The good old days

Guest written by Cliff Thomas

“I just don’t understand kids these days”.

The first time this thought occurred to me was when my daughter was a teenager. She had some friends over and we were all playing a video game in which you take down rival gangs by being a more successful criminal. The topic of who in the group had and had not broken laws came up and Summer said, “oh dad broke the law all the time when he was young.”

Now, that isn’t exactly true, at least not the all the time part. What is true is that when you live in the town you grew up in, and old friends meet your kid, they like to tell her about the time that, “Me and your dad used to (insert something you don’t want your kid to know here) when we were kids” My policy was always to be honest with Summer about anything I’d done when I was young and then explain why she should not repeat the activity.

The kids wanted an example. I find it best not to go too deeply into the boredom-avoiding activities my friends and I engaged in during summer months of the late 70s and early 80s. I know the statute of limitations on any mischief we created has long since elapsed but the “that was YOU! I’m going to kill you!” principle lasts until they put you in the dirt. “Ok,” I said, “here’s one,” thinking that the example that follows would give them a laugh.

I had a friend named Bryan Baird who lived in Ray Lee Addition. His house was ground zero for a lot of the things kids did with an abundance of youthful energy and certainty that nothing could significantly harm them. We would tell our parents we were sleeping over at Bryan’s. We would tell his parent’s we were camping out. We would load our bikes with sleeping bags and sandwiches, dump our gear at the old archery range, and spend the entire night riding around town doing whatever we wanted. There was nothing like the exhilaration of being 12 years old and free of parental supervision at 3 a.m.

One Friday night we decided to prank a teacher who lived a few blocks from Bryan’s house. I can’t remember his name, but we liked him and didn’t want to cause any real trouble, just do something funny. We did some creative writing with his garden hoses and turned his lawn furniture upside-down. There was nothing else light enough to upend so we decided to move a neighbor’s For Sale sign to his yard. “Hey,” Bryan said, “I know where there is another house for sale. Let’s go get that sign too.” We gathered every lawn sign from blocks around, creating a maze of notifications surrounded his house. Everyone in the neighborhood was talking about it the next day — instant celebrities.

When I finished my story, the response from the kids was not the, “Oh, Cool!” I’d expected. It was more like, “Why would you do that?” “What if you lost someone a sale on their house?” “Who had to clean that up?”

These kids, who are often criticized for their inactivity, couldn’t imagine doing something like that.

TP-ing houses, ghost knocking, bashing mailboxes, drag racing, and fighting were weekly occurrences when I was a teen. Even if you never did that type of thing, I’m sure you had friends who did. At the very least you watched movies like American Graffiti, Animal House, or Porky’s and thought the kids in those films who caused trouble just for fun were cool.

I’ve been thinking about this recently because some interesting studies have shown that physical bullying and violence among students has been dropping significantly for a few decades. A lot of the aggressive and dangerous things we did for fun 35 years ago don’t even come up today. I’ll be honest, some of the kids at my house that night seemed a bit lazy and unmotivated to me at the time, but the ones we still know have turned out well.

Not understanding young people doesn’t make them wrong, it makes them different. Being different doesn’t mean they need to change, it means the world has changed, and we can’t see it because we’re old. If understanding young people is a challenge for us, it might be that the passions that drove us just aren’t in them. But that’s OK. They also lack much of the aggression, cruelty, and intolerance that was common in my generation. Maybe they seem so different because they are better people than we were at their age.

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Category: On a Personal Note

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