Are you better off today than you were yesterday? Are you doing better this year than you were at this time last year? Would you rate your quality of life, income, and health as better than your parents when they were your age?
How about your kids? Think back to when you were their ages. Think about your family back then — your own parents, and your siblings. Remember your life in school, your friends, your time involved in activities and sports (and your time doing things that maybe you shouldn’t have been doing). Consider expectations parents and teachers had of you, and the opportunities they saw for the future before you. Do you think your kids are better off now than you were when you were their ages, or do you think things are worse for them now?
A recent study on parental perceptions sheds some light. Robert Preidt reports that more than half of American adults believe children today have worse emotional and mental health than children of generations past:
Many of the nearly 2,700 respondents also believe youngsters today have higher stress levels, less quality family time, and poorer coping skills and personal friendships, according to the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health. Mott is part of the University of Michigan.
The survey, published April 18, also found that 42 percent of the adults believe children today have worse physical health than when the adults were children.
Were things really that good when we were young? From a public and individual health standpoint, the answer is simple and emphatic: NO! Children were still dying of measles and meningitis when I was a kid. Children received secondhand smoke in all public places — restaurants, stores, even in airplanes. Seat belts were only present in the front seats of cars back in the day, and there were no life-saving air bags or child-safety seats. Bike helmets? Never heard of them when I was a kid. I could go on…
How about education? I can’t believe that any adult would think that public OR private education was better before — that children learned more and did more during any given school day — than it is today. If you were a child with a learning disability (some studies have shown that nearly 20% of American children have obstacles in their learning pathways that prevent them from learning efficiently), you most certainly would have been left behind. Today, because of greater uniformity of education among states and greater awareness (and acceptance) of children who learn differently, there is less of a chance of that happening. Furthermore, even though tuition has risen to dizzying heights, there are undeniably better opportunities for children to get a college education than ever before — an education level that is more relevant and important today as a high school diploma was a generation and more ago. An argument can be made that the job market for high school graduates is not as good as it was in days past, but that only emphasizes the importance of pursuing a college education even more.
Entertainment? Don’t get me started. I remember days of my childhood, usually in the summer, when I was bored out of my mind! Seven television stations, a handful of AM and FM radio stations, some library books. My mom meant it when she told me to go outside, find something to do, and don’t come home until dinner. (Off I’d go on my bike, then — without a helmet — to “find something to do.”) In some ways, I suppose, learning to fend for myself happened earlier than it does for kids today. And maybe that was advantageous. I don’t know, though. Without my parents hovering over me or tracking my every step, there was a whole lot of trouble I could have gotten myself into. And sometimes, I did. I don’t think I was better off then as much as I was lucky.
Surely, kids face challenges today that are similar to the ones we confronted. Obesity wasn’t a “thing” yet, though there were plenty of kids (and their parents) who weighed more than was healthy. Rates of asthma seem to be rising, though I had friends growing up who suffered terribly from asthma. Alcohol and drugs were a scourge then as they are now. Crime was problematic then as now. The world didn’t seem like a friendly place when I was in K-through-6, singing “This Land is Your Land,” or “America the Beautiful,” or “Kumbaya” at school assemblies, and it doesn’t seem a whole lot friendlier today. There were terrorists back then, also, but odds were they weren’t going to find you then — or now. War (“What is it good for? Absolutely nothing!”) seems to have as much appeal now as it ever has.
It seems to me that the one difference — a big one — between our parents’ generation and the current one boils down to one word: fear. Oh, our parents had plenty to keep them up at night in their day: The fear that their child was someday going to shoot up heroin and die of an overdose was one expressed to me on many a day. So was the fear of nuclear annihilation. But today’s parents have it all over yesterday’s when it comes to fear. Perhaps that’s another subject for another day.
So, again I ask: Do you think your kids are better off or worse off today than you were when you were their age? Tell me what you think in the comments section below or on Facebook.