Ever think about how much the world has changed just in the last 40 years? It seems everything is changing in leaps and bounds. The world that our children are growing up in is quite different from the world we grew up in. Now kids have cellphones and playdates! They have instant access to the world at their fingertips. But is “Whatever, Whenever, Anything, Anytime” really better? Today I am happy to have Leon Scott Baxter, the author of the newly released parenting book, (affiliate link) Secrets of Safety-Net Parenting: Raising Happy and Successful Children – The Common Denominator, and the founder of the website SafetyNetters.com share with us about growing up now versus in the 70’s and 80’s. Is life easier today for kids? As you may have guessed there are pros and cons.
Is “Whatever, Whenever, Anything, Anytime” Really Better?
By Leon Scott Baxter
I’m an elementary school teacher and the father of two girls (12 and 17). And, as I watch all these young people in my life learn and develop before my eyes, I get envious. Well, maybe a little jealous, but also happy… very happy for them, just jealous for me.
See, when I was a kid I did well in school, and although I was raised in poverty, I was a little entrepreneur. I was always coming up with ways to make money. I sold candy in the neighborhood, bought toys inexpensively and resold them for a profit, and had a knack for winning stuffed animals at a local amusement park and sold them to dads who couldn’t win one for their kids, as well as other business endeavors.
But, that was all pre-internet, pre-websites, pre-debit cards for teens, and pre-social media. I had to find my clients (at age eleven) through word of mouth, posting fliers, and pounding the pavement. For a kid in the 70’s and 80’s I did pretty well for myself. And, I think about how well I would have done had I had Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube at my disposal.
I think that kids today have more opportunities at their fingertips than at any other time in history! If only I were a kid today. When I was in school, I remember having to actually go to a library to find information for my class reports. I would leaf through the now-endangered species we called “books”. And, to locate one of these then-prevalent, now-elusive keepers of knowledge, I’d have to search through thousands of index cards in a drawer, called a card catalog.
Today, when I ask my students to find information about how penguins have adapted to their environments, there’s no need for a card catalog, a library or even a book. With a few touches on their tablet screens, they’ve got what would have taken me hours back in my day.
Kids today also should never have a reason to utter these familiar words from the 70’s: “I’m bored.” When I was in grade school, we had twelve channels…twelve! And only one of them had kid shows on in the afternoons after school…for a mere two hours. That was it! We got two hours during the weekdays, after that there was the news and All in the Family. Weekends, though, were different. All three networks (yes, just three) showed cartoons from sun-up until noon. It was theonly reason we kids woke up early on Saturdays. The TV was ours for those few hours. Parents slept in. And, we survived on Fruit Loops and milk until Mom and Dad got up.
Today each home literally has hundreds of channels with scores dedicated to children’s programming…24/7! And, if you miss an episode, don’t worry; you won’t have to wait for the summer reruns like I did. They’ll show it again next week or maybe even later the same day. And, if you miss it, just Google it, watch it on Hulu, or catch it on YouTube. Today kids can watch whatever they want, whenever they want.
For electronic gaming we had that handheld Nintendo football game with the red blip-lights. Those things cost good money. Then, there were the video arcades, spending quarters like a bad night at a Laundromat, until we finally got the Atari 2600. Each game cartridge cost twenty to thirty bucks. Today, you go online and play games for free or download the apps on your device for nothing, unless you don’t want the pop-up ads, and then each game will set you back $3.99 (that’s equivalent to twelve Pac-Man and Space Invader game plays). Stick it in your pocket and you’ve got a complete arcade for less than twenty dollars.
When it came to fundraisers, I was a hustler. To be honest, I worked so hard because I wanted to win the prize of the top fundraiser. But, back then it meant walking the neighborhood, knocking on doors, calling extended family, and begging my parents to take the fundraiser form to work in order to appeal to the hearts (and wallets) of their coworkers. And, I raised a bunch of money.
Today, kids send a virtual catalog via an email to everyone of their parent’s contacts or they have their folks post a cute picture of them as well as a fundraiser link on their Facebook page, while the kids are watching iCarly reruns orSpongebob on Hulu. And, presto, people are donating to the school, pledging for jog-a-thon laps, buying Girl Scout cookies or purchasing expensive holiday gift wrap… without even one disgruntled neighbor slamming the door in their face.
Is Life Easier Today For Kids Than It Was In My Childhood?
Ahhh, to be a kid today…life as it should be, right? Well, that’s what I’ve been thinking for a number of years, but then I’m seeing statistics on the increase of bullying, teen suicide, increased teen therapy. And, I’m wondering, is life really easier today for kids than in my childhood?
Sure, kids can watch whatever they want whenever they want. So, that means there’s never any reason for them to leave their screens. There’s always a show to see, a video to watch, a social media site to peruse, a message to text, a selfie to take, and a friend to Facetime. Which means, young people today must choose to pull themselves away from their easy entertainment, not unlike me and my peers on Saturday mornings 30 years ago, if they want to get out and move. The thing is, screens are easy, they’re enticing, they’re tempting. As a result, today’s youth is struggling with their weight. Adolescents today are four times more likely to be obese than their predecessors thirty years ago.
And, it’s great that kids have easy access to information for school. But, because it’s so easy, school has become so much more competitive. Anyone can find anything at any time, so the bar has been raised. Kids need to do more in order to outscore, out volunteer, outdo, and out succeed their peers if they want to be admitted to the colleges of their choice.
The competition starts earlier than ever. It’s not just in the classroom either. Parents know that the price of higher education has grown astronomically. In order to possibly grab a sports, or dance, or music scholarship parents are pushing their children to succeed earlier in extra-curricular activities via supplementary practices, tournaments, outside trainings, rehearsals, concerts, and performances.
As a result, kids are feeling the pressure. They’re going to counseling more. They’re relieving the stress through cutting. And, because it’s become so prevalent, “cutting” is no longer hidden from peers. Every teen knows another teen who cuts. So, that makes it mainstream, which means more teens cut. And, when so many do it, they think, there can’t be anything wrong with it, right?
Teen boys are becoming addicted to pornography, because it’s so easy to find on their computers, tablets and phones. With a simple Google search anyone can find anything they want at any time. And, even when they aren’t looking, the Internet will often offer a free sample, like those stations at Costco: “Here, try this. See if you like it.” And, boys like it. Unlike Costco customers, though, the boys can get as much as they like for free… absolutely free.
When I was a teen, boys liked porn as well, but it was hard to become addicted to the same four Playboy and Penthouse Magazines you hid under your mattress after pilfering Uncle Vic’s stash. And, if you ever did actually see a porno, it was someone else’s that you snuck away, and although exhilarating, it was also very scary to watch for fear of being caught. Not quite a recipe for addiction.
With access to seeing it all anytime anywhere, kids are exposed to mass shootings, terrorism, and disasters all the time. They view their world much differently than I viewed mine. Bad things happened when I was a kid, but it didn’t concern me the way it does for kids today. When the news came on after my afternoon cartoons, I was out playing or in my room doing homework. Kids today know about every scary thing out there: Orlando mass shooting, ISIS, the Zika Virus. What’s it like to wake up as a nine-year old and not know what scary thing could happen today?
Lately I’ve had to weigh the pros and cons of being a kid today with those of being a kid of yesteryear. And, when I do, although I wasn’t a huge entrepreneurial success and had to ride my bike to the library on the weekends, I think I’d take my youth over that of today’s. I don’t envy today’s young people’s struggles: addiction, obesity, anxiety, etc… I am sorry for them, even my own daughters.
I think as parents all we can do is try to normalize their lives as best we can. They will have devices, which means they will have access to what we did not. That’s part of their world. As parents instead of trying to remove it all, we need to learn how to deal with it all, how to tell them what to avoid when they can, how to talk to them about it when they can’t avoid it, and how to work as a family to get outside, to do, to have fun, and make connections.
I hope you enjoyed Leon’s post. You can keep up with more of his parenting writing on the Safety Net Parenting Facebook page. So what do you think about growing up today verses when you were a kid?