I had a long conversation with my grandson this past weekend. I had traveled to visit him and his family during the long holiday day weekend. One morning he and I arose before the rest of the household and we had an opportunity to quietly talk about this and that.
He is a serious and sensitive young man who only recently became a teenager. He thinks long and hard about a number of things. He loves to build with Legos and his room is filled with Star Wars spacecraft and enough buildings for an entire town. He has bridges and cars and trains all made from the tiny blocks. He is quite proud of his collection. He assembles the pieces and then displays the intricate items that he has but together on bookshelves and table tops. His room is a veritable Lego museum. It’s fun just to browse all of his creations.
He is a rather interesting fellow. He collects elements and put them in little jars attached to a magnetic board in the shape of the Periodic Table. He has models of the planets hanging from his ceiling. He’s rather sentimental about his possessions, many of which date back to the time when he was a toddler. He could name the planets and their moons when he was only twenty months old and he has always had a curiosity about the world and how it works. He enjoys mathematics and appears to have a profound sense of numbers. He is a deep thinker so it didn’t surprise me much when our early morning talk turned to ideas about the world and the seeming unfairness that exists in the distribution of food and wealth.
My grandson was feeling a bit guilty because he desperately wanted a new Lego set but would have to wait until he had earned enough money doing chores around the house. He was feeling impatient and had even felt a bit sorry for himself but now he was sensing that his greed was inappropriate. His guilt was couched in the knowledge that he has had a very good life from the moment that he was born. He thought of all the young men his age around the world who live in terrible conditions both because of economics and political situations. He knew that his impatience in wanting to purchase those Legos right now was somehow wrong but he confessed to sometimes wishing that he had even more resources so that he would never have to wait to gratify his wishes. He even admitted that he had never really known any people his age who were poor. He had only read and heard about them.
We spoke of children that I had taught who literally lived in cars or garages or homes with dirt floors. I mentioned a little girl who had only wanted a bed for Christmas because she was tired of sleeping on the hard wood of her living room. He said that he often thought of the children engulfed in the civil war in Syria. He found it difficult to even imagine what it must be like to have an entire way of living torn asunder. He wondered what he might do at his age to help to right some of the wrongs that occur around the globe.
We spoke of change and how difficult it often is to break from comfortable routines. He is a creature of habit who prefers the quiet of his home and familiar friends. He has a certain way of doing things but he realizes that the demands of the world are such that he will have to learn how to adapt. I spoke to him of my own fears of the unknown and how we all worry more than we probably need to do.
It was quite nice having the special time with him. We are usually surrounded by a house full of people and rarely have the occasion to just talk and let the conversation go wherever it may lead. It was a treat for both of us, confirmed by the especially big hug that he gave me once our little soiree was interrupted as the rest of the family began to awaken.
I so often hear negative assessments of today’s young people. It is sometimes suggested that they are self centered, lazy, prone to feeling entitled, unthinking. My experience with them is just the opposite. They are as concerned about our world and its future as we were when we were young. They are feeling pulled in hundreds of different directions including attempting to become accustomed to their changing bodies. They constantly feel the pressure of the high expectations that adults have for them and desire more than anything to make their elders happy while also being true to themselves. Like my grandson their concerns are not always about themselves. They are very aware of the inequalities that exist and they are desirous of finding ways to decrease or eliminate them. They are curious but frightened about how world events will unfold and what effect they will have on them. They want to be brave and strong and good but sometimes wonder if they are up to the challenges that they face. In other words they are much like youth have been throughout history.
I have always believed that each of us have multiple duties in life. We must fulfill our own destinies but we also have responsibilities to both those who are too old to care for themselves any longer and those who are young. We have rights but with those rights come duties that we can never neglect. The lessons of childhood must teach our kids how to be proud of themselves as individuals but also how to care about the people around them. Nobody exists in a vacuum. Each of us has to consider the needs of others. Our lifetimes are filled with ups, downs, triumphs, tragedies and we must be able to cope with whatever comes our way. All of us are constantly modeling behaviors to the children around us. They will mimic whatever they see us doing. If we show respect to all people they will as well. If we are willing to sacrifice now and again so too will they. By the same token if we are abusive or selfish they will come to believe that they don’t have to care about anyone but themselves. Behaviors are learned and very difficult to undo once they have been ingrained.
I feel quite optimistic about the future. I have seen damaged youngsters for sure but more often than not I encounter teenagers who are experimenting a bit but never wandering very far from the beliefs of their families. For the most part parents continue to do their jobs quite well and their children continue to grow into happy and healthy adults just as people have for centuries. We all have a stake in how things will turn out. Hopefully each of us will do our best to provide our young with the support and models that they need. It’s also a good idea to have conversations with them now and again. They can be quite enlightening.