You hear it a lot but things were simpler when I was a kid.
It’s not that there was no established internet, or streaming services, or faux-lebrities that found fame because of a stupid viral incident.
No, it was that the world outside of the high school and towns I grew up in seemed so isolated that I was insulated from the bigger, scarier world.
Sure, we had a teen that died in a car crash, we had a couple die of suicide, and we had the drunkenness that you hear about, but we were a small high school where I graduated just at the crapping end of the group, barely getting out of there. We had the usual stuff, the bullies, the burnouts, the cool kids, the losers, and the jocks. We were just out of step fashion-wise but not that far out of touch. We were a mid-West small town area and the world seemed far, far away.
I remember getting my senior pictures, and not wanting them but getting them anyway and being excited to do them at a cemetery, only to not have them shoot any headstones. I got a class ring begrudgingly, because mom wanted me to have one. She didn’t want me to miss out. She was always asking too if I wanted other weird senior trinkets, as if I would meet someone to give them to.
It was a desperately hard time for me, but because of what was going on inside me.
I had been bullied.
I had been isolated.
I was wrong in the heart and head.
I made it though.
I still remember my graduation and hating the practice and the whole ceremony – I skipped college graduation because I just didn’t care at that point – but the celebration after was worth it. We had a school lock down that night called Project Graduation that just let us eat pizza, drink pop (soda pop, you heathen!), dance, play games, watch movies, or just cut loose. It was wholesome, and fun, and a good way to say goodbye to one another. They even did a talent show and prize give away. That giveaway was where I got the money to go to the first concerts post-high school. I even made amends with one of the bullies I had in school.
It was a simpler time.
I never liked high school but can appreciate, in hindsight, that it ended well.
But it was simpler.
Just as it’s easy to say though that those times were simpler it seems obvious to say kids have it harder now.
Let’s look at the kids graduating today –
These are kids that have had to worry about school shootings for their whole lives.
These are kids that have seen the effects of global warming on their world.
These are kids who graduate under the shadow of a renewed nuclear future.
These are kids graduating during the worst war Europe has seen since World War 2.
These are kids whose leaders get away with everything these kids, most of them anyway, have been taught not to do – lying, cheating, stealing.
These kids have seen a large-scale insurrection attempt in their nation’s capital.
They have seen their parents forced into a situation where both, if together, must work to make ends meet.
They have been told that the job market is harder.
They have lost at least two years to a global pandemic that many of the adults didn’t take seriously.
They have been told that they are lazy, that they are self-obsessed, that they are too focused on the now and not the tomorrow.
These are kids who have watched as drugs have gotten less recreational and more habit forming.
They have watched as alcohol has been made more like casual drinks.
They have been inundated with advertising on what makes a man, or a woman. On how to be strong. How to be American. How to stand up for yourself. All of this one brand or another with no interest in the kid other than their money.
They have been preached too about doing the right thing and following God’s will and the will of their parents and the will of their leaders only to watch as these people fail upward again and again with no consequence.
These kids have watched people of color become constant targets of police and authority.
They have seen the rights of women and people of color falter and diminish.
They have heard again and again that how they love is wrong, who they love is wrong, and who they are is wrong.
They have watched as ignorance has spread like a disease and intelligence and education is treated as if it flies in the face of ‘facts’ formed from mis-readings of holy books and bias.
We demand so much from these kids to succeed and have fun. To buckle down and plan for the future while going to the parties and the dances. To go out for sports and get good grades. To follow their hearts while doing as they are told.
These kids watch as our politicians rip one another apart and refuse to work together, refuse to compromise because some funder told them not to and because these people treat service as a job they don’t want to lose.
I think of all this and shake my head because these kids deserve better.
They deserve better from us adults than they get.
They deserved a world in better shape than we are willing to hand them.
We are watching as elderly leaders refuse to relinquish power to move aside. These people are greedy for power and money they don’t even need but they are addicted, and like so many other addicts, they can’t just stop.
We are watching as the planet’s smoker’s cough worsens and yet we refuse to help it because that means curtailing industries that have no interest in the future or in cutting profits for their boards and investors.
We have become a world of anger, and rage, and shifting blame. WE are not responsible for the guns, for the wars, for the loss of rights, or the dangerous health.
They did this.
The they who do everything we wouldn’t do.
Sure, sure, we don’t support gun control, or universal health, or women’s rights, or Black rights, or nuclear de-escalation, or environmental causes, sure, but we didn’t screw the world up.
I feel for these kids.
I don’t have to like their music, or social media, or anything.
They don’t care.
I don’t have to care.
That’s the easy ‘old person’ angst that we had poured on us when parents and authorities didn’t agree with what we did.
That’s the age gap – a natural thing but also a refusal to try to understand. We don’t ‘get’ viral trends and Tik Tok and Instagram and Telegram and Snapchat and Twitch and on and on so we cross our arms and say – You Kids Today – without even know what we’re upset about.
We don’t connect with their methods of communication.
That doesn’t mean we give up on them.
On trying to reach them.
Once they graduate it’s college, and jobs, and marriage, and kids, and homes, and all these things we want for them while they beg us to hear them tell us what THEY want.
And we just won’t listen.
We never have listened because we can’t hear them over the voices of past generations in our own heads telling us what it means to be an adult and a man or a woman and an American.
Voices that demand so much and offer so little.
Voices that sound like our own as we speak to kids today.
Spending more time telling them what not to do instead of encouraging them in what they can do.
Sure, I grew up in simpler times but parents and authorities have always been the lazy ones who refused to cross the divide between kids and us. We have always been the ones that kept them from power as long as possible and then blamed them for what happens in the world.
I feel for kids because they have a lot to fix or a lot to avoid and that’s a shame.
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