Since the mid 1980s, a trend has been developing that has me severely worried for my generation. Lately, that trend is coming to a head and I’m afraid that we as Millennials are not going to be able to handle the inevitable.
I couldn’t put my finger on the cause. It could have been one thing, or several. It could have started way back in 1974 when Timothy O’Bryan’s father slipped a cyanide-laced Pixie Stix into his Halloween bag, killing the child and frightening parents into thinking there were child-hating maniacs handing out candy for decades. (How many of you weren’t allowed to eat your candy until your parents checked it first?) Maybe it was when Mary Kellerman, aged 12, became the first victim of the Chicago Tylenol murders. Perhaps it was the Satanic daycare sex-abuse hysteria of the 1980s and 90s. Whatever it was, it led to the rise of “helicopter” parenting, the practice in which parents hover over their children to ensure the child never fails, is never allowed to fall, never allowed to take risks or experience pain.
These are the parents who won’t let their child ride a bike without knee pads, elbow pads, wrist guards, and a helmet.
They are the parents who made sure the monkey bars and the swings were removed from the playgrounds to reduce fall and choke hazards, and there isn’t dirt or grass under what remains, but several inches of recycled shredded rubber or mulch.
If their school system still uses traditional grades, and Johnny gets a poor grade on a test, Mom and Dad will be in the next day to negotiate a better one, or finding out why the teacher didn’t teach better. Often, Mom or Dad will just do Johnny’s work to make sure it’s done right.
Afraid to let them out of their sights, parents schedule as many after-school activities as possible. From t-ball to soccer to dance, everyone gets a trophy just for existing. There is no concept of “winning” or “losing” and thus no chance to fail in a fairly safe environment. Where there is no chance to fail, there is no room to grow. No internal motivation is developed. Children learn to depend solely on external motivators, a trait which will not serve them well in the “real” world. One would think it ludacris for a parent to accompany her grown child to a job interview or complain to the dean of students about a test grade, but it happens.
An argument between friends or classmates is immediately sorted out by teachers or parents. Children don’t learn crucial social skills, and often any conflict is immediately labeled “bullying”. What children DO learn is to quickly manipulate the system to their advantage, crying “wolf” (or “bully”) to gain attention from adults.
This lack of social skills leads me to my other big worry: the millennial generation today doesn’t have any. For that, I can go back to 1992 and IBM. Most 20-somethings today could barely remember their home phone number then and were too busy memorizing their colors, numbers, and ABCs, but that was the year IBM introduced the first smartphone, nicknamed “Simon”. Since then, we’ve all gone downhill, and it’s been well-observed that most people under the age of 35 are lacking the basic skill to carry on a conversation. It’s difficult to sit through a dinner with someone who is constantly checking their phone for email, texts, Facebook, etc. Eye contact is impossible – many can’t maintain it. When our eyes are glued to a screen all day, we forget what real interpersonal contact is like.
I firmly believe this is what has given rise to the #YesEveryWoman and #ThatsWhatHeSaid, as well as videos in which people with hidden cameras walk around for hours and record the reactions and statements of others. As human beings, we have lost the ability to interact properly with each other. We have become so used to hiding behind a screen that we have become incapable of just being.
The world of social media means never hearing emotion. You read what is written without hearing the reflection or intent. How many conversations have spiraled out of control because something was misinterpreted? Have we become completely desensitized to others’ emotions and feelings? Has that lack of seeing and hearing someone’s reaction allowed for the rise of disrespect, whether real or imagined, between the sexes?
Not too long ago, what is now considered “catcalling” was thought of as a man getting his act together, taking the plunge, and saying hello to a lady. Sadly, today’s society is severely lacking in ladies and gentlemen equally, but unless your friends had sisters, sometimes randomly addressing an attractive stranger was the only way to meet someone. Often one ended up saying something incredibly stupid as he stumbled over himself in his nervousness, hoping that in the approximate 12 second window that he had to make a good impression that she would either be willing to continue the conversation or let him down gently.
To the men out there, you kinda stink at this these days. Women, you’re pretty bad at it yourself.
Men: The way to get a lady’s attention is NOT to make any blatant sexual comment. Just, no. Don’t even go there. Do not touch or follow a woman without her permission – that’s illegal. Say hello, or something funny, or compliment her.
Women: If a man, stranger or acquaintance, says hello or compliments you, it is polite to respond “hello” or “thank you”. If you don’t wish to converse, that’s all you need to say. “F*** you” is not appropriate. If you think you’re in danger, or if you’ve been grabbed or touched in any way, scream and call the police.
Everyone should have a few fall-back subjects to talk about that don’t involve television shows and Buzzfeed lists. Read a book or two. Have informed opinions on national politics and stay current with current events. Find a hobby. Start challenging yourself to put the phone away one day a week (or if that’s too much, one day a month) and dedicate that day to one of those things.
It’s time to put on our big kid underpants and learn to be big kids, without holding Mom and Dad’s hand or the equivalent – the smart phone. Let’s learn to be people, not robots.
I highly recommend the article The Overprotected Kid for more on helicopter parenting, bubble wrapped kids, and how one community is trying to give kids a new chance at childhood.