When I was a teen, the media talked much about a generation gap, as if this was a new thing. Never in the history of man had teenagers had such dense parents who knew nothing about growing up or about the world or the problems facing young people in that day.
Of course that was just silly. While crises like World War I, the Great Depression, and World War II may have focused teens on things about which their parents also cared deeply, there nonetheless have been other periods of history during which the young people wanted to follow the newest trends and try the latest gizmo or test the waters in a new profession—much to their parents’ dismay.
But parents always understood these inklings and urges because they were once young, too. The truth is, older generations have perspectives younger ones do not. After all, they have been 13 or 17 already, but their teenage children have not yet been 35 or 49.
Further, kids don’t know what it’s like to see a basic technology such as the typewriter be replaced. They likely haven’t seen a new invention such as the VCR not only come but go. Many will not realize the revolution in the way we live our lives that the Internet or cell phones have created.
For most teens, President Obama is the only President whose administration they’ve paid much attention to (if they have paid attention to government at all). Consequently, most teens grow up without an awareness of how the world has changed, even in the last twenty years. They simply aren’t old enough.
In the end, I think it’s easy for teens to think they know more than they do, and I think it’s normal for them to think their parents are being outdated to talk about the way things were—when the Civic Center put up a manger scene or when Linus could recite a Bible passage as part of a Christmas play or when marriage was between one man and one woman.
Teens also don’t remember when there was no such thing as an Amber Alert or when there had never been a mass shooting in a school or when abortion was illegal or cross dressing was listed as deviant behavior in college psych books.
Kids today don’t have the same perspective about something like pornography that their parents have. Before the Internet “adult movies” were rented from a back room of the video store or “girlie magazines” were purchased at “adult book stores.” Teens today don’t realize that there was a time when TV sit coms didn’t joke about threesome sexual encounters or when condom’s weren’t passed out at school by teachers.
I could go on and on, but the point is, teens need a good education by their parents. Yes, parents do understand what kids think and feel because they were themselves once that age. Yes, the world has changed a great deal in the last ten, fifteen years, but this fact only makes the imperative for parents to educate their teens all the greater.
Teens need to know that the majority isn’t always right—which is why following the crowd isn’t always the smartest thing. We all understand the desire to fit in, but we as adults also know the danger of giving in to the “everybody does it” argument. Kids don’t know.
They see strength in numbers and safety in not sticking out in the crowd. If their peers are having sex or doing drugs or sneaking out at night or cheating on tests or running with gangs, that’s what they want to do too, and they can’t see the consequences for it.
[It’s rather ironic that the more we tell kids how special they are, the more they want to be just like everyone else.]
Parents need to educate kids about their own past. They need to tell them what life was like when they were teens. It’s better if parents don’t wait for their kids to turn into teenagers to give them glimpses of life before, but it’s never too late.
And why is it important? Because kids will not realize the direction society is going if they don’t realize where it came from. It’s easy to think of technological advances—“You mean you used to lock car doors by hand?”—and think the world is becoming more interesting, more advanced, more sophisticated. And in some ways it is.
But what’s been lost? What did we use to do before Facebook? Or YouTube? Or Twitter? Did we check our email during dinner? Did we talk about the events of our day or what we’d read or what we’re thinking? As opposed to what meme is going around on the Internet or what TV programs we like most?
We’re not going to change culture to the way it was in 1996 or 1986 or 1976, nor should we want to, but kids today don’t know what it was like to live back then, and they should know. They’ll be less apt to be fooled by someone who tells them how much better the world is now . . . or how things have never been like this before.
Really? People have never been afraid of terrorism from within? Then why did the US Government round up all Japanese Americans and put them into “relocation camps” during World War II? Why were Indian nations put on reservations during the 1800s?
History, like older generations, has much to teach also, whether for the good or the bad. They both allow people to discern patterns and to ask questions [i.e., Why did we oppose socialism during the Cold War with the USSR, but now we’re practicing it?]
Kids won’t know what life was like before . . . unless we tell them. And they can’t judge accurately whether or not the direction we’re headed is positive or negative if they don’t know there’s actually been shifts in society.