Jun 28, 2009

To the scared Swedish youth: I'm sorry.

(This is an English translation of a Norwegian original.)

Today I came across a well-written essay from a Swedish teenager. She was scared to death about her generation. She is worried about what will become of them. They seem to be so self-destructive. They are still embarrassed in the school locker room, while being happily posing in minimal clothes on the web. The Swedish teenager wants to know where we, who were kids in the 60's, are as parents. Why do we not look in on our kids? Why do we not read their Myspace or blog pages? Why do we not insist on making them come home at a decent hour? She touched a nerve in me, and I left the longest comment I've ever written on the Norwegian site that first pointed me to the Swedish girl's entry. This is my translation of that comment:

To the Swedish youth who wrote that she was scared to death: I'm sorry.

I am a 48-year-old woman, born as the 1960's started. I don't have children of my own, but I do have powers of observation. I have often said that we who were kids in the 60's are the last generation who had adults around us - named and nameless - who looked after us, chewed us out, guided us, _saw_ us. We had good reason to respect the grown-ups and rules.

Then society became far more lenient, and rules and respect in society disappeared. It didn't go to hell, but it was the end of deferring humbly to authority. So-called **"free child-rearing"** started. For some reason, it was believed that kids who got grades in school or were scolded for behaving badly were oppressed. I was never oppressed! Quite the contrary: I learned the difference between right and wrong, how to make amends if I hurt a friend, and how to stay out of trouble. I knew where I stood, both as a person and as a student, and what to do to improve myself.

My generation has a foundation that later generations didn't get. Because we know the rules, we can break them. We know what the alternative is if ignoring the rules doesn't work as well as we thought. But: We haven't passed the rules on to our children. We haven't noticed the _warning signs_. We haven't noticed that society has become materialistic without room for today's young to participate on those terms. Instead, we've given the young the impression that they have to live up to the message in advertising in order to be successful. My young mind was not influenced by such things; NRK - our only channel - had no ads. My generation could leave school at age 16 and get a job and were actually welcomed by the adults. They trained us; they believed we could think and be responsible. And we could because that was what was expected of us. Now we have money, we have cars, we have both parents working, we can afford cheap vacations to the Mediterranean (a rare event in the 70's) and complain if it isn't cheap enough.

We, who grew up without so many _things_ around us, are now surrounded by stuff - and have forgotten what made our own childhoods safe, which the Swedish girl misses: Attention from and guidance by the grown-ups.

She says that we adults are clueless about what goes on on the internet. She is quite right. Not everyone my age got to touch a computer on her first full-time job as a teenager - and liked it so much it has since been both a regular part of work and a hobby. But I know what to avoid on the 'net. I know what will make me feel sick. But I am nevertheless somewhat naïve because I don't participate in youth culture. My generation has not considered what impact modern technology and the internet has and that this is what today's kids are growing up with. We also haven't considered how current sexualization and objectifying affects today's people, especially the young.

I'm sorry, teens. I'm sorry that we who are older have not have the right priorities when it comes to you. There is nothing wrong with you, but I see that you live in a far more chaotic and confusing world than the one we had. I see that you haven't been made clear on how to be your own best friend, in other words, have self-respect for and a sense of responsibility to both yourselves and others. You haven't been given something to reach for, and you haven't been given anything to protect yourself with.

In order to survive chaos, it is good to know that some guides to life are eternal: Kindness and respect between people; friendship; self-respect; personal responsibility; knowing one's self-worth does not depend on outer things such as fashion or income; and a belief that the world does actually progress and is basically safe. No matter what some cynics will claim, people are still mainly good to each other.

That is what you and all young people should learn as children. It would help you navigate the teen years a little more easily.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

To parent the way you describe, you have to not GAF about the culture in a huge, important way and it's very hard. I did it, but I'm very weird. Most people can't be like me. You have to be willing to be criticized by loads of people -- your own parents for starters, neighbors, teachers, everyone, and even your own kids ("why aren't we in soccer and dance? why do you nag us so much about homework?") Later your kids MAY appreciate you, but you can't count on that. It's hard, and you have to kind of be a loner to start with. [Paula]

Keera Ann Fox said...

Doesn't that frighten you? That the world around us considers that sort of parenting wrong?

Roy said...

I have to agree with anonymous. You can't discount the enormous pressures of the culture in general that is pointing the finger at the parent. Raising a kid as an "oddball" has its own negative repercussions. I'm not saying you're wrong, Keera, just that for the individual to counteract the cultural enfluences makes the job of parenting very, very difficult. To answer your question, above, yes, it frightens me, but I have already accepted the fact that the world I die in will not be much like the world I was born in. Now, the final thought, all these exact words might have been said, and probably were said, in some form, thirty years ago, fifty years ago, seventy years ago, a hundred years ago.

Keera Ann Fox said...

Unfortunately, none of you can read the original Swedish essay that launched my reaction. So this is _not_ about following fashion or the flock. The Swedish girl wishes parents would actually read their kids' blogs, know about their online lives and actually show up for their offline ones. She wants parents to show up at take kids home when they're out after curfew, and she wants them to look up from whatever they're doing when the kids come home. She wants to know parents _care_, that they actually _notice_ their kids. These issues may have to do with modern technology but hardly with keeping up with the Joneses.

Keera Ann Fox said...

Typo correction: "show up and take kids home".

Roy said...

In that case, I agree with the girl and you. That stuff is easy. Kids need to know their parents love them and do care about what they do enough to have some rules. There does seem to be less and less of that. Still difficult to penetrate the secret codes of kids and their separate culture--it's not like they're inviting us in, except in the rare case like this girl you mention. The real question is, when was it NOT like this? Is it our relative affluence?

Keera Ann Fox said...

Her reaction is due to the contradiction between regular RL teen behavior (which hasn't changed) and the exhibitionistic and self-destructive behavior teens do via cell phones and the internet. She wants parents to be involved in all aspects of their kids' lives. To actually show up and care, also on the 'net.

And sure, teens get annoyed when parents "nag". But both teens and researchers say the teens would feel miserable if nobody checked up on them. They'd feel unloved and unwanted. And that is what the Swedish girl is worried about: Too many of her friends seem to be outright ignored by their parents. They don't even eat meals together.

My generation has apparently not learned any parenting skills - in spite of having clear rules and consequences growing up. I don't think we're idiots. I think we didn't realize the world had changed dramatically from the inside-out, making parenting a far more personal job, not one to be left to society. Our parents and our grandparents had the luxury and safety of community in the flesh, of moms or grandparents or neighbors we know being home during the day. We don't. And today's kids have grown up with a cyber community we don't take seriously, but that has become what is home for them during the day.

Protege said...

It is a beautiful post Keera! I agree with everything - I have no children either, but I think the the 60 generation or the flower - power generation felt so oppressed in their own youth, they wanted their children to be free. Well, what happened instead is a new generation that is spoiled, free and alone.

Keera Ann Fox said...

I have no clue where the idea we were oppressed as children comes from - though I suspect some child psychologist who was suppressed as a child. But rules and regularity disappeared without considering that people need structure to their lives. I think a lot of the burn-out and overwhelm experienced by today's adults is due to the same thing bothering our kids: No regularity or structure in life and no "down-time".