When I was a kid, there was a lady down the street who spent her days in a state of utter exasperation. She was outraged at everything, appalled by life, offended by people in general—especially young people. We avoided her because she was always on a tear, and it was miserable to get stuck on the receiving end of one of her rants: “Kids these days! Back when I was a girl…” basically your blanket disapproval of anything that didn’t exist before the Cold War.
I vowed I would never be like the neighbor lady – no way. I would, instead, be the type of grown-up who embraced the future and its trappings. I would welcome change as the natural order of things and reject any stubborn adherence to the past. The past, with its nonsensical rules, was a place for old biddies with resting gasp-face. I would be the eternal beacon of cool, like an ambassador to youth culture.
Fast forward thirty years to me living the illustrious life of a substitute teacher in a K-6 school, where I see a healthy cross-section of elementary-age kids, routinely. As a whole, they’re lovable and endearing, kind and good natured, but there are moments – lots of moments, actually – when I witness behavior that makes me go, What the…? Moments that stand in stark contrast to my upbringing and what was deemed acceptable, when part of me is aghast, part of me envies their gumption, and all of me is thinking, We would never have done that.
For instance, kids nowadays:
1 | Call adults by their first names or some dorky version thereof
Like Miss Michelle or Mr. Steve. When we were kids we called all adults Mrs. & Mr. LastName – no exceptions. To this day, I don’t know what any of my friends’ parents’ first names were.
2 | Nose around in someone else’s home
My daughter’s friends will come in our house, open cupboards, open drawers, go into the fridge, etc., and it’s not that I mind (I’m lying, I do mind), it just feels invasive, like, where are the boundaries?
3 | Ask for something without being offered
Kids at school ask me all the time for whatever it is I’m eating or drinking, and I’m like, No, get your own and Where are your manners?
4 | Sit and watch TV while their parents are doing chores
OMG, when I was a kid, if my parents were doing yard work, or washing windows, or doing housework, then so was I. There was no debate about the benefits of kids having assigned chores https://www.wsj.com/articles/why-children-need-chores-1426262655, it was a mandate.
5 | Send an adult a friend request
Even if I hadn’t grown up before the dawn of the digital age, I would never have crossed the generational line, affectionately known as the Corruption of Minors Act, and presumed to be anyone’s social contemporary.
6 | Create gift registries for birthday parties
Not only was it considered tacky to expect a gift on your birthday (you had to feign surprise when presented with one), it was unheard of to ask for anything specific.
7 | Get highlights in their hair
I know I sound like the biggest curmudgeon with this one, but why does a second-grader need streaks of ashy-oak-blonde in her or his naturally sun-kissed locks? (One could argue our parents did the same when they gave us an Ogilvie Home Perm, but with those, the smell ruined any semblance of chic.)
8 | Use profanity without discretion
When I was a kid, you censored what you said, and any swearing was done out of the adults’ earshot, period. Nowadays, cussing isn’t even a trip-to-the-principal’s-office offense.
9 | Make excuses for themselves, ad nauseam
This drives me crazy. When we were kids, if an adult accused you of something, you did it, end of story. Kids today act like they’re Johnnie Cochran in training and won’t give it a rest until they’re acquitted. I have spent more time than I care to admit laying out my case against a fourth grader who denied saying “bitch” behind my back.
10 | Believe that they are the most important element in society
Kids are many things in the fabric of society – the most vulnerable, the most dependent, the hope for our future, the smallest, the cutest – but to instill in them that they are the most important, warps their perspective and creates a core of self-absorption. Kids reflect the world they live in, and if they’re treated as if they matter more than, say, a senior citizen, they will learn to see the senior citizen as inconsequential. (Not so good when we’re the senior citizens.)
At the risk of sounding like every old person who’s ever indiscriminately signed off an entire segment of the population, I think my neighbor down the street was on to something. It must have been the folly of my youth that made her seem unreasonable, but at least I can admit it.