How to understand our young is a question that has plagued the older generations for centuries. In the common mentality that pervades the thought within a generation, it seems that the young simply get worse every preceding age group. For them, morals and accepted methods of social interaction are tossed on their head, and the young simply refuse to conform to their peaceful and established world.
Not so many years ago, I was having lunch with my father and the company lawyer at the Hayatt outdoor café in downtown Columbus, Ohio. After discussing the usual topics of what I’m studying and what I think of my internship at the mutual fund department of the local investment company our conversation turned to the problems of my generation. I took a beating for the first five minutes as they pummeled me with examples of how my generation is lost and the source of all parental headaches. I retorted with the fact that their parents said the same about them as they are currently saying about my generation.
“You do not have a cause like we did in the 60’s” they said. “We were fighting against the Vietnam War and had a reason for our civil disobedience”
I searched my arsenal of reasons to counter them, and came up with, “Taking drugs, and having sex in the park during a Grateful Dead concert is hardly a way to protest a war is it not?”
They responded that those are insignificant side issues which do not detract from the noble reason of fighting against the war which was the main cause of their rebellion and that my generation did not have a cause. I searched my thoughts diligently but being only 20 years of age, could not come up with a suitable counterargument. It was then that I was miraculously saved by one whose view could not be countered nor scoffed at. This miraculous savoir happened to be a woman of about 65 who had overheard our conversation.
“Don’t listen to them” she told me. “They were a difficult and troublesome generation.” she said with the smile of a mother who even though her children are unruly, still cares for and loves them very much. Then being the gentlemen they are, my father and the lawyer both gave a subdued smile and we all knew that this particular topic had come to a close.
The question remains however, especially in this age of unprecedented violence, promiscuity and materialism, how can we understand the younger generation? There must be some standard manual which is required reading for every soon to be parent right? I am quite aware of the many books written by the professionals on such topics and award them their due respect. They spend their lives studying children and trying to help people become better adults, which is extremely admirable. Not being an ‘expert’ I am rather hesitant to challenge their views since I am well aware that learning like a brilliant light bulb illuminating an attic chases away the ignorance of our former views and opinions. I have learned that certain thoughts and ideas I formerly held as true and absolute, were in retrospect wrong, or muddled at best. Thus, before reading further, I wish to state clearly that I do not wish to contradict the opinions of our professionals. I simply wish to add one more view to our current store of knowledge on this subject.
Therefore, as much respect as I give our experts, it must be pointed out that they spent their lives studying the young. It’s been quite some time since they actually WERE the young. Through their intensive study, many have learned or observed, how children behave, but have forgotten what it is like to actually be one and the complexities that are involved. Further, their childhood experiences, try as they might to form their views scientifically and without bias, remain a tremendous influence on their current thoughts, and behavior. It is well known that experiences during youth still have quite an influence throughout the adult life and influence adult behavior.
I am taking the step to be the first one to provide a manual on raising a child properly while I am still relatively close to their youth. I am unaware of a book written about youth who still can be considered young; yet articulate enough to express their thoughts clearly and precisely. I am quite sure however that if a book like this has been written, it was regarded as amateurish, and unheeded. The reason is that we as a society will usually only listen to people and take their opinions seriously if they are regarded as “experts,” or have studied the topic strenuously. I put the question to you the reader however, that wouldn’t it be better to listen to the young and get their opinions in order to form an opinion about the young?
For example, if you wish to study Russian culture, wouldn’t it be better to ask a Russian instead of an outsider who simply studied them? I am aware that this could be a double edged question since a Russian might not be able to reflect upon his own culture since it is native to him and thus his opinion would be skewed towards a Russian point of view. However, the reverse would also have to hold true in that an American would have naturally lean towards an American point of view with respect to Russian culture. Yet, wouldn’t it be better to have both opinions in order to form a more complete opinion and form our views after taking both points into consideration?
My second point about flaws with experts is that they are a product of their respective schools of thought. I can send you thousands of intelligent, articulate scholars with degrees that will tell you Communism is the best form of government, or that we should still be a class based society. My point is that we know only what we have been taught. For example, I am a product of a capitalist society, and a liberal school. It wasn’t until I not only traveled, but lived in other parts of the globe that I was able to learn new thoughts and ideas and truly examine the ones I had been taught and held as true.
Yet another important point, is when in our lives have we thought ourselves ignorant? I thought I had everything figured out in the 8th grade and continued with this belief all throughout university. It was in university that people looked at me as educated since I was learning the modern business practices and could comment on subjects they might have difficulty with. After university, I thought myself enlightened and proceeded to parrot these ideas I had been taught in every business or political debate that came up. I was not yet thinking for myself, but regurgitating the views I had been taught.
Now that I have set down the reasons for the validity of my ideas, it is time to get to the core issue of understanding our young. As I have clearly stated above, I am not an expert. Yet I am someone who is relatively young and remember quite clearly the experiences and influences I had as a young adult. I believe that revealing the experience of my youth to you the reader, you may gain a fuller understanding of what goes on in the minds of our young. I do wish to offer one caveat however. The mass mentality of the young changes every five to ten years, and like the economy, we can only truly understand what was really going on in retrospect. Further, these are the experiences of only one individual, and to understand the young completely, it would take thousands of books like these written by the young to gain a clear picture.
Parents as a Role Model
Saying the word “Role Model,” makes me want to put up a barrier and stop listening. Young adults have the amazing ability to hear, and record what you say but not actually process it. We record it in case you ask us to repeat what you’ve just said and are able to do so and not get into trouble. However, we don’t really process it into our minds and make it part of us. Instead, it’s treated just like a stale piece of bread that is left out too long. It will become stale and discarded within a period of weeks if not days.
The words “Role Model,” make us automatically think that some brilliant piece of parental advice is about to follow and they are going to tell us again what we are doing wrong again. For me, when adults told me I needed a Role Model, the part that was actually heard “processed” is that I am not good how I am and would be better off copying someone else’s method of behavior and acting. I felt like I was not a good person. Now, as I read what I write, some part of me gives me a warning saying that if an adult heard,,, they would say I had a “bad attitude.” Therefore, it would be best to put the youth in contact with a role model instead of saying “Here is your Role Model and you should copy his/her behavior.” In this way, the actions and behavior of our chosen Role Model would stealthily be absorbed into the behavior patters of the youth without them consciously being aware that they were being influenced.
It is well known that parents are the best Role Models for their children. But how can parents be role models, relate and earn the respect of their children? Here are some simple guidelines to follow.
1. Be honest with your children about your mistakes. Don’t tell them not to do something because that translates into “If it looks fun then experiencing it is ok since my parent did it, just don’t get caught.”
2. You should spend time with your young adult. However, do not force them if they don’t want to. Forcing the young to spend time with you will be no fun for them, even if it actually is fun. The premise in their thinking is that it is something they are forced to do so they will not like it even if it actually is enjoyable. So how can you get them to spend time with you? This can be complex or simple depending on your ability to adapt. You should find something they enjoy doing and learn to become good or even better than them at it.
Many youth like video games for example. Even if you hate video games you should learn to play their favorite one and beat them at it. Then challenge them and they will spend time with you until they can beat you at their favorite game. They could in principle still not like you but through simply spending time together, you have opened a door that could possibly lead to better relations. My current favorite is golf. It is a sport I enjoy and if my dad were to take me golfing and pay for it, I would accept his offer every time
3. Listen to your child’s opinions and talk with them about complex subjects. Listen to what they say and sincerely consider their point of view. This is difficult for about 90% of the population. To understand my point clearly think of a point of view you strongly disagree with and play devil’s advocate with your own point of view. Let’s take the strongest example I can currently think of: abortion. Now that I have simply stated its name, you have most likely already become passionate for your side and come up with 1000 reasons why your view is right. The thing that separates truly intelligent people from the masses is that intelligent people will most likely have a very difficult time coming to a firm conclusion on the issue for either side of the debate. They are able to throw out the bias and sincerely consider both sides of the debate. After meticulously and deeply thinking about both points, will reach a logical conclusion that could be reversed if more information or higher thinking were to come to light. They throw out passion and bias and reach their conclusions logically. Now, let’s try this with a much simpler example about something of minimal importance.
The computer I’m typing on is a Dell Inspiron 8000 and its color is black. Say, someone comes and tells me its color is really white even though I can clearly see it’s black. Instead of correcting him and calling him color blind I should seriously consider the reasons for them calling it white. Perhaps, through their learning and upbringing, they have learned that the color I call black is for them called white. In this case, we both share the same point of view but have different ways of expressing it. Thus, instead of engaging in an unproductive argument I can quickly find a path to agreement so long as they continue to call the color “black”, “white” and are thus consistent. If they do not, then perhaps they are simply rebelling against me which I should realize being the more mature and ask them to help me understand the color system all over again.
Most youth, will not engage in this erratic pattern for long, if you sincerely ask for their help in determining color so that you may see things from their point of view. Most will be delighted if you can find some way to agree with them on issues, or at least understand why they may think this way. This is a rather simple example but the point I am trying to make, is that you must find a way to drop the automatic defense that pops up when someone challenges your firmly held beliefs. I truly think that we as humans can become so firmly set in our beliefs and ideas that for the majority of the population, opening our minds to this point is unachievable. Many of you will say how stupid of an example this is since the friggin computer is black and that’s that. But I challenge you dear reader to consider just for a minute that this argument may in fact hold water with the following example.
I currently live in Japan. The entire country believes it is better to conform to that status quo, and their culture puts emphasis on being polite instead of opening up their feelings and opinions which could bring trouble for the entire group. We as Americans, value the individual over the group. So when I go to the same dry cleaning lady on a weekly basis and treated with the same sterile politeness instead of a genuine gratitude since I’m giving her steady business, am I to say her method of behavior is wrong? I would simply like a sincere “Hello” or “How are you,” but must realize that it’s not in her culture or upbringing. Who am I to say her method of behavior is wrong and must be corrected?
Now bringing the example back to our young. We really respect people who are intelligent like this and able to see all points of view. They don’t tell us that their views are right but rather engage in debate with us at our level without making us feel stupid or as though they are patronizing us. I had a math teacher my sophomore year who earned our respect this way, and thus never had any problem with the students. He was open, honest and listened to our opinions. We could tell he was intelligent by his getting off subject once in a while to engage in a lively exchange of ideas. I remember three examples well. The first was him telling us about the importance of his attendance book. We had just finished telling him that taking attendance after every single class was useless and a waste of time.
Our idea was to take attendance at most after every other class in order not to waste time. I mean, where were we going to go in the short time interval of one period? We can’t wander the halls due to the hall monitors, so what is the point of taking attendance during every single class? It was then that he raised arms to shoulder with about 3 feet apart before clasping his hands together so we would know that an entertaining story was about to come. From this simple gesture we could tell he was passionate and speaking to us from the heart. His story was about an unruly student who was often in trouble with any and all authorities. Well one day, the police came and accused him of arson which is punishable as a felony. The one thing that saved this student was the attendance book because our teacher from the accuracy of his attendance book could prove that the student in question was in class at the time the fire was supposedly set.