Apropos of Nothing: Kids Suck but it’s Not Their Fault
An Editorial by Jamie Beckett
Today’s kids have had it too easy. Back in the day, parents gave us a good pop with a shoe. And we were better for it.
There is a saying, honored and universally accepted that says, “Children are our future.” I say poppycock, balderdash, and give a loud Bronx cheer to the idea. Rather, I believe children are the anchor that moors our ship of adulthood dangerously close to and inextricably wedged between the Shoals of Despair and the Cliffs of Financial Ruin.
Admittedly, that’s not the catchiest tagline ever offered. Seriously though, kids suck. Not just my kids, either. All kids.In fact, I don’t think it’s possible to find a kid who is worth his or her weight in tinfoil between here and the moon. Which is to say, they’re all worthless.
In their defense however, it’s not their fault that today’s kids are needy, greedy, impolite, underemployed little so-and-sos. It’s our fault—their parents. We built up their self-esteem before they had anything to feel proud of in the first place. We screwed them up by being too nice to them. From Day 1 we doted on them. Well-intentioned moms and dads bought them everything they ever needed and most of what they wanted. We smoothed a path through life for them while helping to shoulder the load as they transitioned from grade school to high school to overpriced college. By law we have to carry them on our health insurance policies until they’re 27 years old!
What were we thinking?
When my parents were 27 years old they had two kids who were mowing their lawn, weeding their garden, shoveling their sidewalk and driveway every time it snowed, and taking the garbage out to the curb for collection. They had a staff of part-time workers who would do pretty much anything they wanted. It was a nearly foolproof, never-fail system.
It was nearly foolproof because the adolescent workforce knew from an early age that saying “no” was a guaranteed shortcut to finding yourself lying on the floor with little birdies singing and dancing around your head.
Our parents weren’t nice to us. They fed us. They let us live in the house. But that was more or less the deal. Parents pay the bills, and kids do manual labor on demand.
That’s the way it was at my house. Heck, that’s the way it was at every house I knew until I was out of high school and living on my own.
Our parents didn’t coddle us. Instead, they were motivators. Occasionally brutal motivators who knew how to get their collection of short workers to tote that barge and lift that bale.
My mother is a slight woman who never rose above 5 feet, 4 inches tall. She was tidy and fashionable with a strong resemblance to Florence Henderson’s Carol Brady. But unlike Carol, my mom wasn’t afraid to pop a 12-year-old in the face in an effort to make her point. And when she said, “Wait until your father gets home,” it wasn’t because we were all going out for ice cream and cake. It’s because a big, cranky guy with a temper and a short fuse was going to be walking through the door at the appointed hour and my mom knew how to use that terrifying fact as leverage to get the chores done in a hurry.
I didn’t have self-esteem. I had fear. Fear and the knowledge that if I worked very hard and didn’t talk back, I might live to see tomorrow.
Don’t get me wrong. Childhood was painful in my youth, but my peers and I learned how to get things done. We learned to have initiative. We learned to persevere. Because to do anything less would cause us to show up for school the next day with a black eye and a lump on our head.
When a cute, demure, public school teacher wearing an adorable little summer dress said, “What happened to you?” the honest answer, “My mother hit me with a shoe,” didn’t get you any sympathy at all. “Well,” she’d reply, “I hope you learned a valuable lesson from the experience.”
To be honest, I always wondered if exchanges like that were the whole basis of the dreaded parent/teacher conference we kids were never invited to. I imagine they laughed a lot and ate cake during those meetings. I can’t say for sure, though. I was at home—mowing the lawn and hoping my dad didn’t get home until I had the job done.