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Nov 29, 2023

A Line In The Sand: We’re Back! Courtney Hampson & Barry Kaufman

Celebrate Hilton Head Magazine

Photography By

I think about Plato a lot when people complain about the kids these days.

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Courtney’s Opinion: Kids These Days….

I blame Whitney Houston, rest her soul. In 1986, she told us the children are our future. The children she was singing about are my contemporaries and parents themselves now—parents of the “kids these days” that have us (me!) shaking our heads on the regular.

An October 2019 journal article in Science Advances tells us that generations have been alluding to inferior generations since at least 624 BC. This tells me two things. One, Barry and I have yet to have an original idea to debate. And two, history does indeed repeat itself. Two thousand six hundred and forty-seven years after the first group of 33-50 year olds were annoyed by the next generation, we still find ourselves stupefied by kids these days.

This same article said, “We view kids these days unfavorably, especially on traits at which we excel, partly because we have a biased view of the past.” Specifically, “Authoritarian people especially think youth are less respectful of their elders; intelligent people especially think youth are less intelligent; well-read people especially think youth enjoy reading less.”

While attempting to find scholarly support for my opinion, this research supports the opinion that our opinions are basically just our opinions, based on our own experiences. Based on this experience, this is probably the last time I will conduct research for this column. (By the way, we’re back! A Line in the Sand has officially returned.) Instead, I will just tell you what I know.

I don’t have children, but I do have “kids.” My kids are the college students who have walked across my classroom threshold for the last 21 years. The vast majority have been traditionally aged college students, 17-22 years old, uncomfortable with public speaking yet forced to take the required course I teach. Some have impressed the hell out of me, and I have loved watching them grow—beyond my classroom, beyond their college years, into adulthood, and now even parenthood. Those are the ones that give me hope: Chelsea, Chavis, Fox, Benji, Megan … and more—all with whom I am still in touch in some way because we connected.

Perhaps we connected based on our shared desire to overachieve, get stuff done, do better next time, and chart a course. Of the more than 1000 students I have taught, why is it that just a small sliver remain in my sphere? Probably because the other 900+ had me shaking my head. But shouldn’t they?

In eighth grade, when I got a C in English because, according to my teacher, I was hanging out with the wrong crowd and trying to be cool not smart, my parents were shaking their heads. When I discovered beer and got a 2.0 GPA my first semester of college, my parents were shaking their heads. When I graduated from college with a social work degree (and a 3.5 GPA) and decided I didn’t want to be a social worker, my parents shook their heads.

I shake my head when a student skips a class or an assignment and then shrugs at a zero. I shake my head when a first-time job applicant doesn’t include a cover letter (I love words people!). I shook my head when my husband and I had some of his colleagues over to our house. The crowd included new firefighter recruits (barely in their 20s) and the salty old guys (in their 40s and 50s). Two of the new recruits were found peeing in our front yard because it was easier than asking where the bathroom was.

Kids these days. We shake our heads.

“Kids” make bad choices, say shocking things, hurt our feelings, and surprise us with their behavior. We might feel better if we expect nothing less. It’s a messy and complicated world. Kids haven’t found their way yet. They don’t know what to say, what they want to do or be, or what the future looks like.

I didn’t either, and look at me. I turned out just fine. 

Barry’s Opinion: The Younger Generation….

A great person once asked, “What is happening to our young people? They disrespect their elders; they disobey their parents. They ignore the law. They riot in the streets, inflamed with wild notions. Their morals are decaying.”

Of course, that great person was Plato, and he asked that almost 2,400 years ago. Those young people of Ancient Greece, far from pulling society apart at the seams, simply dared enjoy their youth in the presence of crusty old philosophers.

I think about Plato a lot when people complain about the kids these days. But not as much as I think about another great philosopher, who did as much to pierce the veil of mystery around the human condition as Plato ever did. I speak, of course, of Carl the Janitor from The Breakfast Club who said, “The kids haven’t changed. You have.”

Wise words, Carl the Janitor. I’m sure you have a last name, but I’m too lazy to look it up.

The fact is, people have been complaining about the younger generation for as long as there have been younger generations—which, I’m assuming, came pretty early in human history. We watch them as their certainty about the world around them grows, and we mistake their confidence for arrogance. We expect them to give us respect, then call them contemptuous when we do nothing to earn it. We lament their lack of morals, despite it being our job to instill them.

When we complain about the kids, all we’re really complaining about is the crappy job we did raising them. And boy did kids these days get the short end of the stick there. My generation invented helicopter parenting. We invented play dates. We didn’t invent car seats that are more complicated than the space shuttle, but we made sure we used them. Our kids were raised on heavily padded and sterile playgrounds where no one could ever be injured.

Which is what gives me a lot of faith in the kids these days. Because despite my generation whipping up a strict regimen of the worst parenting techniques in human history, they seem to be doing okay.

I think back to when I was a teenager, back when all the cool kids smoked. Sure, it made your mouth taste like an ashtray, your clothes smell like a structure fire, your teeth look like candy corns and your lungs shrivel from the inside out, but that’s the price you pay for looking cool. Kids these days don’t smoke. Sure, some of them vape, but at least no one thinks they look cool for doing it.

Back then, we’d listen to bands like Limp Bizkit, sure that flipping up double birds and setting things on fire was the best way to let everyone know you were a solid badass. Kids today listen to … well, I don’t know what they listen to, but it’s gotta be better than Limp Bizkit.

And most of all, kids these days are actually kind of nice to each other. Again, there are jerks, but not like when I was a kid. Back in my day, if you weren’t treating everyone around you like absolute garbage, you weren’t cool. Because the worst anyone could do back then, if they got offended, was try to fight you in the parking lot.

That was as bad as it got. Ask any teen these days, particularly after an active shooter drill, how bad it can get these days.

Kids these days are tougher than my generation was. They’re smarter than my generation was. And maybe most important, they’re kinder than my generation was.

And to be clear, my generation had nothing to do with that. They did that on their own, proving once again that Plato didn’t know what he was talking about. But Carl the Janitor may have.

Reed! Carl Reed. I knew I’d figure that out. 

 

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