In the mid 1970s, as I was stumbling through my unremarkable high school years, the drama department decided, without any consultation with the students, to perform the 1960s play Bye Bye Birdie, as the annual musical presentation of that school year. In a more than desperate move, they coerced me into playing the role of Conrad Birdie, with an unwritten promise that I would receive an undeserved higher mark in my music class for the effort. Welcoming this corrupt opportunity, I played the role with tempered enthusiasm.
For three nights I sang Elvis like songs to a packed auditorium consisting of parents, grandparents, and the occasional unwilling sibling who was dragged to the school play with a promise of an ice cream cone on the drive home. Each audience member of the three night sold out performances, endured marginal singing peppered with missed lines, missed cues, and a small high school band supporting the songs with a very noticeable out of tune saxophone. The song that garnered the best response from the adoring generations in the uncomfortable seats of the cafeteria turned theatre, was the number titled Kids. The line that caused the loudest suppressed forced laughter was the simple phrase, “Kids, what’s the problem with kids today? Why can’t they be like we were, perfect in every way?”
Now before we examine the problem with kids today, lets really examine that look older people display when they attempt to show their sense of humour. There is a look I have seen many times from my senior relatives that is indescribable, so let me describe it. It starts with a borderline smile. The corners of the mouth do go up, but only slightly. This half grin is accompanied by a noticeable nodding of the head. These two combined expressions show a sense of “I get it, isn’t that so true.” This well-earned facial expression, based on years of experience, is also demonstrating to anyone who will look that “I am not sure I get it, but I am older, so I should understand what others are saying”. To be more precise, this is the same look I receive at cocktail parties when I bore people incessantly, as I pontificate for ten to fifteen minutes, about the elaborate design and history of the combustible engine. Yes people do nod, kind of smile and frantically search for someone they might know at the party and politely rush to get away from me. As they back away, the nodding and half smile continues, I often change to the topic to my thoughts on the flaws of the current CFL free agent draft policy.
So what is the problem with kids today? Where do I begin? Who changed all the rules? Has anyone seen my cell phone charger?
The logical place to start, in an exploration of changing youngster behaviour, is today’s curious travelling standards. I will start with my own family history that is well-documented in hand scribbled notes at various psychiatrists across southern Ontario. From the time I was ten years old, until I purchased my first used car the age of thirty-two, if I or my siblings were in need for transportation to a mall, a hockey game, an early shift at my part time work place, or even a girlfriend’s house, where unrequited desires were blocked at a regular pace, there were always three options to consider. Walk, ride your bike or take the bus. There was a fourth option, a ride from one of your parents, however that option was only considered when my leg was noticeably hemorrhaging, my shoulder was dislocated or I was in a coma caused by a slight fall from the top of my neighbour’s tree. Of course the one and only destination up for negotiation for a parent assisted car ride was the emergency room at the local hospital.
Today, this archaic order of travel has been magically reversed. To put this more accurately, since 1995, children expect a car ride to visit their friend’s house across the street.
When did the rules get changed? Who decided on this environmentally unfriendly gas guzzling new order? All is good as I just found my phone charger. It was hidden in the preceding paragraph, under my neighbour’s tree.
The next change with kids today occurred more slowly, but with much greater precision. Table manners are difficult to teach when the table is screwed into the ground and the lure of a playland is eleven steps away from your happy meal. To set context here again I must refer to my staunch Irish catholic upbringing where many unwritten rules of child behaviour at a table, were so entrenched, the mere notion of not complying was met with belts, hairbrushes, or makeshift guillotine in an unfinished basement, that my dad had made out of with broken hangers.
Let’s start with the nightly meal at a dinner table. Our family table was a fourth generation hand me down table made of oak with four generations of easily recognizable spills and stains that my mother tried to cover up with beautifully hand knit-laced dollies. This was a table that had never heard of a furniture store called Pier Imports. The list of expected table manners demonstrated by all six children was extensive as the six kids gathered around the table assuring there was enough elbowroom to consume the overcooked roast beef mother had prepared. After some chosen child mumbled something that sounded like grace, the unwritten expectations were scrutinized. No elbows on the table, no hats were worn, eat everything on your plate, try everything once, you were only asked once to pass the carrots, one person spoke at a time, a telephone call was never answered during a meal, desert only on Sundays. When the meal was over each child thanked their mother, removed the dishes, washed and dried those dishes, took out the garbage, did their homework, and then and only then were they permitted to go out and play. If the children did not return home by exactly 8:00 p. m., they were grounded for life. The more I think about it the fundamental cause of shifting children behaviour, I can isolate it to the invention of the dishwasher or in my family’s case, the purchase of our second hand dishwasher which was purchased a mere twenty seven years after it had been standardized as a kitchen appliance.
Birthday parties have also warped into a celebration of change with our little darlings where expectations have achieved unattainable standards. To confess, my recollections of my own birthday parties as a child are vague, though my mother always baked a cake, I always received a present that was wonderful surprise (meaning I never dared demand a certain gift with a 21st century pout) and any present in the mail from a grandparent was immediately followed by a cursive written, poorly spelled thank you letter.
Today kids will not even attend your child’s party if there is not a rented bouncy castle, Beyoncé is performing, magicians and clowns are constantly interrupting your lobster appetizer and the loot bags far out value the present the guests have provided. First, when did the tradition of giving guest presents to acknowledge their attendance begin? Attendees now receive more than the celebrated child? It is an economic model riddled with a flawed ROI. To me this is like a local restaurant providing you with a five-course gourmet take out meal, after your family has eaten at their trendy overpriced dinner, just as a thank you for eating at their establishment. Birthday parties at the parents house is actually the exception these days as more often today parents rent the executive suite of the Four Seasons hotel to celebrate the second birthday of their baby Jesus, and they don’t even cover the parking.
Finally, and by finally I mean I am running out of things to say, the advancement of Technology has certainly contributed significantly to a generation of children whose only form of communication involves, their fingers. Teenagers and preteenagers will now sit together on a couch learning family values from the Kardashians while texting incomprehensible auto corrected whines. Instagramming selfies has replaced homework as the new after school activity. Children are learning to model good judgment, as they unfriend unsuspecting school acquaintances because of a comment made about their best friend’s shoelace colour. Two children on a couch will occasionally talk, but only to show an image on their mobile device, with laughter directed at a pair of pants Ashley is wearing clearly showing a brand label that fell out of favour with the cool kids more than two weeks ago.
There is good news with the current mime like behavior of our young adults. Evolutionary professors are convinced that human’s voice boxes will lose functionality in forty years, but our pointing fingers will become much stronger, more flexible and ultimately achieve greater reaction time. This newly evolving dexterity will be very helpful when the Zombie apocalypse eventually happens. This devastating future state is somehow still not mentioned even once, in the current Farmers Almanac.
So I have offered little insight into helping you answer the question “What’s the problem with kids today?” I now realize the whole point of this essay was to let you know I received a very high mark in my grade 12 music class. The real insight might have been revealed if there only was a song in Bye Bye Birdie titled , “What’s the problem with parents today?”
Excellent dissertation Dennis. I think your last comment was getting at the root of the matter. I would rephrase it slightly; ‘what’s the problem with parents today?’
Jim thank you so much for reading and commenting. I will see if I can edit while the blog is still live, as I love your comment.
I think I just learned how to edit while posting. Thanks Mr. Hall, the last line is now much better.
Loved the ending! Perfect for a program like the Vinyl Cafe on CBC. You know, the guy reads so stories to a live audience. Your stuff is perfect for it.
Thanks so much for your kind comments. I am going to have to listen to CBC radio more often, as I forgot about that program.
To my good friend and musical partner at AZ I can’t imagine anyone positioning this better than you have. So much of dialogue is missed by ignoring context and framing of an argument. You have done both beautifully. I hold great hope however from this generation, although I suspect it will be the few that truly make it for reasons I’d be happy to share at a later date. Best Rob
Thanks Rob. I appreciate you taking the time to comment and thank you for the kind words. We will talk very soon.
funny, but this might have been written by my grandparents 50 years ago – especially the part about the table manners. Do kids even have a dinner table routine these days?