Tuesday, June 12, 2007

More Stuff - Less of What Matters

Every generation of adults deserves to be able to tell their kids and grandkids how much better off they are. It’s like a god given right, or one of Darwin’s main theories, or something.

........Cut to the toothless old man sitting in the rocking chair gumming an old pipe while the kids sit around him on the floor: “You kids got it pretty good these days. You got nothin’ to complain about. Why, when I was a young-un, I used to walk 6 miles to school, in minus 20 degree weather through 8 foot high snow drifts….…..barefoot.”

Yep, the old refrain. No adult should be deprived of the pleasure of saying it and no kid should be deprived of the pleasure of rolling their eyes at it. (Or, at least a variation of it.)

It’s a right of passage – a proud tradition. It’s not about shaming the younger generation. It’s about expressing pride in our advancement and development as a society – the pride of actually being able to provide our offspring with a better life than we had. And indeed, here in Canada, every generation since the great depression has been better off than the one before. Every generation, that is, except the current one.

When I tell my 11 year old daughter about what it was like to be a kid in the sixties and seventies when I was growing up, she sighs and expresses her regret that she didn’t get to experience it. And, I can’t help but feel sorry for her. Her world is different. It’s harsher, faster, more superficial, way more sexual and far more materialistic than mine was when I was her age. It’s also full of strangers.

Earlier this year, my six year old came up to me and said “Daddy, do you know what the white boy in my class said to me.” I said: “White boy? …Hmmmmm……..How many white boys are there in your class?” “One” she answered.

Yep, it’s a brave new world out there for Canada’s founding peoples.

And not only do our children have to struggle to try and understand how to fit in as a fringe minority in their own schools and neighbourhoods, they have to do it with hardly any family to support them. Many of them are the only child born to their parents. Many of their parents were an only child themselves. This means that many kids have no uncles, aunts or cousins. Their families are smaller and there are fewer people in the world connected to them by blood who can offer a sense of belonging, comfort and protection. I can’t even imagine having no family, and yet this is the fate we have bequeathed to our children – a familyless future as they grow old. And it will be even worse for their children as this pattern of white extinction plays out.

When I was 13, I would bound out of the house early Saturday morning, run or bike up the street, find my friends and play with them all day. I knew everyone on our street. Sometimes I wouldn’t even make it home for lunch. And my mother never gave it a second thought. She never told me to be careful as I left. She never did anything to street-proof me. There was no reason to be concerned. The neighbourhood wasn’t a place to be feared, it was a place to live. And live I did. In trees, in fields, in ravines, in bushes - wherever I felt like being at the time. We’d take the trail through the woods and go swimming in the lake, with *gasp* no adults present. When I rode in the car I’d ride in the back, no seatbelt, with my chin on the front seat visually drinking in everything - part of the action. I’d take my bike on 20k trips with my buddies deep into the countryside. I was on the go all the time and that was that. Isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be when you’re a kid? Why would any parent agonize over something so natural – so right?

Compare that with today. Good-grief, most parents are quivering, neurotic basket cases when it comes to worrying about their precious children. As a result children are given far less freedom than I had growing up. And they have far less fun too. I don’t know why, or when, we became a culture dominated by fear and worry for our children. All I know is that our children are worse off and their world has become smaller and less welcoming because of it.

Sometimes, when I have a day off, I walk my kids to school or go get ‘em for lunch. Their school serves a pretty densely populated neighbourhood. No-one lives more than a half a kilometer away from the school. And yet you would not believe the number of kids who get a drive to school. Instead of walking with friends or class mates, these often pudgy kids travel separate and apart from everyone in their own little self-contained metal and glass bubble. And we wonder why kids are so self absorbed these days. Hell, even if I had the time to drive my kids to school everyday, I’d make ‘em walk anyway. Not only is it good for them physically and socially, it’s good emotionally for them to understand that Dad is not their personal chauffer. And while they trudged off to school, I’d be able to finish my morning coffee in peace and chuckle about how so many parents these days cater to their children like subservient toadies.

A few generations ago, parental love meant providing kids with comfort when they were hurting, advice when they were confused, food when they were hungry, a warm coat when they were cold and a good smack on the ass when they deserved it. Children learned appreciation, humility and respect. These days parental love is measured in how much stuff they buy their kid(s). It’s a compensatory measure, I think, to assuage mom’s guilt for having to (or, in some cases, choosing to) work. Whatever the case, kids these days got it all. Well, not quite all, as is demonstrated anytime a parent takes the little blighter(s) out. “Gimme, gimme, gimme….Can I, can I, can I…..I want, I want, I want……” Ipods, TVs, DVDs, CDs, computers, cell phones, the latest fashions, junk food.…My god, they’re like little versions of government - no matter how much money they suck out of you, they can always find a reason to demand more. Then they waste what you give them on selfish frivolities.

And the endless commercials and ads targeting kids doesn’t help. When I was a kid, there were no ads for toys on TV except for at Christmas time. It’s almost impossible to imagine, isn’t it. Compare that with today. Now, toys are advertised on TV every frikken day. When once kids could expect presents only at Christmas and birthdays, now, they expect them twice a month, or more oftener. And, many of them aren’t often disappointed.

Sadly, though, no matter how you slice it, my children’s lives are far less rich and considerably less fulfilling than mine was when I was their age. I suspect most parents feel the same. Kids have so much more than we did in the way of material possessions and yet so much less in the way of satisfaction, contentment, optimism and freedom.

I figure I’ll never get to give my version of the ‘six mile barefoot walk through snow to school’ spiel to my kids. It is, after all, a parable about how things were so much worse when I was a kid. For it to sound authentic, I’d have to believe that my kids are somehow better off than I was at their age. I’d have to actually feel a certain level of pride and accomplishment at the ‘better’ life I was leaving them. Sadly, all I feel is a mild sense of pessimism. Oh well, maybe my kids don’t have as much in the way of personal freedom, individuality or spontaneity as past generations did. And maybe they don't have as many adventures as I did growing up. But there ARE these DVD’s they’ve been asking for. A quick trip to Wal-Mart and everyone will feel a lot more optimistic, I’m sure. At least ‘till tomorrow.


Post a Comment

<< Home