We Weren’t That Resilient

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

58 Comments

  1. Once again my Good Sister, you speak the truth!!!! And I love you for that!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I hope that next year I have the chance to experience Wanket World, the infamous realm I hear daily stories about. A friend of mine (and student of yours) said that she is genuinely sad to be leaving your class. A statement she repeats daily as the C set final gets closer and her time with you is over. Tomorrow, when your class ends for her, will certainly be filled with stories about Wanket World and how amazing your class is.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. C Set was awesome. I’m going to miss them too. Thank you so much for reading, and for your kind remarks. Good luck on the rest of your finals!

      Like

  3. Everything here is true and everyone should listen.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, goddess.

      Like

  4. David Zerkler

    I really liked this piece. We, who are here today, survived and are more or less intact. Not everyone then made it to here.

    Not everything that doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thank you so much for reading. I’m glad it resonated with you. Thank you.

      Like

  5. And I'm the Dad

    I recently meditated on my own growing up in the 70s and 80s. I don’t have the rose-tinted nostalgia that many people seem to have. Do today’s younger generations have issues? Yes. Did we have issues at that age? Yes. Did older people complain about us then? Oh yes.

    So, thanks for writing this. It is parallel with my own thinking. I just wrote about it myself (https://tmblr.co/ZJZiex26SE8SM ) and I am encouraged that I’m not the only one unconvinced by the alarm-ringers and doomsayers.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much for commenting. The coolest thing about people reading and responding to this blog is knowing I’m not the only one. I look forward to reading your ideas. Thanks again.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Just read it – so true! Especially this part “Much of what is called disrespect and immorality today are merely the challenges that every new generation shouts at its predecessors.”

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Squirrel

    I’ve talked with someone in her 40’s, and she’s firmly of the opinion that millennials are too soft. As far as I can tell, it boils down to, “I put up with the shitty sexism and sexual harassment of my (male-dominated) field. You all are entitled because you think that that kind of behavior shouldn’t happen.”

    It just kind of made me sad, because it’s a belief that people don’t deserve any better, and a belief that nothing can change. Yeah, I’m entitled. I’m entitled to work my hardest against learned helplessness, and to have hope.

    And I’m glad there are older people like you who speak out that the past was not as great as people make it out to be.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Some of these words describe my experiences, growing up. Except they don’t. The experiences? Yup. Spot-on. The aftermath? Nope. It’s a broad brush you’re swinging, and you’ve missed more than a few spots.

    NOT calling BS, because that brush *does* hit some spots that needed hitting, but no, it wasn’t nearly as bleak as you present, either.

    The flipside is that kids today ARE resilient – or, at least as much as any of us ever were, and maybe a just a bit more. Sure, they get a lot of pandering, and a lot of nice, unecessary, things, but that’s because *we* give it to them – they *don’t* need it any more (or any less) than we did. But that’s not a popular or fashionable thing to say these days, it seems.

    Like

  8. As a High School administrator watching her 12th class graduating, one which includes her youngest son, HEAR HEAR! I become so wearied at the endless whines, memes and out right silly remarks of people my age regarding our current youth. I, too, grew up in the 70s and 80s when most of us were very selfish, self-obsessed boobs. Kids today are not only more tech savvy, but they are far more aware of the world around them, the climate and the global economy. And considering what they are inheriting, they are far more reslient than we were at their age.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. There are more people from that generation that grew up with their parents being divorced. Because of that fact, many of the people who grew up during the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s were given things by the parent that was not around daily to “prove” their love. When in truth, that parent was “buying” the child so the child would love that parent more because the parent that the child was with daily didn’t have the money to “buy” the child. Therefore, children from that generation might be confused about what “love” is. Is it the “love” given daily by the parent they lived with or is it the “love” of being bought? Is this generation resilient or confused?

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Danielle S

    I’m 42, as a youth my father told me to think about who paid a teacher’s salary. It was a perspective changing moment. I went to public school and even way back then expected to receive a reasonable education. My peers were not entitled and my school was reasonably tolerant (notice I didn’t say accepting) but those in trouble often couldn’t get the real help they needed. I work with youth and many of them are offensively entitled….the world owes me a job, house, car…blah, blah, blah…but I plan to do no work to earn it. Parents wanted to make their children’s lives easier, so they gave them everything without earning any of it…no work ethic or integrity.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I could not possibly agree more. As my friends and I who were raised like this, with varying degrees of ensuing struggle, always say about our childhoods “Where WERE the parents?” Thanks for this.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Andrew P.

    “The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise.” — Socrates

    Liked by 1 person

    1. And I'm the Dad

      It’s a great quote. I wish Socrates had actually said it (or Plato, as it is sometimes attributed to). I went looking for the source and found this research instead: http://quoteinvestigator.com/2010/05/01/misbehaving-children-in-ancient-times/

      But, there are other quotes — real, sourced quotes — that are similarly damning. Discussing too much moral license in society, this quote really is from Plato (The Republic, Book IV):

      “Little by little, this spirit of license, finding a home, imperceptibly penetrates into manners and customs. From there, it invades contracts between man and man, and from contracts goes on to laws and constitutions, in utter recklessness, ending at last by an overthrow of all rights, private as well as public…. If amusements become lawless, and the youths themselves become lawless, they can never grow up into well-conducted and virtuous citizens…. They will invent for themselves rules which have been otherwise neglected, such as how to show respect to their elders; what honor is due to parents; what clothing and hairstyles are appropriate; and all behavior and manners in general.”

      See https://tmblr.co/ZJZiex26SE8SM for more examples.

      Like

  13. rememberswell

    Thank you for saying what I think every time I see a “back then it was better” post! Yes, in the 60-70s, we had ADHD, just undiagnosed, so we just looked stupid and lazy . Yes, we had less supervision. We could drink and smoke at an early age easily, get molested, etc. and still fly under the radar of our parents. Schools didn’t pander to us and give us A’s…but they could give/sell pot, alcohol, etc. and date students (my high school was full of 20-something guys seeking draft exemptions for teachers and that went as well as you might expect). And the Lord of the Flies analogy is spot-on. Being bullied? Better stand up for yourself because there wouldn’t be a caring adult intervening. And if for some reason you couldn’t… eh. Very “sink or swim” and if you sank, oh well.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. “Very “sink or swim” and if you sank, oh well.” – this sums it up so well!

      Like

  14. kblack56

    Thank you for saying what I think every time I see a “back then it was better” post! Yes, in the 60-70s, we had ADHD, just undiagnosed, so we just looked stupid and lazy . Yes, we had less supervision. We could drink and smoke at an early age easily, get molested, etc. and still fly under the radar of our parents. Schools didn’t pander to us and give us A’s…but they could give/sell pot, alcohol, etc. and date students (my high school was full of 20-something guys seeking draft exemptions for teachers and that went as well as you might expect). And the Lord of the Flies analogy is spot-on. Being bullied? Better stand up for yourself because there wouldn’t be a caring adult intervening. And if for some reason you couldn’t… eh. Very “sink or swim” and if you sank, oh well.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. jdrhoades

    Yeah, I keep hearing that “you know, we had spanking in schools, and look how we turned out.” My usual reply is that the people who got spanked in schools are the ones running the world you’re griping about.

    And I recall not just spankings, but beatings with paddles, sticks, and tennis rackets that on at least one occasion sent a kid to the hospital. Good times, those.

    Liked by 3 people

  16. Please don’t speak for me.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Very happy to see this article. I wrote something similar for the Huffington Post a little while ago: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/daniel-cubias/what-was-so-great-about-a-gen-x-childhood_b_7336818.html

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can’t wait to read that. Thank you!

      Like

    2. Just read it and it’s awesome. Saving this too!

      Like

      1. I thought this article was fabulous too. Such important work here.

        Like

  18. If the fortysomethings who came of age in the 1970s and 1980s truly believed their childhoods were so great, how come virtually none of them are raising their kids the same way? All these parents who wax nostalgic about playing outside unsupervised until the street lights came on don’t let their own kids play outside unless an adult is watching over them. (And I’m talking about school-aged kids here, not toddlers.) Parents who were bullied and “handled it myself just fine” will show up in the principal’s office the moment someone picks on their own kid.

    Liked by 2 people

  19. As a queer child of the 70’s and a teen of the 80’s, thank you. I lived in fear the whole time.

    Liked by 2 people

  20. Resilience? One marker of that would be historical suicide rates.
    http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-624-x/2012001/article/chart/11696-02-chart1-eng.htm
    In Chart 1 we see a sharp rise after 1962, which may indicate then, a drop in everyone’s resilience.
    http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-624-x/2012001/article/chart/11696-02-chart6-eng.htm
    In Chart 6 we see a steady suicide rate for15 to 19 year olds, over years. This may mean that in this age group modern teens are no more and no less resilient than those of yesteryear. I had hoped things hadimproved.

    Like

    1. I am very wary of mixing up the term resilience with the facts of suicidal depression. The factors that lead to a child making the choice to end his or her life are varied and complex. Suicide is not about giving up because things got too hard. Let’s turn to the experts in teen depression and suicide for guidance on how to help our young ones toward mental health and peace.

      Liked by 2 people

  21. “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.”

    I 100% agree with that. Suffering is bad enough, suffering in silence is horrendous.

    Liked by 2 people

  22. S Johnson

    Pretty lame. 56y/o Army vet. We were a far cry from our parents generation (the greatest generation and yes they were). Each following generaion gets a little softer, expects a little more and lets more common sense & brains fall out of their heads. So save your little altruistic self depreciation and go find some cheese to go with your whine.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. By far one of the greatest things I’ve read in a while. As my friend Arwen said when I shared this with her, “I feel like she was my next door neighbor, ya know?!” Thank you for speaking the truth out loud.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much. It’s an honor that you read it.

      Like

      1. Shared on the Trigger Points Anthology Facebook page. No surprise to me, it’s been received very well.

        Liked by 1 person

  24. What about peanut allergies? Today’s kids have it objectively worse when it comes to the consumption of peanut butter sandwiches, cookies, and candies.

    Like

  25. You left out something very important I have been thinking about a lot lately… sexual abuse. I am 49 and the mother of two children, ages 16 and 13. It feels like it has been about 10 years now that the women of our generation started to speak out about their own childhood sexual abuse, having been molested by a father, uncle, neighbor, or teacher. However, most recently, I have been stunned to hear from innumerable *men* who are starting to talk about their own sexual abuse as children. I have often lamented how frustrated I am trying to raise independent kids in the world we live in today. No one feels safe letting their kids roam the neighborhoods, ride their bikes to the park alone to play, or even spend the night at a friends house. We bemoan the fact that our children’s lives have been consumed with “organized activities” to an unnatural extreme, stifling their own time management, creativity, and conflict resolution skills. My husband and I refused to allow TV or video games in our home, forcing books and exploration on our kids as they’ve grown up, but still always within the safe confines of our gaze. I am now realizing that there is a reason, and a damn good one, for this kind of over-protectiveness of our kids by ourselves and our peers. An unfathomable number of our generation were traumatized by sexual abuse. Unlike previous generations which were taught to “turn a blind eye” or who were punished, or persecuted for revealing a molesting uncle, little league coach, or priest, our generation refused to remain silent and allow their abusers to remain anonymous. They also refused to risk exposing their kids to the horror so many of them survived. I was one of the lucky ones not to have ever been sexually molested, but the more friends I know, male and female, who are speaking out about their abuse, the more I understand why our kids are so sheltered. No doubt we are paying a steep price for their lack of independence, but the alternative wasn’t an option.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I totally agree. Thank you so much for your comments. This is a subject for a much more specific post, I think. Thank you again.

      Like

  26. Reblogged this on Clark Knowles and commented:
    A fine post that recalls the great Hold Steady lyric: “I survived the 80’s one time already/ and I don’t recall them all that fondly”

    Like

  27. Sharon Bowler

    I have been saying much of this for some time now. We see the memes on facebook about how wonderful it was back then. “We didn’t ride in car seats and we survived!” We no, you survived and I survived, but a whole lot of us didn’t. We played all day without supervision and we’re fine! Yep, some of us are.
    I remember teachers teasing kids because they were fat or slow, so of course kids did too. And people would say “Kids are mean” where did they think we got it?
    And I’m sorry that some of the readers here had different experiences or different memories and now are so rude as the talk about the poor manners of the young today.
    When do you think humans will really see ourselves as we are?
    Thank you for this beautiful piece!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks. I don’t mind commenters disagreeing, though. It’s cool we’re all talking about it. I remember some pretty damaging teacher teasing too, racist remarks as well. Part of why I became a teacher was to do better. Thanks again for reading and remarking. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  28. Scott Madis

    thought-provoking. Thank you for writing this.
    A friend shared this to me, along with his poignant comments. This was my response, to him:

    I shared it to my school alumni group.
    I disagree with her on a fundamental opinion that I believe where you grew up – in the 70’s-80′ – had almost as much impact as the lack of today’s technology and “stuff”.

    I grew up in an outer-suburban small town. Crime was virtually non-existent. Racism was not apparent, as it was mostly a white population. We led charmed lives, in hindsight. Many, including myself, were spoiled, terribly. We were not aware, of course – we were kids. When we watched the news, it was always about stuff that was thousands of miles away. Not in our realm.

    Our teachers, for the most part, were extremely caring and competent. The whole school system was, and still is, the pillar of the community. People move there to pay high taxes so their kids go to an excellent public school.

    If we were more resilient – and I think we probably were* – it was at least in part due to the lack of social media and market/access to drugs like meth and heroin. Pot, yes. Heavy narcotics, no.

    My thinking that we were more resilient then, in my town, is based on the lack of suicide and acting out. Like taking guns to school, or shooting people, or violent assaults. They just didn’t happen. The occasional fist-fight. Gangs did not exist, other than the “Our Gang” type. We had dogs. We mowed lawns. Washed cars. Delivered newspapers. Went camping. Fishing. Played outdoor games – even in winter.

    Yes, we were more resilient. Not because we tried to be. Or had better cereals. If anything, probably because we had fewer choices than kids today. I can’t think of anything that we did then that kids today can’t do, if they choose to. I just don’t think they make those choices.

    Like

    1. Thank you so much for taking the time to share, comment, and discuss. I love that we are all talking openly about our experiences, even as they have differed.

      Again, we must be very, very careful about equating teen suicide and depression as a lack of resilience. As a teacher and parent, I do not consider teen mental illness as a sign of poor character. This is a damaging and extremely dangerous view, and we must protect our children by being very clear that mental illness is not a moral issue. We must be vigilant for signs of mental illness and suicidal depression in the young people in our care and be clear in our message that mental illness is not a sign of weakness.

      I only speak of my own experience and observations. I am sure that there are other white people who were in my nearly all-white high school who would have claimed that our community wasn’t racist. The critical eye I mean to take on my own experience includes looking at the big picture of my entire experience, and how the cultural norms were harmful in some ways overall.

      Thanks again for reading. I hope we all find this discussion thought-provoking in helpful ways!

      Like

  29. I’ve just read through all the previous comments, and most of those have already said what I want to say, so just want to give you a big cyber high-five. Thank you for articulating so eloquently what I so often say not-so-eloquently in my head every time I read one of those “my generation was tough and turned out better” posts. This post is being saved and coming out as a comment whenever I see one of those posts in future.

    Like

    1. Thank you so much for your kind remarks, and for reading. This was kind of pent up for a while, to be honest. It makes me so happy that it resonated with people, because it means I’m not the only one! Thank you again, so so much.

      Like

  30. This blog post made me laugh and get very quiet and sad at the same time. I cannot tell you how true your words rang for me. Thank you for writing these absolutely awesome words.

    Like

    1. Thank you so much for reading and leaving such a gracious comment. It means more than you know.

      Like

  31. […] We Weren’t That Resilient | Someone with a ’70s childhood dispels the myth that they grew up in the golden age of American happiness. […]

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  32. Reblogged this on anastadubu.

    Like

  33. Michael Slobogan

    I was born in the late forties and am a Veteran. I would not wish my life on someone I hated let alone the youth of today. Thanks to our Politicians, although I do not regret serving my country, I am no longer proud of my Canada. The lack of respect for our country, our traditions and our people allowed by our governments is a horrible example to our youth.

    Like

  34. […] then I read Maureen O’Leary’s We Weren’t That Resilient, and I remembered some things. I remembered that, as she writes, “it got pretty Lord of the […]

    Like

  35. I can’t even begin to say how much I love this. So so true and all the nostalgia gets on my nerves so badly (as one of the kids who met ‘bad adults’ when the good ones were letting us roam unsupervised and who’s spent a lifetime trying to recover from the trauma). It wasn’t all roses and butterflies and when other parents call me OTT and a ‘helicopter parent’ because I like to know where my kids are, and when they minimise my experience as a ‘one off’ and ‘rare’, I feel invisible, ignored and silenced. One kid hurt is one too many, and my kids will be that kid over my dead body.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Your experience was absolutely not rare, and to suggest otherwise is incredibly ignorant. Thank you for reading. How fortunate your children are to have you for a parent.

      Like

    2. Your children are SO fortunate to have you, and it’s a heartbreaking fact that there will probably be at least one kid who wishes they’d had a parent like you 😦

      Liked by 1 person

  36. I was homeschooled before it was cool, and now I am thankful for that, books are better than boys, or hanging around the wrong people, places for for sure. 🙂

    Like

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