‘Kids these days’ is a matter of perception.

Kids These DaysI took my son to the park tonight. It was dusk as we rounded the corner to the play structure. There we saw a band of 10-12 year old boys. They looked like the kind of kids most would consider rebellious and disrespectful. Their attire was suspect; all had black hoodies, baggy pants, crazy hair, a demeanor yet to be determined. Their bikes tangled in a heap next to the swings. They were standing on the swings, climbing up the slides and being wild. What I saw in them was me. When I was young. When I was given the freedom to be out with friends without supervision.

We approached the structure with caution and looked for an opening to climb up to the tier where the slide entrances were. I walked in front one of the boys standing at the monkey bars. As I passed the boy swung out, unaware that I was there. He missed me as I reached out to stop his swing. I apologized because it was I that walked out in front of him. To my surprise, he said he was to blame: “I didn’t see you and almost hit you. It’s my fault.” “No worries” told him as I moved on with my son.

I kept an eye on them as they were attempting a ‘how many college kids can fit a phone booth’ routine but with a swing. We went down the slide a couple of more times before my son spotted the empty child’s swing next to where the boys were attempting their record. On our last attempt down the slide one of the boys was blocking our path trying to go down the steps. I stepped aside to allow him through. “You can go first.” he told me. “There are a ton of ways down this thing and only one way up. I’ll go this way so you can come up.”

After our last trip down, I reluctantly agreed to push him on the swing next to the boys, as I was leery being to close to their antics. “Watch out for the little kid.” one of them said as I placed my son in the swing a mere foot from them. “Oops. Sorry.” another one said. I pushed my son as high as the swing would allow while, much to my amazement, all five boys managed to fit on the swing. One called out to a buddy that was out of ear shot to push them all.  He didn’t respond. “Hey, you guys all got a good hold?” I ask. “Yep.” So there I was, simultaneously pushing a group of pre-teens and my son. They laughed until one fell off; then they all spilled off of the swing. They thanked me, told my son they liked his hair and sped off on their bikes after discussing who’s mom was making what for dinner.

The moral? The ‘kids these days’ rhetoric is a perception of adults that forgot they were once children. This perception would have led me to believe that these boys, the ones I pushed on the swing, were troublemakers. Being wild, climbing improperly on the equipment, banding together. When I first saw them, as I said earlier, they reminded me of me. Kids having fun, acting their age without concern of their perception. Once involved in their world; they were respectful and nice to me while being mindful of my 3 year old son. But you wouldn’t have known, or guessed, that by looking at the 5 second window we all use to pre-judge.

Kids these days. We were all once kids; indulging in various stages of enjoyment. We see them in hordes in the malls, at parks, at the movies, arcades (yes, those still exists) and assume the worst. We see them embracing their freedom and living up their childhood. Like ‘kids these days’, we all hid things, did things we may regret, rebelled a little. As we age, we forget these things. We live in the adult world, where we expect everyone to be well mannered and respectful of everyone. Forgotten are the days when we ourselves were still learning and figuring out our place. Forgotten are the days when we were still learning to regulate our own emotions and impulses. Admit it, you’ve said some pretty harsh things under your breath and had some harsh thoughts. The difference? We have the ability and life experience to not act upon them. To veto the impulse before it gets executed.

People will tell you kids these days get away with much more than they did. That is simply not true. Looking back on my childhood and teen years I got away with quite a bit, as did all of my peers. No worse than today’s youth. Forgotten are the all your childhood shenanigans in favor of the times you were reprimanded. Why? Fear has a stronger tie to memory. It’s a basic built in survival trait. We avoid fear. Things that hurt. Punishment will stand out more than the time you went into the woods with your friends all day and came home just after dinner was served and your parents didn’t say anything.

If you go back far enough, every generation claims the succeeding one has issues and is out of control. Somehow, I don’t believe that is the case. The problem with ‘kids  these days’ is its perception from the previous generation. They are different than us, they are in to different hobbies than us and strive to be their unique selves in an environment that demands they be specific ways. We see a struggling child in the store and think the worst: they need punished and taught respect. We are too quick to dismiss them and resort to the common rhetoric we have all grown accustomed to: ‘kids these days’. All generations had their groups of true troublemakers. What they did not have was social media blasting the small sect of kids that do act out and are disrespectful while rallying around calls for harsher punishments; further distorting this perception. All my peers, including myself, that did questionable acts and behaved certain ways throughout childhood grew into successful adults. Not because of harsh punishment or more ‘ass whoopings’; but because they simply matured into men and women. There is nothing wrong with kids these days. Only our perception of them.

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