In response to the bell ringing that kids these days aren’t resilient the way their parents were growing up in the Wild West of the seventies and eighties suburban American neighborhoods and schools: I call bullshit.
We weren’t that resilient.
Those of us growing up in the seventies and eighties were not tilling Victory gardens and whittling useful things out of sticks that we found on the ground. I know. I was there.
I can only speak to my own experience, and trigger warning, I’m not prone to nostalgia.
Yes, we played outside with the neighborhood kids until the streetlights came on.
It’s true we didn’t have iPhones. We weren’t texting or addicted to screens.
We didn’t expect our teachers to give us A’s.
We drank from the garden hose when we were thirsty.
And it got pretty Lord of the Flies out there in the neighborhood and schoolyards before the streetlights came on and no adults were watching. In fact, when the good adults weren’t watching, a lot of bad adults got away with some bullshit. Many in my generation would like you to believe we just rubbed dirt on the pain and got over it. Trauma doesn’t work that way, and no we didn’t.
We didn’t have iPhones and constant screens, but we weren’t sitting around reading great books and practicing piano, either. We played a lot of inane video games (Frogger?) and watched a lot ton of rotten television shows that were sexist, racist, and bad art. (I see you, Love Boat.)
We didn’t expect our teachers to give us A’s, but we also didn’t expect most of them to teach us anything. I’m not in favor of government-implemented standards that serve political interests rather than the good of kids any more than the next teacher is, but back then, there were no standards. The teachers who were invested and did care were a prize because they were rare. I had one invested math teacher in twelve years of schooling. In other words, I didn’t learn math, and I wasn’t the only one (girls especially).
Drinking from the garden hose was pretty tasty. I do concede that point.
Look, if we take away the sepia tones of nostalgia, we might also remember things like the fact that we said “gay,” “retarded,” and “Jewish” as put-downs in my Catholic high school and nobody stopped us. God forbid someone was actually gay, learning disabled, or of another ethnic or cultural background than most. Kids who were in any way off the extremely narrow line of the norm were persecuted ruthlessly, and I don’t know anyone who just got over it. We pretended it wasn’t happening, when we could. When we couldn’t, we just counted the days until we could be out of our Wild West childhoods and into someplace that made sense.
We weren’t pandered to with the myriad of diagnosed anxiety disorders of today’s kids. Naw, we just had eating disorders and mental illnesses that we suffered in secret, silence, and shame.
For example, one of my high school friends lived in terror that the devil was trying to grab him from underground, one among a number of his quirks that in retrospect point to at least a concern for adolescent onset schizophrenia. No one was concerned. He couldn’t be convinced to stop climbing onto the roof of the school to escape the devil so he was expelled. The boy didn’t end up surviving his twenty-first summer.
What I mean to say is, sure we were unsupervised and didn’t feel entitled to things, but we weren’t carefree. We didn’t come out of our seventies and eighties childhoods inherently more persistent, resilient in the face of obstacles, and morally superior. We ran up credit card debt we couldn’t afford to pay off, bought into ill-advised mortgages we walked away from, and created the Great Pacific garbage patch.
Maybe not all of us did those things. Of course, I don’t mean you personally.
I’ve been a high school teacher for fifteen years. The seniors I’m waving good-bye to this year are a group of the most entitled kids I’ve ever taught. They feel entitled to the sanctity and good health of their own bodies, entitled to a viable planet, entitled to be treated with respect, and entitled to gain something useful for the seven hours a day they sit in classrooms.
They are entitled to all of that. And guess what? So were we.
Getting ready for the release of The Ghost Daughter has me thinking about parenting, trauma, and all the things. Pre-order here if you want.