The kids are alright

While walking over to the bike shop to pick up my bicycle after getting a little tender loving care after months of winter wear, I got to thinking about the fact that what I was doing was kind of rare. So I started thinking about how we’re in the middle of an obesity epidemic in this country. Our kids are getting fatter. And just ask anyone over 40, and you’ll be happily told that our kids are getting lazier too. And stupider. Just look at those test scores compared to other countries. What the hell is going on here?!

Jeff Cohen as Chunk in the 1985 classic “The Goonies”

But by the time I got to the shop, I came to the conclusion that the kids are actually alright. I’m not going to say, though, that the newest generation doesn’t have its work cut out for them in the departments of heath, motivation, and education. What I am saying is that we need to leave the kids alone for a little while. I’m not worried about the kids. It’s we the adults that have a problem.

The blessing and curse of the experience of children is that everything is new to them. They have the privilege of enjoying the excitement of novelty with everything they do, but they don’t have the knowledge of the various pratfalls of the world when walking around with stars in their eyes. They don’t know that if they eat nothing but junk food that they’re going to get sick; that they’re not actually going to live forever. So they see the high pedestal that we put people on who encourage ignorance, who make it cool to be dumb, and who tease those who get excited about knowledge, and then we’re surprised when these kids don’t try hard in school. As a society, we basically teach kids to be lazy, then complain when they comply.

There was once this meme in the collective consciousness of Americans that technology would increase to the point where no one would walk anymore, just move around on little hover machines or something, and would therefore simply become lazier and eventually slaves to the machines we had created. Kind of like in the movie “Wall-E.” Of course, the main mode of our technological advances didn’t come in the form of transportation but in communication, so we never did realize that particular cultural fear. But in a way, while futurists were dreaming of the ways we would destroy ourselves, weren’t we just doing all of that anyway? This wasn’t even a stretch of the imagination because it was happening in real time right before our eyes. Only instead of some weird hover machine, it was the automobile. For as amazing as this invention has been for the development of the modern world as we know it, we’ve become bizarrely accustomed to using cars to get us anywhere we go. And I mean ANYWHERE.

For example, I used to work for a small-town newspaper. The tiny staff had to cover all manners of local government, so there was no shortage of meetings to attend. Fortunately, the city hall and the county office were only a few blocks away from our building. But every couple weeks when the city council meet in session, the reporter responsible for that beat consistently got in her car and drove over there. Not just on days when it was raining like hell. Not just when she had to make a quick getaway right after the meeting. Every. Single. Time. I’m not sure it even occurred to her that walking those three blocks was even an option.

So what kind of example are we setting for the next generation if we can’t walk short distances in pedestrian friendly neighborhoods from time to time? By and large, efforts to encourage kids to be the best versions of themselves as possible have amounted to adults telling them what they should do, but this has all been done while we’ve basically done something else entirely. So why should we expect anything different from the kids? If we really give a damn about the future of our society, and the world that our kids will inherent, let’s give them some better things to emulate. If we do, then I have no doubt that the kids will be alright.

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