If you’re the proud owner of a Facebook account (or eyes), you’re probably very familiar with headlines like these:
Quit Complaining, Spoiled Brats!
When I Was a Kid in the Seventies/Eighties…
10 Ways You’re Spoiling Your Kid.
When Summer Was Amazing.
I’ve Had Enough of Your Electronics, Force Your Kids to Play Outside, Already!
Summer has clearly evoked strong emotions in many of us, and with good reason. We’re tired of complaining. We’re tired of competitive parenting and one-upmanship. We’re tired of unresponsive kids, hypnotized by Apple’s latest time-sucking devices. We’re tired of hundred-dollar dolls and the ungrateful children who demand them.
The articles behind these headlines speak to us, they tell us we’re not alone in our annoyances. They incite a collective sigh of frustration and a resounding amen. They are in most cases, a figurative olive branch; parent to parent, we’re putting our feet down in unison and demanding our voices be heard. Your kids are driving us insane! Enough is enough!
As the mother of two iPad-wielding, American-Girl-doll-carrying, instant-gratification-seeking children, I grasp this concept as well as any parent can. I know precisely how it feels to look at my children and think, This overindulgence has gotten out of hand.
After all, when we were kids we didn’t need fancy toys and portable touch screens to have a good time, we had our imaginations. We were self sufficient, we did chores, we bought our own toys. We rode bicycles and caught fireflies and stared at clouds, dreaming for hours. We didn’t need cell phones. The street lights told us when to go home.
We think a lot of ourselves, don’t we?
It’s easy to look back at our childhoods and hand-select memories that seemingly validate our opposition to what’s currently offending us. In our desire to address the ever-growing epidemic of complaining kids who lack self-reliance, we’ve chosen to overlook the parts of our childhoods that were unflattering. We’re turning a blind eye to the vast societal improvements afforded to us in the past forty years, the strides we’ve made in education and medicine, the battles fought for equality.
Social media has somehow transformed the seventies and eighties into a model of perfection, an ideal combination of hard work and freedom, an era that churned out quality adults like us, with stiff backbones and solid values. The very people responsible for turning the up-and-coming generation into an army of selfish monsters.
Sure, I recall unattended summer days, filled with laughter and games of tag. But life wasn’t always idyllic and I was never that appreciative, hard working kid we like to believe once existed.
I remember my dad saying, “If we had enough of you, we could build a house,” in response to “I’m bored.”
I remember asbestos-laden popcorn ceilings and lead paint and standing up in the backseat of a seatbelt-free car.
I remember merciless bullying and internalizing fear, because at that time, it was considered a right of passage.
I remember pouring two cups of refined white sugar and one tiny packet of Kool-Aid into a plastic pitcher and considering it “juice.”
I remember sitting with my nose two inches from a television screen so I didn’t have to get up to change the channel.
I remember not having chores.
I remember my mom reminding me of starving children in China when I was ungrateful for my dinner.
I remember animated Hamm’s commercials airing in between cartoons.
I remember groups of kids on bicycles, double-dog-daring one another to ride past a gay man’s house.
I remember secondhand smoke.
I remember playing Atari for hours until my parents unplugged it and forced me to go outside.
I remember our first VCR and watching Robin Hood over and over for days.
I remember attaching a record player to a very, very long extension cord so we could listen to music while we swam, unsupervised.
I remember that being unsupervised often meant exposure to unsavory material and traumatic experiences.
I remember adults telling children how spoiled they were and how they had no idea how easy their lives were.
No generation has been raised without flaw. The mere fact that you became a decent adult despite having spent your childhood roaming unsupervised for hours on end is not in itself proof of cause. Our childhoods were every bit as flawed as our kids’ will be.
I’m not sure why we’ve suddenly become so intent upon villainizing modern childhood; why we feel the need to share increasingly sensationalized portrayals of present day brats disrupting our lives, nor why parents desire to publicly shamed one another for having children who behave like… children.
Because somehow, despite having had an entire childhood filled with 1980’s-style summers, I still managed to throw massive tantrums, and melt down in public, and act completely ungrateful and disrespectful toward my parents.
I won’t deny the ridiculous level of coddling our children receive today, nor will I refuse to acknowledge newfound problems associated with overindulgence and constant stimulation. I won’t even claim my own children aren’t falling victim to some of these issues. I am confident, however, that reinventing the past and persistently claiming the moral high ground isn’t doing anyone any good.
We are mistaken when we assume that today’s problems can be solved with yesterday’s answers; when we assert that offering our children 1980’s-style summers is the key to success. I can’t give my kids a 1980’s summer, because it’s 2017.
Our childhoods are ours to remember, not to enforce upon our children.