The Kids Are Still Alright

I lost the blogging mojo a while ago, (about which more here), mainly because I’ve started a wonderful new job at Yale, as a lecturer in the Yale Child Study Center. My TIME.com editor has dropped some gentle hints about me, well, totally dropping the ‘contributor’ ball. I do plan to keep writing. But it’s also true that my Unknown-11energies are directed to new places:

I always knew I wanted to teach either little kids or college kids – never the medium sized ones. I don’t know why, exactly, but the whole elementary/middle school shtick just never appealed to me, possibly because I was a bookish nerd-child and spent formative years in a mid-security prison farm british boarding school. (My P.E. teacher in England actually used the words “clumsy” and “slow-moving” in one of my report cards.) But now I’ve landed – finally, at age 50 – exactly where I’ve always wanted to be: a teacher of preschoolers and college students.  There are many similarities, both camps being on the cusp of independence; separating from family for the first time to start a new form of learning; defining an identity; becoming part of a community; confronting fears and aspirations – all without the rudder of what has come before – the main difference between the two being sex and alcohol. I was going to add “control of bodily functions,” but there may be more overlap there than one would hope for. The pre-school and collegiate developmental stages are fascinating; it’s both humbling and exhilarating to watch young people navigate these rough waters with humor, vitality, and grace. I have no idea how I made it to adulthood but most of the young people I meet have their act together in ways I never did. I’ve said it before but it bears repeating: today’s kids are alright. They’re fine. If I hear one more, “entitlement” story about young adults these days (and I’ve written a few), I’m going to throw up.

First of all, who raised these brats, anyway?! And yes, yes, there are some robust egos and a startling degree of confidence. At the same time… do we really want to go back to self-loathing as a developmental tool? I want my children to feel good about themselves! I really do. What lasting harm could possibly come of that? Just go read George Orwell’s chilling reflections — in one of the best essays ever written — on child abuse-as-pedagogic-tool if you want a refresher on how an alternative strategy worked out. Is it remotely possible that the worst to come of the empowerment age might really just be a haughty ‘tone’ in emails to humorless elders like me? Well, I think I can live with that outrage. And besides, if we are honest with ourselves, this generation does have skills and abilities we  lacked at their age. Correction: skills and abilities I lack NOW. I know it’s just shooting fish in a barrel to talk about the native/immigrant blah blah technology meme. But, for example, just yesterday while I was teaching, I found myself briefly confused about whether it was my laptop or someone else’s laptop that was projecting my slides. For the very fleetest of seconds I had the sense that maybe little gnomes or sprites were transporting my thoughts from my head to the screen via sparkly fairy dust. (No further comment.) My teaching “assistant” (sic) is a wizardress not only of technology (which I think is pretty much a given for the under-35′s, like putting, ‘good tooth brusher’ on one’s CV) but also a creative, flexible thinker and a good, old-fashioned go-getter the likes of which I certainly never much saw back in ‘the’/my day of easy employment and graduate school admissions. And I’ve said this before, too, but teenagers are so much nicer nowadays! There’s less bullying. Yes, for real. And they hug more. They get pregnant and drink alcohol less. They take fewer drugs. All true. Look up at the data, since I’m too lazy to provide it. And I love their flexible, creative minds. There’s a plasticity to their thinking that is the flip side (the good side) of all the attention deficit issues.

It’s not that the attention black hole isn’t a problem. It really is. Sometimes I want to actually strangle my children when they respond in that dazed, vaguely condescending way as if to communicate: you know, like, um, I’m really kind-of-like-you-know-um busy right now. I can hear the little clicks through the phone and the inappropriate pauses (a dead give-away) and they  always usually often “sometimes” even have the audacity to do this in my presence. It brings out the Joan Crawford/Medea in me real fast or at the least an impulse to bring them instantaneously and ruinously to their financial knees – not one thin dime, buddy! – until they give me some goddamned eye contact.

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But the silver lining of all that distraction is the explosion of creativity and connectedness I see everywhere. There’s not too much wrong with mash-up culture, it turns out. And I think we may finally have reached a position to admit our total dependence on today’s youth; since it’s practically becoming a cliche to defend them, I’m going to shut up and get on with my day… of missing my kids desperately and thinking about ways to bribe them to come home more often. Money always talks. Food too. Some things never change.

About ErikaChristakis

Yale Lecturer in early childhood education/Licensed teacher/Former preschool director and Harvard College house master/some-time journalist. In possession of: unmarketable bachelor’s degree (Harvard, anthropology), semi-marketable graduate degrees (public health, education…). Rewarding career at the intersection of family, society, and schools (including long stint in parenting vortex). Forging a new path to connect all of the above.
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6 Responses to The Kids Are Still Alright

  1. Moira McCaffrey says:

    Dear Erika,
    I enjoyed reading this, and agree wholeheartedly. I have one son who is doing a post-doc. But looking back through his college years, I have always been solidly impressed by this generation of young people – smart, caring, creative, fun. I’m anxious to watch as more and more of these young thinkers take over running this world. Hope you do still find time to keep writing, but I understand the challenge!
    With thanks, Moira

    • Dear Moira,
      Thanks so much for your nice feedback. And I’m glad you agree that young people have a lot going for them. I think child-rearing styles are cyclical and maybe it was inevitable that there would be a backlash against the more intimate and empowering style our children have grown up with. But I hope people can look at the actual data and see how ridiculous some of the claims are! On almost every axis, kids really are better off and nicer (less bullying, less discriminatory), as a group, than in my generation. I think we hear about all the negatives because of our 24/7 age plus middle aged people have always enjoyed complaining about wasted youth etc. All the best and thanks, again!
      Erika

  2. Well, I’ve got to say that was a first. Never having read anything that much favored to today’s youth.. it was always more of the bookish youth writing it out, the caf kids retort , and yet more fodder to write about.

  3. I was one of those kids who was totally embarassed to be a kid. I always liked younger and older people for some reason! Maybe that hasn’t changed.

  4. Dana Hotra says:

    Erika, this is your old friend, Dana Hotra, now a 50 year old mother of twin 17 year old girls, and I agree wholeheartedly with you – they and their friends are amazing in so many ways, and so focused and mature about their futures. Find me on Facebook, I would so love to catch up with you.

    Dana

    • So great to hear from you!! I’ve so wanted to reconnect. Will reply properly via email you soon. Believe it or not, I quit facebook in a huff some time ago and participate in 21st century life vicariously via stalking my kids’ and husband’s fb accounts. But I will write an old fashioned email soon! xx thanks!

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