten.
The vast amount and access to information brings the media’s view of the world to the “child.” Television, the internet, the iphone all end innocence early. Is there a 14 year old out there with access to a computer who hasn’t seen and been influenced by hard core porn? Not influenced by violence and the objectification of women? Our entire media celebrity culture endeavors to define “tweeners” in terms of “hotness”. Once upon a time “teen age idols” were really teenagers.
Of course mom and dad can always reach the “child” on their smart phone when he or she is out of sight. Mom and dad are always there, even when they are not; and most of the time they are not. Both working.
So with the easy access to information and the entire world at their fingertips, what is it that enamors our kids most? Celebrity. Fashion. Coolness. Hotness.
In many ways childhood ends in Middle School when the bullying starts. Too many kids today are just mean little SOBs with an enormous sense of entitlement. Yes we had bullies 60 years ago – but if you punched the bully in the face in the schoolyard no one was going to expel you from school. No one was going to sue your parents. Usually whether you gave a beating or took one, no one was going to bother you again.
Now, the law says one must be 21 to legally have a drink thanks to Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Nobody waits that long. One can vote at 18, join the military, sign a contract – but not have a drink.
There is vastly more underage drinking among “kids” today than when the drinking age was 18. It seems that raising the drinking age had the opposite affect. I cannot understand the romance behind binge drinking – drinking until one falls down. That to me is a sure sign that no matter what the age, one is not “grown – up”.
And these are twenty some things falling unconscious – not 15 year olds. Maybe if they didn’t spend their entire lives with mom and dad hovering they wouldn’t feel the need to go wild as soon as they got away to college. And they would be a hell of a lot more “street smart” than the over protected idiots on campus. I had my first drinks at home – well underage; and when I got sick and passed out my father put me to bed.
We have turned our young into perpetual kids with few if any responsibilities and gigantic expectations. Worse still, we have given them nothing to do; nothing for which they are responsible.
Now I must admit some things were easier for me. I bought my first house at 24. I earned my Bachelor’s Degree at the City University of New York. It cost me nothing. It wasn’t open enrollment mind you; one had to qualify to matriculate. But it was free. FREE! No student loans. I did it at night while working a full time job during the day. As rich a country as we are, there are no free colleges anymore for our kids.
We saddle them with debt and put them on the treadmill. We are creating cogs for the wheels, owing money from day one to some bank before they even begin, aided and abetted by a corporate media interested only in distraction and selling shit and making celebrity heroes. Just today, Huffpo ran an article on it’s front page that Kylie Jenner had found the perfect cheap workout outfit. Last week the Arthur Ashe Courage award, given in 2009 to Nelson Mandela, was given to a Jenner.
We’ve taken away their dreams leaving no sense of wonder and accomplishment – now all they want to be is “popular” and “famous”. And we can’t understand why sonny boy is 29 and still living in the basement.