"I hate committing myself to anything. It's probably the lack of discipline, honestly. I'm probably a spoiled brat worried about getting my way every time."
- Actress Cameron Diaz
I have a disadvantage and advantage in being 55.
I didn't live as today's spoiled child.
If you lived in the 1960's and 1970's like I did, we are acutely keyed into how kids are spoiled today.
Let me share examples. My cousin posted a Facebook photo of her three young boys sitting in dental chairs, wearing 3-D glasses and watching videos while dental work was being performed. Know what we saw as a kid? We had to stare into that super bright swivel light, hovering above us like a UFO, blasting us in the face while the dentist - who seemed to have a hateful disposition to kids - worked with the tenderness of a jackhammer operator. Remember? The days when you got your choice of colors for fillings - metal, metal and metal. There was no option for white, and certainly not mixing colors to match any existing tooth discoloration.
Too many choices today of colors, which bring me to my second example: Cell phones. Not only do most kids get cell phones without first paying their dues, i.e., such as working for them, but they get smart phones and get their pick of color. I had a walkie-talkie that couldn't get a signal out of a two-mile radius and whose antenna broke all the time. And you haven't lived until you've had to deal with a party line.
We wrote letters by typewriter or hand and sealed them in what was called an envelope and had to lick the stamp. Today if you were to hypothetically mail a letter or postcard, you will use a gummed stamp. But nobody sends letters anymore; they are too slow. It took days to get a message through. Kids now text and words fly through the universe in seconds. No wonder people are impatient today - they aren't required to wait for much of anything.
Such as wait for pictures. If we wanted to take pictures we had to take our film down to be processed and wait several days to see how blurry they might be. That's because we didn't have automatic focus camera. You had to figure out the right combination of F stop and aperature for the lighting. And because film was expensive and limited, we didn't have the luxury of shooting 2,371 selfies a month. Kids don't even know what film or negatives are today.
When I was a young dad (circa the late 1980s and early 1990s) we loaded the kids up into the car or mini-van of the year and they got to stare out the window to pass time. As a kid in the back seat, I stared at the moon overhead, wondering how it kept up with the car. Now my grandkids get to watch videos on TV monitors planted into the back of the front seats as a way to distract them on long drives. They're so accustomed to choices that they'll get upset if their favorite movie isn't onboard.
If I wanted to hear a favorite song in the 1970's, I had to get Mom to drive me to the variety store to buy a 45 single of it. You dare not leave records on the turn table in the hot sun for it warped; if scratched, it would pop. The other option was to wait until the song came on the radio and hit the record button on the cassette tape recorder. Sure, the DJ always talked over the beginning and the end but the recording was better than nothing - another reason why expectations weren't as high. Now kids want iTunes cards to download whatever they want to hear.
We didn't even have Sony Walkmans when I was a kid.
Sometimes what kids listen to is just mind-blowingly tasteless. There's a lot of songs with profane lyrics making it into the mainstream with some modification. Now we have groups like Maroon 5 recording songs like "This Summer's Gonna Hurt Like a Mother******." Nicki Minaj likes that word too. The radio edits are ineffective in masking what he all know is being said. I would have blushed in the 1970's to hear Marcy Playground sing "I smell sex and candy." Let's not even talk about Selena Gomez's teasing lyrics of "Can't Keep My Hands to Myself" sung with that heavy-breath voice. Yes, I know we had Donna Summer's rather orgasmic sounding "Love to Love You, Baby" when I was a teen but it was downright embarrassing and I was embarrassed for her.
We were kids before cable TV and Netflix. I was stranded in the country with an aerial antenna, limited to whatever signals came in on channels 3, 10, 13 and 40. Channel 19 was never worthless. Now if you're not home to catch a program on cable you can just DVR it. This generation doesn't miss a beat.
It was black and white TV for me, mind you, which we had to deal with occasional snow and the horizontal roll. Not these HD movie screen quality sets that come as big as your wall and as thin as a pancake and cost you the equivalent of an RV.
There was no such thing as internet news. There wasn't even internet either! You had to wait until 6 p.m. for Walter Cronkite, Harry Reasoner, John Chancellor and David Brinkley to tell you what went on in the world that day. But then, those were the days when we were able to respect and trust broadcasters, unlike today's so-politically-biased-you-wonder-why-they-didn't-go-into-politics-instead anchors like George Step-on-all-of-us. Oh that's right, he was in politics; he was Bill Clinton's staff member.
Because there was no internet, all bills were paid by check, a la more stamp licking in lieu of an app.
We didn't have computers to copy and paste from the internet and thus avoid thinking for ourselves. We had typewriters and they required some brain work and manual dexterity. No auto correct to let us know we spelled a word wrong. (But we were told how to spell correctly in school rather than how my daughter was told to "spell it like you think it should be spelled"). We poured through Encyclopedia Britannica - which our parents spent small fortunes on to advance their child's education - to dig up pertinent facts for reports and homework.
The kids I grew up with didn't have cars handed to them. We had to earn ours by working and we were expected to pay for the insurance. No cars with automatic or tinted windows either. We locked the car by hand, not a click on a smart chip key. Another thing we didn't have: Traffic loops to detect our entry into a signalized intersection to speed up a green light for us. Back then we had to wait for each and every miserable traffic signal to cycle through regardless of who was or wasn't approaching. No wonder half of today's drivers don't have the patience and fail to pull over for emergency vehicles. They don't even show courtesy to mourners during a funeral procession.
As kids when we got hurt we didn't have urgent cares to go to. They didn't exist. There was no Medi-Flight either. You went by private car or ambulance - on those roads with no traffic loops.
We most certainly didn't have those infernal video games which should be considered the Draining-hours-off-your-life-and-allow-kids-to-escape-household-chores machines. I think I was 16 when Atari's primitive Pong game came out. I didn't spend long to play it because I had school and work. Besides, we had chores to do such as wash dishes by hand. Kids today don't even rinse off their dishes before throwing them in their family's water-efficient dishwasher.
In another sense, I'm very fortunate for my life experience afforded me in my 55 years.
Sure, we got dishpan hands but some of my best and deepest thoughts came while focusing on washing pots and pans and plates and glasses.
Yes, we had to wait for the 6 o'clock news but we learned patience.
I got to know what it's like riding in the back of a pickup before it was outlawed in 1990. Was it dangerous? Of course, but so is walking across the street skydiving but they're both still legal. At least we were allowed to weigh a risk and enjoy the thrill. And yep, most of us lived to tell about it. Today's politicians think they have to protect people from everything. They have sterilized life so severely that it's hard to have fun.
We also were allowed to do really dangerous things like play in the dirt and ride our bikes in the street, sometimes blocks away from home. We never encountered perverts and gang bangers. If they existed I never saw them. Parents today are afraid to let their kids do anything. Amazingly, I never knew one kid who died after getting filthy playing in the dirt.
Never once was there a school shooting when I was a kid. Imagine that. None of my campuses had a wrought iron or cyclone fence around it. They weren't necessary.
None of my classmates had animosity toward America, despite where they may have immigrated from. We were all just very happy to be living in the greatest country where we all felt safe. Never once did a school official forbid one of us elementary student from flying the American flag on a bike because it might incite some migrant students to violence. It was a given that since you were here and enjoying everything it had to offer that you loved your country and adopted it with fervor.
We didn't go out to eat as often as people today but we loved family picnics where the grandparents were always first to get food. Now the kids think they should be first to eat - while they gobble their food while staying glued to their hand-held devices instead of interacting with relatives. Talk about social backwardness!
I wish I knew what changed. I wish I knew why things seemed so much more civil in the society I grew up in.
Is it because people are raising kids today who are more concerned about a child's self-esteem than correcting their ways? Any kid who screamed at their parents or back-talked, were guaranteed to have a collision of hand on butt. Now parents want to talk about it. We were spanked and I think most of us turned out quite well.
Are today's parents so concerned about their children's happiness - buying them everything on every whim - that they are literally teaching them never to accept disappointment? Aren't we teaching them that they're entitled to have everything without effort?
The clothes we got we wore. I never once wore designer jeans. I never shopped at Macy's because, number one, we had no mall back then, and two, we couldn't afford it. We shopped at Kmart. My younger brother had that sense of entitlement and I'll never forget his remark as we entered the Briggsmore store one evening: "I hope none of my friends see me here." I was aghast at his lack of appreciation Mom was going to buy him a coat there.
Shoes were shoes and we couldn't care less that they weren't branded with some logo. So pardon me if I cannot fathom that anyone would kill another human being for a pair of shoes. I was taught there is a joy in actually giving things to people, not taking them away.
Awards? We got awards alright ... but we earned them when we won a contest or when we excelled. Little Chloe or Sophie or Joshua or Ethan today gets an award for just participating, thus they expect to receive strokes for never really having to try all that hard. What award means anything if it doesn't reflect the strive to excel? All it did was make him "feel good" about himself or herself. No wonder we have a bunch of spoiled brats protesting in the streets because they think Hillary Clinton should have been rewarded with the White House even though she lost. That's what they're accustomed to! And no wonder they think they deserve $20 an hour for flipping burgers.
It also didn't kill our self-esteem to say "please" and "thank you" and "I'm sorry." In fact, it built us up into more considerate adults.
Could there be any link between this self-absorbed generation and its distance from spirituality? Church attendance was high in the 1950's. Not today. Faith presents the teaching of values to live by like, you know, refraining from cussing out adults and refraining from killing your classmates with an assault rifle. Remember those kinds of values? According to a 2014 Pew Research Center survey, 27 percent of millennials say they attend religious services on a weekly basis compared to 51 percent of adults. The share of Americans who say they are "absolutely certain" God exists has dropped from 71 percent in 2007 to 63 percent in 2014. So if God fades from view, what is the intensity of the moral compass? And if God doesn't exist, I suppose there is no holding anyone accountable in the afterlife because heaven and hell doesn't exist either? Getting rid of conscience means you can pretty much do everything if you don't get caught.
I don't regret being born in 1961. Not one bit. Humility is an underrated virtue. So is generosity and caring for others instead of self all the time. The era I grew up in had its issues, for sure, but I can't help but feel that, as we continue finding ways to take hardships out of every aspect of life, we are creating self-centered children who will grow up only to become absolute wimpy adults who know nothing about sacrifice. They will only vote for the one who benefits them the greatest and not the whole. Thomas Sowell reflected on this when he said: "The old adage about giving a man a fish versus teaching him how to fish has been updated by a reader: Give a man a fish and he will ask for tartar sauce and French fries! Moreover, some politician who wants his vote will declare all these things to be among his ‘basic rights.' "
Can you say Bernie Sanders and his snowflakes?
We can turn it around. Let's start with making fashionable the old fashioned values I got to experience.
Do you have any feedback about this column? Let Jeff know by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He will read it, promise.