One of the ongoing conversations I keep having with people I know concerns their assertions that society as a whole is being “dumbed down” and that children these days are more spoiled than they’ve ever been.
The “dumbing down” assertion is perhaps the more foolish of the two, not just because people historically have not had much access to education, but the fact that even statistics over the last several decades don’t bear that out. Moreso, though, because it’s a theory propounded by idiots themselves. “Look how dumb everyone else is getting,” a guy will say on Facebook, as he follows it up with some monumentally ignorant observation about politics or culture.
But the thing with kids is perhaps worse because of the sheer meanness of it all. Telling an entire generation of young people that they have personal failings that will prevent them from being successful betrays the uncertainty and anxiety of an older generation that is realizing, consciously or not, that their position in society isn’t permanent and their control over the course of human events is slowly eroding as it has with each previous generation.
Oh, and by the way, it’s not a new observation.
We’re clearly having another of those moments — and they do recur, across the generations — when parents worry that they’re not doing their job and that the next generation is consequently in grave danger. In cultural convulsions about how spoiled the children are, disapproving adults look back fondly on the rigors of their own childhoods. But many of the same parents (and grandparents) who are now worrying were members of the generation that Vice President Spiro T. Agnew accused Dr. Benjamin Spock of having spoiled.
Indeed, the overprivileged and overindulged child was a stock character in 19th-century novels: As veteran governesses who presumably knew the territory, the Brontë sisters wrote powerful portraits of spoiled older children. The culture changes, but many of the battlegrounds remain the same.
So, you know, just because teenagers have iPhones doesn’t mean they’re screwed. The kids are all right. What you do at the voting booth matters a lot more than what twelve-year-olds do on Twitter.
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