Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Anger, Apathy, and Avoidance of Responsibility: The Disenfranchisement of the Modern American Adolescent

"I see all this potential, and I see squandering. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don't need. We're the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War's a spiritual war... our Great Depression is our lives. We've all been raised on television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won't. And we're slowly learning that fact. And we're very, very pissed off."  --Tyler Durden in "Fight Club"

"The "battle against racism" takes precedence over personal responsibility, hard work, pursuing an education, and breeding children only when capable of assuming this responsibility.  Anger can become the enemy of success and of productivity.  Those who fan this anger create an emotional and psychological trap of weights and barriers."  --Larry Elder in Stupid Black Men: How To Play The Race Card--And Lose"

“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”
--Yoda in "Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace"

Recently, I've found myself brooding on the state of our world and what it means for my son and his generation.  I reflected on my parents' generation and that of their parents and tried to juxtapose them with my own.  As it stands, my group--popularized as "Generation Y" or, perhaps more so, as "Millennials"--stands as a far cry from the idealized generations of years past.  I suppose it is habitual for generations to look back fondly on their primes and to view them as being some sort of golden era...but I'm beginning to wonder whether or not my group will be doing that.

Right now, many Millennials (and members of Generation X) are in the primes of their lives, myself included.  Though there are no set dates for when Generation Y starts and ends, it is generally accepted to be from somewhere in the middle of the 1970s up until the turn of the current century.  That means that the bulk of Millennials are in their twenties or thirties--in the midst of developing their careers and perhaps still pursuing higher education but likely leaving high school and their youths in the dust of the past.  Consequently, this also means that most of us are entering the time in our lives where we will be settling down--purchasing a home, getting married, and, perhaps, having children; Generation X members can say the same. In the case of the children of these two generations, though, I believe that there is cause for concern as the maturity level and overall outlook on life of Millennials and Gen Xers is often called into question.  More on that in a little bit though.

An important point to note about Millennials, though, is that the group, as noted above, includes children born around and into the early 2000s, which means that children born in the 1990s are considered to be members of the generational group.  I'm making this distinction because of something that happened yesterday in the neighborhood that I grew up in.  Throughout the day yesterday (a day that is meant to be fun and memorable for children) a large group of neighborhood kids engaged in what amounts to inexcusable and inexplicable vandalism, causing property damage as well as physical damage to passersby and sparking a firestorm of angry commentary on the local website as well as on Facebook where said site has been linked to numerous times (to view the article in question, click here:  http://www.gerritsenbeach.net/2010/11/01/no-police-response-despite-massive-damage-by-local-teens/  )

Halloween in Gerritsen Beach has grown steadily more violent and disgusting over the past fifteen to twenty years.  When I was a kid the worst that would happen would be kids attacking each other with shaving cream and eggs, and toilet papering local homes.  Often this behavior wouldn't begin until after sundown, meaning that most of the little kids would be done with their trick-or-treating.  Though I did not engage in the aforementioned sophomoric behavior and would not deign to deem it acceptable now, it can and should be said that it was done, to some degree, with discretion; even the "punks" who engaged in such behavior had some semblance of respect for other people and their property.  Over time, though, the behavior grew more outlandish, confrontational, and, in some aspects, dangerous.  One of the last years I remember going trick-or-treating, people wound up cutting their day short because of three assholes going around with Supersoaker waterguns filled with a mixture of vinegar, urine, and eggs.  It would have been bad enough if they were squirting only each other...but they weren't.  Kids and their parents were getting caught in the scrum caused by three idiots who served to ruin what should be an exciting and safe day for small children--not a day for asshole teenagers to run around causing trouble.

Since then (the early 1990s), things have grown progressively worse as the interlopers have grown increasingly younger and more brazen in their antics.  One recent year while I was working in Manhattan I had the unfortunate responsibility of working on Halloween.  While living in Gerritsen Beach I would often use one of my vacation days on Halloween simply to avoid having to go out of the house--things had gotten that bad.  During this year, though (maybe 2005 or '06) I had to work somewhat late and took the express bus home.  There was no WAY I was going to take the train and the city bus knowing that, in then-recent years, kids had taken to egging passing buses and, on occasion, exiting passengers.  Unfortunately, though, (and unbeknownst to me) the craziness crescendoed and reached a new peak that year.  The MTA had had their buses vandalized by the kids as the drivers performed their routes up and down Gerritsen Avenue.  The sides of the buses were plastered with eggs, shaving cream, and God only knows what else...but many of the buses had their windshields and side windows destroyed with rocks and other projectiles.  The result?  The MTA was terminating service at Avenue U (more than a mile from my house in Gerritsen Beach) and refused to go any further until late on November 1st.  That meant that I would then have to walk through the nonsense on my way home.  It was like a ghost town and a war zone--the entire avenue was COVERED with evidence of these kids' "good time."  Though I was nervous (the MTA wouldn't even go in there!) I refused to be afraid in my own neighborhood and I walked straight down Gerritsen Avenue until I reached my block.  Luckily, I made it home without incident...but there were definitely tons of kids hiding in the shadows eyeballing me.  I saw a few cars get egged with the drivers stopping, opening their doors, and then thinking better of it and hauling ass out of there.

This year, it would appear, things have reached an absolute low point.  Though I provided the link above, I would like to quote some of what was written (courtesy of Gerritsenbeach.net):

"50+ teens held their ground at Gerritsen and Florence Avenues and Seba Avenue Park for a better part of Halloween. They formed a firing line on both sides of Gerritsen Avenue. They were throwing the eggs, shaving cream cans, potatoes, rocks, at anything that drove past and anyone who dared to confront them. They even started throwing eggs at people, parents with young children and strollers. One parent said “I saw them jump a delivery car with kids banging on it, eggs getting slammed into it and some ran on the car”

"An older man in his late 60′s was driving along Gerritsen Avenue when his car was hit by eggs, when he exited the vehicle he was pelted by dozens of eggs, rocks were thrown, chucks of brick, and someone tossed a hammer. Parents and community members stepped in to protect this man and started to chase the kids to away."

In thinking about these events the only conclusion that I can draw is that these kids have no boundaries.  People were quick to blame the police for not showing up...but what about the parents who could have prevented the whole thing simply by knowing where their kids were going, what they were going to be doing, and telling them, "NO!"  Many parents of my generation (and, more so, Generation X) are so obsessed with being their kids' friends that they lose sight of the fact that their job is to be their PARENTS first.  And, yes, being a parent includes being a disciplinarian!  Too many of these parents are so afraid of damaging their fragile children by saying "No"--so afraid of causing them emotional distress and mental discomfort that they concede immediately.  Watch when you go to Toys-R-Us or some other toy store: it's the yuppie parents (more often than not) with the kids throwing tantrums.  As soon as they realize that there are numerous pairs of eyes staring at them (and fearing for the emotional well-being of their children!) the parents will give in and get the kid whatever they want...but what is it that the kid wants?  In fact, what were they saying in the first place?  Quite often it's disrespectful and fresh; you would think that the kids are the parents and vice versa.  I've heard kids call their parents dummies, idiots, jerks, in a few cases assholes, and demand that they get what they want.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, in quiet, measured tones, the parents attempt to explain to their children that they got a toy yesterday...but it often falls on deaf ears.  The kids wind up with the toy(s) and the parents walk away with their peace-of-mind intact...but look again.  What else are the kids and parents coming away with?

The Kids
  1. A lack of value for the material items that they covet (why care about a toy when they will simply get a new one at will?)
  2. An understanding that, if they bitch about it enough, they will get it.
  3. A lack of understanding of boundaries, of the value of money, and proper child/parent roles.
  4. The belief that respect is something to be found in the dictionary--an antiquated notion that worked for past generations but not for theirs.
The Parents
  1. A kid (or kids) who do not have the skills necessary to cope with being told "No."
  2. A kid who fails to respect others AND themselves and who will go on to become an adult who does the same thing.
  3. A failure to understand that one's children need to be taught the value of proper etiquette and behavior in public (and probably in private as well).
  4. The knowledge that will come later that they are disserving their children by failing to prepare them adequately for adult life and the fact that, at that stage of their lives, the rest of society will not coddle and protect them.
Okay...so the kids have no boundaries...so what?  What does that mean?  In order to answer that, you have to look at both sides of the equation: cause and effect.  The effect will be a generation of disaffected adults who cannot handle most employment situations (i.e. working for and with others); who have little respect and regard for the law, themselves, and others; and, ultimately, who will propagate their own chaotic lifestyles in the generations that they will go on to engender.  The cause, though, comes from a generation of adults who were once children with issues with their parents.  In many cases, members of Generation X (born in the 1960s and 1970s) resented the discipline that was administered to them (be it physical or otherwise) and their reaction has been, in many cases, to respond with an equal but opposite lack of discipline with their kids; the result is a generation of parents who are more concerned with being their kids' friends than their parents.  They so want to be liked by their children that they refuse to say no, to punish their children, or to otherwise set those boundaries.

I've witnessed many of these parents' impotent attempts at disciplining their kids.  The child might be doing something destructive or simply something that they shouldn't be doing and the parents will turn around and say "No, don't do X/Y/Z!"  But that's it.  The kid goes right back to doing it...and the parents either ignore it or just say "No!" again.  There's no real discipline and the kids know that if they keep doing it, eventually they will be left alone.  If the parent attempts to remove the child from the situation, the child pitches a tantrum and, eventually, will be allowed to do whatever it is that they were told not to.

The parenting lessons that have been handed down through recent generations seem to be falling on deaf ears nowadays.  Modern parents are so yuppified that all they care about is whether or not their little ones are meeting the proper percentiles and that they are provided with the "best" (i.e. most expensive/trendiest) toys and learning tools to help them develop.  Granted, the intent with the latter is noble...but how much of a substitute for actual hands-on parenting can these gadgets and DVD programs be?  This generation of parents is moving increasingly away from personal interaction and replacing it with technology.  Many yuppie parents fail to sit down and have dinner with their kids, asking them how their days have been and what's going on in their lives.  Instead, they believe that they are "connected" to their kids' lives simply because they text or email during the day.


I think this generation of parents have their priorities out of whack.  Everything's been handed to them (us?) on a silver platter.  Look back at the opening quotation from Fight Club--it speaks directly to this very generation:

"I see all this potential, and I see squandering. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don't need. We're the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War's a spiritual war... our Great Depression is our lives. We've all been raised on television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won't. And we're slowly learning that fact. And we're very, very pissed off." --Tyler Durden in "Fight Club"

Gone are the days where one would take a job with a single company and work there for forty years, taking pride in the association with said company or corporation.  Here are the days where the work itself (and, inherently, its intrinsic value) is secondary to whatever the money earned can buy.  Our parents and their parents worked for everything they earned.  They had their Great Wars--wars that, for all their horror, helped to define their generations and to give America a single, unified identity.  What do we have?  The Gulf War?  The War in Iraq?  Wars that were (and are still) motivated by money-lust--not some idyllic moral gesture; OUR wars are representative of the things that OUR generation value: the materialistic, the unspiritual, and the unfulfilling.

We HAVE been raised on television and the next generation will be as well...only it seems that they will be raised by television and computers.  It's all about instant gratification and staying in step with whatever nonsense material trend is currently in place.  It's no longer simply about who is wearing designer clothes and sneakers but who has the newest iPhone, who is on Twitter, and what reality shows you watch.  Instead of television abounding with programs showing wholesome families that are reflective of the ideals we once held, it glorifies the likes of Mike "The Situation" and his ilk--of rappers, athletes, and celebrities who have had the good fortune of falling into money and being able to live a life of ease that MOST OF US WILL NEVER HAVE but that the next generation yearns for.

I am not a Luddite.  I am not a sentimentalist, yearning for the glory days of olde.  I'm not a bitter old man ruing the death of a golden age.  I'm twenty-seven going on twenty-eight and I am aware.  My generation and its predecessor are fucking up a streak that began over a hundred years ago of social, moral, and personal improvement.  Our generations are content to coast--to loaf and to rely on the hard work and effort of the past hundred years.  And when these generations are faced with the hard evidence, down the line, that we ruined everything that had been worked for...what will the reaction be?  The same that it has for everything else: a shrug of the shoulders, a toss of the hands skyward, and a facial expression that says "Not my problem--let someone else fix it." 

Millennials, Gen-Xers, and their children were and will be raised based upon the belief that they will be rock gods and celebrities and that they don't need to work hard for anything because, eventually, it will be given to them.  We are a generation that is allergic to building up a sweat--to toiling endlessly not merely for the ends we seek to achieve but simply for the experience of working hard.  We live in a world where yuppie pretension takes precedence over those who value the mores their parents tried to instill in them.  Now, these "parents" are obsessed with preserving the fragile egos of their disenfranchised children.  No longer do kids compete for first place; instead, everyone gets a trophy for competing.  There are no losers--no one who fails--because EVERYONE IS A WINNER!!

That is...until these kids get into the real world.  The children of Generation X adults are growing up in a world where they are told constantly that they are great and that they're special and unique (just like every other snowflake).  Unfortunately, the impact on these kids, particularly those heading for corporate America, is that they are grossly unprepared for dealing with the rigors of adult employment and socializing.  Suddenly, these kids who have been told throughout their entire lives that they are winners and that whatever effort they extend is "great" are now facing the fact that their Powerpoint presentation sucked or that their writing abilities leave much to be desired.  A generation of children needing constant coddling and "Attaboys/girls" are crumbling beneath the pressure of high-stress work environments.  This is to say nothing of the kids who have no boundaries!

We are cultivating a generation of children brought up on Baby Einstein, Baby and Me Yoga classes, baby harnesses to help baby walk without the fear of falling, baby wipe warmers to protect children from the harsh chilly temperatures of ordinary wipes, and any other number of wussifying, demeaning things.  These kids are being taught to fear everything (Purell, Purell, Purell!  It's a dangerous world out there!), to use their "Inside Voices" when they should instead be using their common sense as to when to be boisterous and when simply to shut the fuck up, and to rely on pills to fix any and every ailment that they might or might not even have.  The message is, "Protect, protect, protect!" but, in reality, all that these kids are being sheltered from is the chance to develop the necessary coping skills to succeed in the modern American adult spectrum.  We are retarding their abilities to grow morally, emotionally, and socially and are shielding them from failure instead of teaching them how to deal with it and how to accept it as a natural part of life without it crushing their egos.
So what do we wind up with?  Four generations (Generation X, Millennials, and the children of both groups) who are incapable of understanding the meaning of accountability and respect.  People who are quick to point fingers and to sue instead of accepting their mistakes as their own and learning from them.  The kids, in particular, are finding themselves frustrated when they reach adulthood because they are incapable of interacting with others who are far more stable, responsible, and reliable than they are.  The result of this is unrelenting anger and thus more finger pointing. 

As quoted above, Larry Elder states that "Anger can become the enemy of success and of productivity.  Those who fan this anger create an emotional and psychological trap of weights and barriers."  Though Mr. Elder was referencing racism and those who rely on playing the race card and stirring up racial-anger and mistrust, I believe that his point is applicable here as well.  Instead of fostering the development of strong moral compasses in their children, many Generation X parents choose instead to illustrate the point that you can get away with things and not have to accept responsibility simply by blaming others.  The result is an angry group of children-turned-adults who do not know how to cope with being told no, with being told that they are not good enough, and, in many cases, with not knowing how to deal with people with differing opinions, cultural/religious backgrounds, and global perspectives. 

There is a battle waging on a public forum as we speak about the aforementioned Halloween incidents in Gerritsen Beach.  The warring factions are mostly divided down this line: one side understands that these kids need to be held accountable for their actions, and the other side continues to ignore the inexcusable nature of the behavior and chooses instead to justify, however loosely, the unjustifiable behavior.  The latter, when faced with the irrefutable facts of the episode respond in the same fashion that SO MANY people who are incapable of accepting blame and responsibility do: "Yeah but."  It's all "Yeah but we did this as kids" or "Yeah but they're just kids being kids," ignoring completely the fact that what occurred was dangerous, violent, destructive, disruptive, and downright reprehensible.  But rather than face this with maturity and say "You know what?  These kids need to be held accountable for their actions" they are attacking anyone who disagrees with them and, in particular, the brave individual who brought the issue into the public forum in the first place.

We are dealing with a generation (or two) that is long on attributing blame but short on offering applicable solutions to America's woes.  Their children are growing into individuals who are mirroring the behavior of their parents and echoing the very same attitudes of avoiding hard work and accepting responsibility.  The next generations are angry...but they don't understand why.  Their parents are afraid of losing their admiration and, instead of parenting them, they allow them free reign, thus rendering them incapable of developing into respectable adolescents and adults.  Said adolescents and adults grow angry because of their inabilities to cope with the world they live in and, in like fashion, they turn to hate: they hate things they don't understand, things that are different from them, and things that tell them no or force them to hold themselves accountable.  As a result, we all suffer.

I'd like to close with what I believe is a very germane adaptation of a pamphlet that was written by Nannie Burroughs around the beginning of the twentieth century.  I came across this list of "12 Things The Negro Must Do For Himself" in Larry Elder's book and found it salient to my argument about the generational issues that we are currently encountering.  The paraphrased/adapted text below has been inspired by the original literature found on the website "Black Men In America.com" http://www.blackmeninamerica.com/12.htm  courtesy of founder and publisher Gary Johnson, taken from the original literature written by Ms. Burroughs.

*CHANGED on 11/3/10*

In the interest of creating a stronger connection between my overarching argument and the list, I have decided to paraphrase Ms. Burroughs in bullet-point fashion with the hopes that the parallels between her original intent and my own will grow both clearer and stronger.  Again, for the original text please consult the link above.

Things that the modern adolescent (and future generations of youths) should take into consideration as the develop their personalities and individual perspectives on life:

1.  You should put as much effort into your education and into developing honorable character traits as you do your pursuit of earning money to fritter away on clothes, food, and anything else that is not a necessity in your life.

2.  God helps those who help themselves.  Stop relying on the hard work of others (your parents, your peers, whoever!) and get your own hands dirty.  Stop making excuses for yourself when the work gets too hard or you are forced to do things that you are not accustomed to doing.  Hard work builds character--something that is essential in your adulthood.
3. Strive to improve your surroundings, including your OWN personal appearance.  Have enough respect to throw your trash away in a garbage can instead of throwing it in the street with the expectation that someone else will clean up your mess.  And dress in a respectable fashion and in a venue-appropriate manner.  If your pants don't fit--wear a belt to keep them up, ESPECIALLY if you're in a place of worship or around your elders.  It doesn't make you look cool--it makes you seem incapable of dressing yourself.
4. Being a bigot doesn't make you cool--it makes you look ignorant and ill-informed.  Most hatred of other races and religions come from a lack of understanding or a fear of what is different.  In too many cases nowadays though it comes simply from heredity; it is passed down as if it is a family tradition with no explanation behind the racist or otherwise offensive sentiments.  Think for yourself kids!  Get out there and see more of the world and of your own country.  You'll be surprised to find that people are just like you despite the superficial differences of color and customs.
5. Take pride in your work!  If you're going to be the french fry guy at McDonald's then be the best fry guy the world has ever seen!  If you're submitting an essay for your English class, make it the best English essay you've ever written!  Your work is a reflection not only of yourself and your abilities but of your level of self-respect and the value that you place on your work.  Make sure that people see that you care and make sure that you actually DO care about what you do!
6.  Learn to respect public places and to act appropriately.  Be loud when it's warranted and be quiet when it's not.  Don't do anything that you wouldn't want to see done to your mother, father, younger sibling, or whoever you care about.

This is far from a comprehensive list but it's a start.  I intend to do a separate post on a collection of moral and ethical guidelines that I believe are worth disseminating to today's youth.  Thanks to Melissa DeJoseph for her input regarding the conclusion of the original blog entry.  Please view our comment conversation for an addendum to the discussion this blog attempts to engage in--it furthers many points and raises a few I should have included initially.