Tuesday, July 28, 2015

What Would Your Kids Say?

"When you were a kid, what did you do for fun?

The generations interviewed are the Baby Boomers, Gen Xers and Generation Z (they skip over the millennials for some reason).

Inevitably, the response is supposed to be (or at least that tends to be the overwhelming take based on the FB comments) that this younger generation never goes outside (I type this as my kids are playing outside right now) and just spends their time binge watching TV or playing on their iPads.

The truth is a bit more complicated.

The truth is that no generation in the world watched more TV (boring and pointless TV, by the way, like Three's CompanyThe Brady Bunch,  or Leave it to Beaver, just to name a few) than Gen X (my generation).

When I was 10 we moved to the country.  As soon as the bus dropped me off, I binge watched TV (KVRR was just new then and it was our fourth channel - PBS didn't count, unless it was showing Faulty Towers) until 5:30 when I had to do chores (as quickly as possible by the way).  Then I ate supper (again, watching TV with my mom) and then back up to my room to watch more TV.  This lasted until I fell in love with reading after my freshman year of high school.

I am reminded of my daughter, Kenzie, several years ago when she was three and we were sitting outside McDondalds eating.  She said nonchalantly, "There is an octagon."

"A what?" I said, shocked.

She grinned over her Chicken Nuggets and said, "an octagon."

Sure enough, she was pointing at a stop sign.

She had been watching Dora the Explorer or Blue's Clues and picked the tip up.

You want to know what I picked up from Tom and Jerry or Woody Woodpecker or Loony Tunes?  Nothing.

And my generation grew up playing hours upon hours of Atari then Nintendo then Sega Genesis.  I played hundreds of hours of Pac Man and  Defender and River Raid.  Then I played hours of Super Mario and Blades of Steel and Tecmo.  Then I played hundreds upon hundreds of hours of Madden and College Football.

So who is any Gen Xer (or millennial) to condemn this newest generation (we will call them Gen Z)?

Truth be told, regardless of the newest electronic device or digital distraction, I've never seen a kid not want to go outside!  All I have to mention are the words "pool," "park," or "beach" and my kids are out the door.

I think the older generation that played outside simply did so because their mothers were inside cooking and cleaning and wanted them out . . . out of their way.

There was no redeeming purpose other than to get them out of their way.  This, of course, is if the child wasn't working in a factory or on a farm at the time.

So this youthful bliss that the Baby Boomers reminisce about isn't quite as altruistic as it may seem.

Is it Gen Z's fault that their parents, who would also like to get their kids out of their hair too, send them to their digital devices instead?

And let's not forget that the world was much different in the 1940's where kids could wonder all over town with little care or worry.  Even in the early 1980's I remember on a trip to Texas, walking down the street and meeting another little boy who then brought me into his room where we played for at least an hour.  Then I wandered back to my aunt's house where my parents were visiting, totally neglectful of me.

Could you imagine that happening today?

Police would have been alerted!

The video has one inherent flaw - illustrated in this excellent quote from William Faulkner regarding one's perspective as one grows old: "and the very old men - some in their brushed Confederate uniforms - on the porch and the lawn, talking of Miss Emily as if she had been a contemporary of theirs, believing that they had danced with her and courted her perhaps, confusing time with its mathematical progression, as the old do, to whom all the past is not a diminishing road but, instead, a huge meadow which no winter ever quite touches, divided from them now by the narrow bottleneck of the most recent decade of years."

That quote perfectly illustrates the hideous myth of nostalgia - that we don't accurately remember the past.  I now look back fondly on days spent baling hay with my father.  I do that because my father is gone, and I miss him.  When I think of our time together, I am often reminded of baling hay.  But if I were to go back and adopt my 15 year old mind frame of 1988 again, I would certainly loathe every second of baling hay.  There is no way I would ever consider that this was precious bonding time with my father and that the hard work was actually paying off in helping me shed my baby fat.  It was torture, and I'd have gladly turned dad in if I would have had the option!

But now that I'm 42, looking back on those summer days, I remember them fondly.  Even though I never lived them fondly.

I think that's what the older generations are doing here.  Yes, those memories are great.  But they are skewed by time.

I would like to know, even though it's impossible, what these Baby Boomers would have said if their 8 or 9 year old selves could have been interviewed.  Would they remember fishing, berry picking, and sledding so fondly?  Or would they remember screaming over the Beatles (as my mother did) or talking on a telephone for the first time or watching the Ed Sullivan show.

So interviewing the Generation Z kids and contrasting it with adult responses is, of course, totally unfair.

Had they interviewed me at that age, I would have talked about watching Star Wars over and over and over on HBO, so much so that I could act it out line for line (and often did on Mrs. Millers front porch) or how much I longed for the game Space Invaders on Atari or how I would watch Solid Gold to see Van Halen, Def Leppard, or Quiet Riot songs (don't even get me going on how late I stayed up watching Friday Night Videos or Night Tracks.

Now, though, I have a much different perspective, thanks to my age. I would reflect on playing ball down in the park with Dad (which I did maybe a dozen times total) or exploring the abandoned depot and grain elevator (talk about safe!  And several boys vandalized it, so it's not like simply playing outside taught us just virtuous traits) or riding my bike all over town pretending to be riding a Harley (in fact, one of my fondest memories was taping my Soundesign speakers (which I got at the old Larson's Music in TRF) to the handlebars of my bike (which I got at Ace Hardware) and cranked up my Soundesign Walk-man cassette player (which I got from Kmart) as I blasted Def Leppard's Pyromania (which I got from Kmart as well) as loud as I could).

But let's not simply condemn all Gen Zers because of cherry picked responses from a couple of 8 year olds.  After all, like it or not, Gen Zers are involved in more activities than any generation in American history could ever hope to have access to (T-ball, swimming lessons, baseball, basketball camps, wrestling camps, flag football and Pop Warner leagues, and dozens of community ed and ECFE programs and classes . . .  to just name a few off the top of my head).

And, if these lazy, technology addicted Gen Zers just spend their youth watching TV and playing video games, how come I see dozens upon dozens of pictures of them fishing, swimming, biking, playing sports, hunting, and so on Facebook?

I think the video has good intentions: be cognizant of what your kids are doing and have a balance between digital activities and good old outdoor activities.

But let's not condemn the entire generation based off this video.  Nor should the older generations pat themselves on the back too firmly.  After all, Brokaw's Greatest Generation did a great job of getting us in to the Korean War, the Vietnam War, as well as Desert Storm . . . not to mention ushering in the Cold War!

If I could offer one activity that would be far more useful than bashing today's youth it would be this - sit down with your kid and ask them to come up with their top five happiest moments of the time you spent with them.  Then you do the same.

Then share them and see if they overlap.

My mother and I did this often and we often had the same moments (getting my first dirt bike at Target in Grand Forks, going out for lunch at Country Kitchen on my birthday, going fishing in the Red Lake River, watching V and The Night Stalker on TV together (my mom and I were sci fi and suspense/horror junkies), and lighting off fire works out at our farm).

If your child can't come up with five things you've done together, that's your fault as a parent, not theirs as a kid.

Would your kids respond in the same way as these kids? Raises an interesting point...
Posted by Mike Hosking Breakfast on Sunday, July 19, 2015

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