There are a number of popular memes bemoaning the behavior of today’s young people. They all suggest that modern day kids are spoiled and without the positive character traits of youngsters of the past. I’ve seen such pronouncements both on Facebook and Twitter. They insinuate that parents are not teaching their sons and daughters to be independent, hard working or grateful for the lives that they have. I cringe when I see them because my continued interaction with youth ensures me that they are very good souls who will do a wonderful job of taking on the problems of the world when the time comes for them to step up to that responsibility.
I’m not naive enough to deny that there are indeed some not so nice youngsters among us, but such lost souls have always been around since the beginning of time. For the most part the children and teens of today are not much different than we were when we were the same age. In fact history and literature tell us that youths have always been searching for identities and appearing to be irresponsible in the process. It is a natural phase of growth that ultimately passes into maturity. I’ve seen it over and over again.
The first students that I ever taught are now in their mid to late fifties. Some of them already have grandchildren. Even the once most mischievous trouble makers are working to earn livings and provide for themselves and their families. They served as doctors and nurses during the pandemic, often risking their own health for the sake of others. Others became teachers which was a kind of karma given that a few knew how to push the boundaries of conduct when they were in a classroom as students. There are engineers, business executives, lawyers, ministers, builders, real estate moguls, coaches, artists, soldiers and even a talented tenor who recently sang in Carnegie Hall. Many of them once struggled with getting lessons turned in on time or they seemed to be continually filled with angst. They all turned out better than just fine, as will the kids who are coming along in the present.
We sometimes forget how challenging it has been for our young people during the last couple of years. We have tended to focus on adults who have been sick or who lost their jobs or homes. We forgot that the children were enduring all of the anxiety along with the adults, often without any outlets for their fears. They spent a great deal of time learning remotely from their bedrooms, a situation that seemed to work with the students that I taught save for one little boy who was unable to handle learning from a computer screen at all. He may have appeared to be rude and a bit arrogant but I understood that he was having difficulty follow the lessons even though he is exceedingly bright. I was not present in person to keep him focused on learning. It was painful for both of us, but I would never presume that somehow he was a bad boy. His struggles had more to do with the impersonal nature of the environment than any kind of character flaw.
Children sense the worry in the world even when they appear to be innocent and unaware. Their thoughts about the nature of our society are often far more profound than we give them credit for having. They hear about school shootings even when we attempt to shelter them from such things. When teachers do their best to be lighthearted in active shooter drills the kids pick up on the hidden fears that prompt such things. When doors are locked and fences are built around campuses they wonder what the adults are attempting to do. They know and understand so much more than we think they do, but they don’t always tell us how they are feeling about such things. It’s up to us to observe when they suddenly become angry or sad.
When I was a child I remember witnessing the panic in our neighborhood when a man two doors down shot and killed his wife. I recall standing outside on our driveway while everyone on the block waited tensely for the police and an ambulance to arrive. I saw the woman’s children crying in terror behind the picture window in their living room. I was only eight years old, but I have never forgotten how frightening the situation was. That house remained abandoned for years after that and I would always cross the street and go to the other side rather than walk in front of what seemed to me to be a scene of horror. It brought panic into my heart just thinking about what had happened there. Think of children and teens who are attempting to process the last few years and how deeply they have been affected. The fact that they are doing as well as they are is a testament to both them and the adults who care for them.
I am a cheerleader for our younger generation. I not only have great faith in them, but I also believe without reservation that they will be outstanding leaders and workers who will take on the jobs and problems of the future. When I hear the passion in their voices as they analyze the challenges that we all face and make suggestions as to how to unravel them, I am impressed with their determination and good will. They are incredibly kind and thoughtful, often more so than the adults.
I’ve begun immediately hiding or blocking the kind of posts that demean the young. I think that they are short-sighted and presumptive. I just wish that every adult had the opportunity to interact with children and teens and young adults as much as I do. They would be filled with optimism just as I am. Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn were mischievous fellows, but I am certain that they one day became very fine men. The vast majority of our children will be okay if we just have some patience and love them.