As I’ve been doing research as of late on Ancestry.com, I can’t help but think we’re a bunch of pansies. My relatives marched across hostile country to establish farms in the Midwest, fought the British toe to toe at places like Yorktown and marched almost a thousand miles in the dead of night trying to find a better life in Russia.
These days, people bitch about their Internet connection not being fast enough. Hardship is Starbucks not getting your latte order correct (Soy! I said Soy, dammit!). We wander around this world of ours staring at a small screen like it’s the Magic Eight Ball of our youth, thinking the glowing rectangle will somehow give us the divine answers that we seek, or at least that someone liked our last selfie.
Worse, we’ve raised a generation of germaphobes who are afraid of their own shadow. Rather than being strong and more resilient than our own generation or those that have come before us, we’ve turned our children into a bunch of sniffling crybabies who are afraid of the world around us.
For example, we all grew up without the supposed benefits of bike helmets. What’s more, we did some really reckless things on our bikes, things that should have killed us. And yet, we survived.
We played in the dirt all the time. We’d come in to eat and spend a little extra time in the bathroom running the water to let mom think that we washed out hands. We drank a big glass of whole milk with our peanut butter sandwich because peanut and milk allergies were virtually unheard of.
Even with all this, we were a bunch of namby-pambies compared to our grandparents or great-grandparents. As they made their way west, they would just bury their loved ones along the side of the trail and move on. Life was tough, it was short and only the lucky and courageous survived. They didn’t build memorials along the side of the road to their loved ones or bring flowers every day. They moved on, as hard as it was because there was their only choice.
Now, I certainly am educated enough to know that the generations younger than I face some different obstacles today than we did. There is cyberbullying, but to be fair, we had playground bullying. They have school shooting drills, but again, to be fair, we did duck and cover drills to prepare for an inevitable nuclear attack.
But here’s a telling statistic here. There are 55 million schoolchildren in this country. They attend 130,000 K-12 schools. About 10 of those kids are killed each year by gunfire. According to criminologists James Alan Fox and Emma Fridel, that number hasn’t increased since the 1990s.
The media and social media would have you believe that the numbers are soaring, but they are about the same as they’ve been for almost three decades. Now, even one kid being shot to death is an unfathomable tragedy and this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be trying to figure out how to keep our kids safe. It just means that things aren’t getting worse, but we tend to think they are because of the constant barrage of news stories and social media posts.
Statistically, a child is more likely to die in a car accident than at school. Yet, we spend little to no time teaching kids defensive driving skills in schools and spend an inordinate amount of time doing active-shooter drills.
No wonder the generations to come are so freaked out.
It doesn’t help that we’ve taken all the fun out of these kids’ lives. Look at the average playground. No merry-go-round, no teeter-toters, no monster slides and certainly no Red Rover or Tag. Too dangerous or too aggressive! We certainly can’t let our kids go the park because a stranger may steal them, even though the data shows that there’s a one in one million chance your kid will be snatched by a stranger at a park.
So, let’s check the scoreboard here. We’ve made our kids afraid of germs, peanuts, milk, abduction, getting shot, talking to strangers, wearing certain shoes or apparel in the wrong places, the list goes on and on. No wonder they’re so depressed, detached and freaked out. They don’t have any time to think about the opposite sex, which consumed almost every minute of my own teenage years.
As parents, we really need to take a breath here and chill out. Remember, we’re the ones who had rooms covered with lead paint, didn’t use seatbelts, rode our bikes, tote-goats and go-carts helmetless, used dangerous glues and airplane dopes without wearing a mask and drove our souped-up cars way too fast for our skill levels. We snuck out of our houses at night, went to keggers, tried all sorts of new drugs that weren’t even illegal yet and tested every limit put in front of us.
We survived a pretty dangerous time. And yet, we allow our society to make our kids feel more unsafe today than we were back then. Let’s face it, an abduction or a shooting is easy news. It gets lots of ratings. It’s the low hanging fruit of journalism and best of all, it sells more spots to advertisers.
A kid going to the playground around the corner and returning home or the millions of students who go to school each day and come home safely isn’t newsworthy, but it is the reality.
We can’t control the media, Twitter or Facebook. But we can control what we tell our kids about the world and teach them the skills they need to navigate it.
The world has always been and will always be a scary place. The sooner we prepare our kids to be a bit tougher, more mindful, and more resilient, the better. Being afraid of the world is not the solution. Preparing them for the road ahead, as unpredictable as it can be, and letting them know that we’ve already done most of the really scary stuff, can help them not only succeed in the future, but help them stop freaking out about tomorrow or being afraid of their own shadows.
In the Emerald City, getting my parental Zen on once again,