I was just reading yet another article painting Millenials in a negative light (seems to be the thing right now) and I wondered to myself "what generation am I considered a member of anyway?" At 38, I seem a little too old to be a Millenial, but a little too young to be a member of Generation X. I looked it up and, sure enough, my birth year of 1980 lands right on the cusp. As one site puts it, 38 years of age is the "oldest possible Millenial", like I'm some kind of rare relic still roaming the Earth, yet also young enough to be considered at least snowflake-light. In other words, the best of both worlds.
Regardless of the title (and I'm sure like those that came before), I love my generation. We got to grow up in a more innocent, simpler time when parents held the reigns but not too tight. We had access to the emerging technology of the early 80's but not enough to become obsessed with it. When I look back, it feels like a time when there was a nice balance between too much and not enough.
When I think about a time of not enough, I think of a generation of years past when there wasn't enough in a very literal sense, but, also in terms of affection in parenting--this belief that withholding love and affection from children somehow "toughened them up" to face a tough world. But when I think of my son's and my students' generation, it sometimes feels like too much. Too much stimulation. Too many options. Too much hovering over. Too much anxiety. Kids today (ugh listen to me..."kids today") have a cornucopia of choices at every turn and I'm not sure that's always a positive thing.
Want to watch TV? Here are 5,000 channels to choose from.
Want something fun to do after school? Here’s a different extracurricular to do each day of the week. Why choose one? Take them all on!
Options are great, but with too many options comes a degree of anxiety. You've probably experienced option anxiety if you've ever tried choosing one thing from the Cheesecake Factory novel (ahem...menu). Or if you've ever tried to find a movie to watch but you spend the two hours you have available flipping through choices, trying to make a decision...then second-guessing your choice until you fall asleep from the exhaustion of it all (I suppose that's the "chill" part of the "Netflix & Chill" experience).
So why aren't a multitude of options always a good thing? Because there's comfort in a little bit of restriction, some boundaries. Some degree of limitation feels safe and wards off the dreaded FOMO. And guys...we're ADULTS. It's no wonder so many children today feel anxious.
Growing up in a small town in West Virginia, we didn’t have tons of options for things to do around town, but I didn't know any different and I'm not sure any different would've been any better. My best memories were the simple, little things like playing school, walking with my sister to the convenience store a block away to buy Slush Puppies and Fireballs, or playing Spotlight and catching fireflies on summer evenings. These might seem boring or mundane to kids today, but there was a little magic in the mundane then.
I think because none of those things involved instant gratification or a ton of other options, so I wasn't distracted thinking about my next, possibly better, alternative.
Besides the instant gratification factor is the multitude of commitments & activities kids take on and the result that comes from dipping a toe into many pools rather than diving deep into one. The one extracurricular activity I had regularly, my dance lessons, were a commitment and everything that came with it—the costumes, the ballet slippers—they were like GOLD...they meant something. Most likely because I saw my mom take the cash from babysitting and selling Avon and put it in a little envelope that was then handed to my dance teacher. I wonder what message I'm sending about the connection between hard work and money and "things" when all my son sees is me swiping a card.
I know many kids today, including my own, still do the simpler things and appreciate them, but I can see how even small doses of option overwhelm and cyber stimulation show themselves in subtle ways. I notice it in the expectation to have a response or request fulfilled instantly, the shortening attention span, the general pace of talking, moving, and just b e i n g. And it's not just showing up in the kids, it's in the adults they are watching, too.
I see it in my son and I see it in myself.
When I was growing up, long before the days of Google, if I wanted answers my mom would have me seek out the solution myself. When I came to her asking if the "Legend of the Shooting Star" was true because I wanted a free bag of candy, she had me write a letter to Tootsie Roll Industries. When I told her how Paula Abdul's album was changing my ten year-old life, she said "ooh...you should tell her!" When I couldn't wait for the next Baby-Sitters Club book to drop and kept asking her when it was coming out, she said "I don't know, ask the author!" Tootsie Roll wrote me back, Paula Abdul did not, and Ann M. Martin sent me both the release date AND a BSC t-shirt (omg!)
When my mother had me write the letters myself to get the answers or write to these people I admired, the unspoken messages were powerful, whether she realized it or not:
You are capable.
You are important and your voice matters.
When someone's art touches you, tell them, even if they seem untouchable or larger than life.
Don't get me wrong, I think there are things that are really great about growing up in today's world and, believe me, when I was a kid I would've wished for everything my son and my students have today: the phones, the laptops, access to any activity or shiny, sparkly thing under the sun. Every year for Christmas and my birthday, I'd beg for a Nintendo and, every year, my parents would say "no". I'm sure it would've been easier to give in to my relentless nagging but I'm so glad they stood their ground. Because, if they'd given in, I wonder...
~if I'd had video games to turn to when I was bored (or, in today's terms, a phone), would I have explored my curiosity? It was out of boredom that I’d grab a piece of chalk, line up my stuffed animal students, and use the back of my bedroom door as a chalkboard. That was my clue that I wanted to be a teacher. It was out of boredom that I created stories...that's how I knew I loved to make sense of the world by writing about it.
~if I'd had Google to get my answers from, would I have learned the virtues that came from finding them out for myself? If I could've simply looked up the release date of the Baby Sitters Club book instead of writing to the author, would I have learned patience and delayed gratification by waiting for a response each day? Would that T-shirt have meant so much coming from a store as it did coming from her?
~if I’d had a multitude of extracurriculars to choose from, would I have poured my heart & soul into that one thing, dance? Would I have learned about commitment and the concept of working for the "extras" in life?
Maybe it wasn’t so much a generational thing but a parenting thing. Thank God I had parents whose goal wasn’t just to keep me busy, but to keep me curious. Who valued using imagination over "things" and helped me find the magic in the mundane. Who weren’t afraid of letting me be bored every once in a while.
Because it's in
that we are able to hear the clues our soul whispers about who we want to be.
I wonder, will our children be able to hear their whispers in all the noise? In all the distraction?
I believe they will. Because we did.
The generation before us worried that we wouldn't hear the whispers over the computers and Nintendos, but we still did. The generation before them worried they wouldn't hear the whispers over the new loud rock music and new television sets, but they did. The shiny, loud, distracting things have changed, but what doesn't change are those three things that always remain: faith, hope, and love.
Every generation's love for the way they grew up.
Every generation's faith that there IS a whisper, a call, meant only for them.
And every generation's hope that the one that comes next will find a way to drown out the noise enough to hear that call.