Like most fathers, mine would from time to time remind my brother and me how much easier life was for our generation than for his.
When he did, my brother would assume our dad’s deep voice and say things like, “When I was a youngster, we had to walk home from school six miles barefoot in the snow and it was uphill – both ways.” Luckily, our father was a good sport.
While in some ways my kids have it even easier than we did – a whole universe is theirs at the click of a mouse – they have it tough in a different way: They are growing up in a more unforgiving world than the one we knew.
That’s partly because it’s much easier to gather evidence of transgressions, thanks to the Internet, cell phone cameras and other technology. My generation got to be young and stupid before everyone was walking around with devices to record our screw-ups.
The kids who post their drunken party pictures on Facebook remind me of the ostrich that buries his head in the sand, assuming no one can see his big old behind wiggling. Potential employers never had it so easy in conducting background checks.
When I was growing up I kept diaries that I’m pretty sure no one (besides my occasionally sneaky mother) got to read. I could vent about friends, enemies and my secret crushes and it all stayed between me and the pages. Today’s teen diaries are online, without filters and without someone to ask, ‘Are you sure you want to post that?’ before they hit “send.”
Bill Vogler, executive director of Family Answers, a non-profit counseling center based in Allentown, agrees that the world is more unforgiving. Because we adults are less tech-savvy than our children, we tend to abdicate our duty as role models in using the Internet – leaving kids with a whole world they navigate without us, he said.
“It’s like we’re giving the kids this powerful tool that we didn’t know how to use ourselves,” he said. “We’ve got to take on the responsibility to learn it.”
At the same time, laws are stricter than they were 30 years ago. Tougher drunken driving laws and better enforcement in the last three decades have saved many lives but they also mean young drivers are allowed fewer mistakes. Three decades ago, a college kid with a .09 blood alcohol limit might have gotten off with a warning from a police officer who drove him home to his parents to make sure he didn’t hurt anyone.
Zero tolerance policies for weapons in schools mean a kid can be caught with a Swiss Army knife in his pocket and be suspended. These are just a couple of the minefields the young face today.
Still, Vogler says his son Nate, a college sophomore, would probably put my hand-wringing in perspective as the troubles of a fortunate people. Nate’s response when he hears such concerns: “That’s a First World problem.”