Monday, November 08, 2004


From the beginning of civilization, older people have looked at youth and shaken their heads in disapproval, wondering how the world will survive. From Greek philosophers to modern politicians, there has been criticism of youths, of their morals, their upbringing, their education, their lifestyles. Some feel more religious training, more character emphasis is needed. Almost every adult sees a problem and has a remedy. But the truth is, when one grows older, the memory of their own younger years fades into a nostalgic blur, with the good times far outweighing the bad, and with a tendency to call the days of one's youth "the good old days", when the fact is, they weren't that good at all!

We've all heard it, or said it, or said something like it..."when I was a boy, I walked seven miles to school, in my bare feet, and had to come home after that seven miles walk and hoe the garden, chop the wood and cultivate the corn."

Or there is that female alternative..."If I had said that when I was a girl, my mother would have grounded me for six months. I didn't wear lipstick until I was twenty-five. I didn't date until I was thirty. I didn't know I had knees until I was twenty. I used to come home from school, cook dinner and do the dishes."

It's true that times have changed. I visit my children's homes and I am amazed at the number of toys available for children today. I am flabbergasted at the price of these toys. I am constantly reminded of my own "toyless" childhood, when I made " pretend" dishes out of broken shards of glass and cherished the pieces of red and blue glass as special treasures. There were no bicycles for us then, with helmets to protect the noggin. If you fell out of a tree and broke your neck, there was no one but yourself to blame. Poor families back then were lucky to eat. There was no money for folderol!

My teenage years were somewhat lacking in fads. Oh, we wore pageboys and Navy "P" Coats, and pullover sweaters with jewelry pinned on the hip, but we were really the Obedient Generation, dependent upon our elders to guide us. We are the generation that went to war and won victories, despite terrible defeats and great loss of life.

Then, too, in remembering teenage behavior, one has to remember the Peace Movement, when most adults felt young people had really gone to the dogs. It was Free Love and Marijuana and the Beatles and the Viet Nam Protest. Actually, one has to hand it to them, because that war was not sensible. They knew what the adults did not...and, why shouldn't they have? They were the generation that fought it, and died, 58,000 of them.

And sometimes I look at my grandchildren and realize that, today, children have more poise and self assurance at the age of ten than I had when I was forty. Now, maybe that's a good thing. Being a poor kid who shuffles around staring at the floor, frightened by every new experience, is pretty traumatic. Sooner or later, though, you grow strong. Your self esteem grows like a plant being fed and watered, in a slow, tedious process. But, with today's children, I think it is taught in school. Self Confidence 101. By the time these kids are forty, they ought to be competent to rule the world...or at least, think they can.

They have more sexual contact today and this is disturbing to most adults, especially when we read the horror stories of sexual episodes in classrooms and the statistics on teen pregnancy. I have always believed wholeheartedly in sexual education and have thought we need more of it, not less. But I think the important problem is the American reticence about sex. Parents hide any sexual contact from children, and sex is not a topic for the dining room table. Perhaps we should loosen up a bit, talk more freely about it, and stop acting as though it is a Forbidden Experience. Kids always want to try things that are forbidden, so being more open about sex is bound to help.

I can honestly say that most of the things I did as a teenager was because they were forbidden. Thus, I had my first cigarette, my first cocktail, my first lover. I wanted to explore life to its fullest, and was completely mystified by these forbidden subjects. I was very secretive about my experiences. In fact, my generation shared many of the same problems that this generation of youngsters have. The difference is, no one talked about it...or, if they did, it was in whispers.

To see the teenagers of today as they stroll down the street can be a shattering experience if you are from a generation where combed hair and clean, neat dresses were the costumes for school. For a while there, I thought some of the youngsters would get lost in their oversized clothing and never be seen again. My teen-aged grandson wore pants that would easily have fit a 500 pound sumo wrestler, and when he walked down the street, his pantlegs trailed behind him like two ragged bridal veils.

That craze is disappearing, thank Heavens, and being replaced with other peculiar antics. Some youngsters have taken up wearing jewelry on just about every spot on their bodies that can be punctured without removing an appendix at the same time. Eyebrows, noses, nipples, even tongues have joined the ears as a place for dangling pieces of nonprecious metal, and I would love to watch any of them try to go through an airport metal detector. Some of them wear so much of it, they clank as they walk along.

My neighbor's daughter goes to school in a variety of hair colors. Sometimes it is green, sometimes blue, sometimes a brilliant orange. I have wanted to introduce her to Tom Ridge, of Homeland Security, so she could be the national gauge of just how alert we should be. Then, too, there is the other neighbor, who has a boy in love with the color black. Not only is his hair black, but he wears black clothing and covers it all with a long black cape. At first, I wasn't sure he wouldn't leap upon me and start nibbling at my neck...but actually, he's a pretty nice young kid.

Pity the teachers, as they look out from their stance in the classroom at this array of finery. And it is so varied. Some have wads of hair, some have none, or very close to none. Then there are the ones who wear their hair Straight Up. Now, you know and I know that hair will go in just about every direction naturally, except straight up. It will stick out sideways, usually when you want it to lay down, or it will lay down when you want it to stick out, but straight up is well nigh impossible without the help of loads of goop. But somehow, these kids manage to do it. Even a high wind won't change the direction of their tresses.

I look at them, these "foreigners" among us, lost in that troublesome Teen World, and I wonder what their future will be. Am I staring at a future banker? Could that one, with the green hair, be the first woman president? Could the one over there, with all the trinkets hanging from his face, be a completent doctor? Or will they all end up fighting terrible wars, probably in hot, sandy countries filled with alien cultures? Will our lives...and the American Dream...depend upon them?

Let there be no doubt about it, these kids of today are unusually intelligent, even the ones who are failing English or Math. They have a knowledge of the world that we never had as youngsters, and they know, as they cling together in groups, that friendship is to be valued. This is why they listen to friends far more than they listen to Mom and Dad. And it is an essential step in growing up.

They'll be fine, and they will grow up determined to make a better world, just as your generation did and mine. So, while you are battling the problems of bringing up children or shaking your head and wondering what the world is coming to, remember.........they own the future. It's theirs, and they are fully capable of making something worthwhile out of it.