“The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for
authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place
of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their
households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They
contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties
at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.”
~ attributed to Plato quoting Socrates from the 5th century, BC.
I recently listened to a series of rants about the awful trend of immorality, slothfulness, and rude behavior on the part of our youth. In particular, the angst seemed directed at a recent trend in music popular among young people. Though they didn’t mention any specific song or singer, several of the adults seemed to have a common judgement about the subject. Hmmm. I remember some of that kind of talk about teen culture and pop music when I was a kid.
Several mentioned how sweet their son, their daughter, or their grandchild used to be, but how it had become so difficult to even talk to them anymore. Further, in spite of their own rebelliousness as teenagers, they expressed a complete bewilderment as to how it has come about. In their confusion, the blame was placed on a number of factors, none of which have any logical basis in fact, anymore than pimples are caused by looking at pictures of pimples.
Due to memories, many of us have different ideas about when the “good old days” were, and what was the best age of our lives. Sometimes just hearing a familiar tune, or receiving a glance from a stranger can cause us to travel back in our minds to some magic moment. And those moments will have been at various ages if any significant group of us were to be surveyed.
Some think of rights of passage: A first date, getting a driver’s license, graduating from high school, turning twenty-one, going to or getting out of college, some wonderful celebration with friends, and some think of more private and intimate moments. But is there a magic age common to all of us?
If there is one, the magic age would have to be ten. It is a pivotal time, halfway between five and fifteen. For most of us, at ten, we’re fairly dependent on our families, and what they are able to provide, along with what they consider problems and how they face them has a huge impact on our values. Perhaps more than at any other age, a person’s understanding of the world around them at that time shapes a lot of what they will become for the rest of their lives.
Think about when you were ten. What were the circumstances then that you considered normal? Were you content and comfortable? Were you hungry and afraid? Fairly sure of yourself? Confused? Either way, whatever circumstances that faced your parents at the time would have a lot of influence about what you would want to do when you “grew up”, and what security issues would become important to you. And at ten, most of us felt being grown up was still some time away. But by fifteen, we could taste it.
My parents grew up during The Great Depression. When my dad was ten years old, times were lean, and to be wasteful of limited food and resources was easily understood as a terrible thing to do. That sense of needing to be frugal shaped a lot of how my father would behave as an adult. And it was during a time when my parents were being creative with almost everything we had that might be thrown away by those who had more than enough, I reached the age of ten. But at no time, at five, ten, or fifteen, did I ever have to deal with the austerities my parents faced at those ages.
By the age of ten, my parents were probably aware of the mistakes their parent’s generation had made by taking risks that lead to economic disaster. It effected them for the rest of their lives. By the time I was ten, I’d heard about it, but had not lived through it. So in a real sense, I had no memory of the crash of 1929 and all that followed.
When I turned ten, the economy that had been booming since the end of World War Two went into a temporary recession, causing my parents to “tighten the belt” for a while, so to speak. There were layoffs where my father worked, but things never got so difficult for us as it had been for him as a boy.
As things got better, I saw my father back off from investment opportunities with great caution, as he felt opposed to any chance of a loss he could not afford. Although he was offered opportunities in industry with lucrative territories and “a piece of the action”, anything remotely resembling a straight commission income sounded very frightening. He had a wife, and children to raise.
Somewhere along the way, I began to form the thinking I might be willing to take more risks, with a hope of being able to get ahead. The irony is, that while I did not remember the negative effects of my grandparent’s generation buying on the margin in the 20’s, I was unable to see the comparisons (because of what I could not remember) when my generation began leveraged buyouts in the 80’s.
How many of you remember being five years old? I barely do, but I’m sure at that age I had little concept of the way the world was outside my little family and community, and very little of that. At five, a child needs help crossing the street, and often cannot even tie its shoes. Most five year olds cannot prepare meals for themselves, much less know how to trade or barter for food, nutritional or otherwise.
By ten, children are still willing to follow their parents and learn from them. But throughout most of history, by fifteen, a person would be less willing to follow, and want to be seeking their own way. Until fairly recent history, fifteen year olds were pretty much ready to break away from being treated as children, and fit into the community or tribe with the other adults. With human lifespans seldom going much past thirty or forty for many thousands of years, this is understandable.
During those thousands of years, a person of fifteen would have learned which plants and animals to look for and which ones to avoid; how to build and manage a fire, to make clothing and tools, how to defend themselves, how to hunt, fish, gather fruits, nuts, roots and vegetables, how to plant and harvest certain kinds of crops, cut down trees, thatch a roof, build a lean-to, and by that age even today, they are biologically quite capable of becoming parents themselves.
And since they would know these things, it makes sense that they might lose interest in wanting to continue listening to instructions from those they thought could not teach them much more than they already knew. While there might still be things to learn from the sage and wise, their eagerness to assert their own manhood or womanhood would make them a bit deaf to it.
So even now, by the time most people reach their mid-teens, they will naturally begin to assert some independence from their elders. But today, our society is not yet ready to allow fifteen year olds to be treated as adults. So it’s a stressful time, and how both the adults and teenagers express themselves towards each other during that time shows a lot of that stress.
As children become eager to reject the controls over them, they often adopt methods of behavior and styles that are certain to not sit well with those they see as controlling authorities: Parents, teachers, ministers, and even police officers. We see the results of this attitude in clothes, grooming, new ritual dances, and in the questioning of some of the traditions of their elders.
And adults are often just as irrationally reactionary to these changes as are the children. Some of the reactions against the clamor for independence gets as ugly as the clamor for it. Sometimes by action and force; sometimes with words. But that it tends to get ugly with each generation seems to go unrecognized as a trend that could be managed in a better way if people would just have a better understanding of what is happening to them.
So, in each generation, there are adults who just throw up their hands and give up, and those who become autocratic to the extent of bullying to insist their old way was the only right way. Yet neither my father’s generation’s liking for the songs of Hank Williams, nor mine liking the ones of Jimi Hendrix proved to be any kind of carryover in the way of moral instruction that might set any kind of permanent standard in a traditional sense.
The first time my father came into the house and heard “Purple Haze” playing on my stereo, I’m sure he thought the end of time had come. Later on, as each of my sons reached ten, they found that their mom and I still enjoyed some (though not all) of the same music they did. But each one of them did try to find ways to push it when they thought we didn’t. By the time they were fifteen, it was clear, at least in their own minds, they were ready to take charge of their own lives. All of them approached puberty wide open without slowing down for speed bumps.
For those who remember, after the seventies, a noticeable target market of pre-adolescents emerged, showing affection for what became referred to as “bubble gum” music. This forced even a bigger wedge between them and older siblings than had been noticed before. It wasn’t just the kids versus the parents; music had taken on stages to go through, with twelve year olds and their sixteen year old siblings not even listening to the same radio stations. And somewhere along with that transition in our society came the popularity of holding beauty pageants for girls at younger and younger ages. Such as that is no complement to our society.
While some would claim otherwise, this is an example of the influence of perception management through marketing strategies to sway and move social trends and acceptances of the masses, far beyond their ability to realize it is being done to them. And as with all of these trends, cultural confrontations will occur not just between leaders of ethnic and religious groups anxious to hold to their traditions and values, but also between teens and their parents, about what is acceptable dress, language, and music, and what isn’t.
Each generation, varying from culture to culture, wants to censor the next one to some degree. And with that comes clashes often over what is considered decent, rude, nasty or obscene. A lot of youthful behavior that becomes controversial is seen as rebellious, and to some significant degree, it is.
It is often the choice of words more than the meaning of them that prompts some righteous indignation from the point of view of flappers, zoot suiters, beatniks, hippies, rappers, and a new age seemingly somewhere between fusion and nondescript throwback mimickers that don’t quite signify anything in particular.
While some generation disputes get ugly and even violent, the human race for the most part has had much bigger problems through the ages than just generation gap. But within that gap, each new generation has disparities with their elders about vocabulary. That would be especially regarding sensual vocabulary at a time when young humans start taking a serious interest in the opposite sex. What’s hip, what’s cool, what is to be allowed, and what isn’t gets all tangled up with the various fads that do seem to change rather quickly, and others not quickly enough.
But regardless of age, folks do all kinds of nasty and obscene things to each other far worse than words, I reckon. As for whatever specific piece of music had prompted the rants I referred to at the top of this letter, I probably didn’t hear it. And even if I had, I doubt my opinion of it would make a bit of difference to any of the youth who would want to dance to it.