“This new generation is worthless and those kids have no respect for anything!” We’ve all heard it. We’ve all said it. As a kid, I heard it from my friends and my parents. My parents had the same battle with the adults in their generation. So did my grandparents. And great-grandparents.
“Grown-ups have no idea what I am going through!” “This new generation is worthless and those kids have no respect for anything!”
We’ve all heard it. We’ve all said it. As a kid, I heard it from my friends and my parents. My parents had the same battle with the adults in their generation. So did my grandparents. And great-grandparents.
It is a battle that is as old as the human race itself, and it hasn’t really changed as much as the present adult population likes to think that it has. Kids are still kids and do foolish kid things in the heat of the moment, and adults are still adults who live with the realities of adult responsibility and have lost touch with their own youthful past.
The only real way this battle has changed in the past few decades is how we have begun to deal with the situation. We have increasingly begun to transfer our adult irritation with youthful indiscretions from teaching them a lesson in preparation for adulthood to criminalizing their behavior and replacing the “good lesson” with a criminal record for them to carry forever.
There is a stark difference between disturbed youth who carry out acts of violence or other major criminal activity and those who are just being kids and play stupid pranks or commit irresponsible acts because they have not fully learned the responsibilities that those in adulthood have, for the most part, had the time to learn.
When I was a child, if you sprayed or scratched graffiti on something and were caught, you got in serious trouble with your parents and could even have a severe “talking to” from the local police about the possible consequences should you persist in defacing private property. You might even get some community service to make up for your misdeeds. This usually helped instill a healthy sense of fear for what might happen should you continue with these types of acts.
What, typically did not happen was to frame the issue as if it were an incident of domestic terrorism and resort to extreme responses that involved rewards or threats of prosecution and conviction. Reactions such as this take a stupid childish prank and make it a criminal offense that will affect that young person’s future for the rest of their life, or at least as long as digital databases continue to be functional and shareable by just about anyone.
Adults seem to forget that they were young once, too, and did stupid things for which they, like today’s kids, did not fully understand the gravity. The difference between now and then, however, is that from my generation of adults on back, there was not a harshly punitive mind set that systematically categorized, permanently criminalized and forever stigmatized these youthful pranks. If there had been, I can assure you that many of the fine, upstanding adults we have leading our society today would not be able to hold their current status due to the formal criminal black marks on their record.
Many of them snuck behind their parent’s backs and drank with their friends while underage. Many of them, especially in the 1960s and 1970s, experimented with or casually used some illegal drug, like marijuana, or abused some legal prescription.
I am not advocating overlooking these indiscretions or promoting the acceptance of underage drinking, or defacing property, or any of those things that we as adults know are wrong. Indeed, we should be correcting these mistakes and instilling a sense of respect and responsibility to our youth.
What we should not be doing, however, is creating criminals out of youth that carry out pranks and other acts that, if we actually take the time to look at our own pasts, we can point to and either say, “Oh yeah, I remember doing that,” or, “My friends or someone I know did that.”
You or those friends that you remember are probably teachers, or community leaders, or pastors, or any other manner of responsible adult. If my generation, or the ones before me, had lived under a system of criminalization like today’s youth, we would truly have only a few “worthy” solid citizens now. So take a look back and remember yourself, and your friends, and try to bring that memory and understanding to the present. Kids today are no different than we or our parents were. They deserve to be branded as criminals for their pranks no more than we would have for our foolish youth.
(James Jackson writes his “Different perspective” column each Friday. He can be reached at email@example.com)