Every generation thinks it’s the end of the world

by Mick Rhodes | editor@claremont-courier.com

My experience as a dad, a job I’ve held since 1986, has been marked by both joyful exhilaration and deep heartbreak.

And though it’s helpful to journal about trauma, it’s difficult — maybe even irresponsible — to write publicly about family strife while you’re still slogging away at parenthood. I’ve pulled a couple columns of mine over the years after feedback from my kids they were too personal. Most of my four kids have their lives yet to build, identities to solidify, so of course this makes good sense. I’m thankful for these reality checks. Even though I’m their dad, their lives are their own. I just supply the shelter, food, free laundry and Wi-Fi.

So, it was a welcome relief to talk to some friends at a party last week about our somewhat similar parenting journeys.

Like parents do, we talked about guilt, frustration, fatigue, and of course our periodic doubt in our abilities. It was very good medicine to be able to laugh about some of our shared foibles and damage.

By far the best part of commiserating with other parents is learning that you are not alone; folks everywhere are hurting and struggling, even though their faces or social media accounts might now show it. It’s soothing to feel part of a community of like-minded caregivers just trying to get through the latest ordeal, even if most are not keen on talking about it.

I understand the impulse for families to keep these things quiet. Previous generations looked at mental health issues as things to “forget about,” or, worse yet, that psychiatry/therapy was for “crazy people.” That one hits close to home, as my late mother, who suffered with depression for decades, refused help all her life because of this unfortunate thinking.

Thankfully, most kids I know don’t see a hard divide between mental and physical health. My experience has shown me a great many school-aged kids in Claremont are on some sort of anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medication. I know this because they aren’t ashamed to talk about these things. That represents real progress.

Old folks like me love complaining about kids. It’s a long-held belief that the clothes, music, drug habits, sexual proclivities, etc. of [insert generation here] have surely deteriorated to the point of triggering the decline of western civilization. As Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy put it so succinctly in “You Never Know”:

“Every generation thinks it’s the end of the world …”

But the truth is today’s kids are better than we are. They’re smarter, more tolerant, and less tied to the old broken traditions of accumulation as the only way to measure success. Many 16-year-olds I know don’t want driver’s licenses or cars. And most of the recent college grads I know don’t want to buy a home (and frankly can’t in California — a topic for another column). Young people want to remain nimble and pack light. All that accumulation can wait. Live a life, figure yourself out, then be tied a marriage, mortgage, or car payment.

And that’s not all that young people do better than us.

As uncomfortable as it may be for some to admit, my generation grew up in the 1970s with absolute normalization of all manner of casual racism, homophobia, antisemitism, and misogyny. Bigotry was literally everywhere, on TV, in movies and in music.

I remember the ultimate insult was to be called a “faggot.” I don’t have to explain what it meant. That word was part of everyday conversation, and people just accepted it. Not any longer, thankfully.

Today we have an entire generation of kids who have grown up knowing people who identify as other than heterosexual, or in today’s parlance, “cisgender.” Fantastic! The alphabet soup of LGBTQ is part of the national conversation, and we all know kids who are gender fluid, trans, gender queer or just plain ol’ gay. And at least our suburban slice of Southern California, the rainbow of sexuality is generally celebrated and normalized. Generally.

And regardless of what Kanye West thinks, today’s kids don’t just “go along” with hate speech like my peers did in the 1970s. They stand up. Same thing for misogyny and racism. There’s no tolerance for being an intolerant creep. And that bodes well for everyone’s future.

But perhaps my fave quirk of this generation is the way they’ve normalized mental health struggles. My generation certainly failed in this realm, and our parents for the most part pretended it did not exist (Google “Rosemary Kennedy, lobotomy”). When I overhear kids talking about their therapists, self-care, and the like, I have hope one day they’ll be smarter than us and place that work/life balance thing at the top of their priorities, instead of striving and striving all their lives for … things.

Again, I’m speaking on behalf of myself only, based on my experience as a father of four, my conversations with their friends, and hundreds of kids I’ve known through volunteering in Condit Elementary School classrooms over the past 13 years. I live in Southern California. I know things are different elsewhere. Bigots are being elected to public office right now all across the country. We’ve even elected some here in Los Angeles.

Yes, kids have their faces buried in their phones. Yes, they don’t generally deal well with adversity. Generally. But neither of these negate the fact that they have had fared remarkably well, considering they’ve grown up with social media and YouTube, and the entire world is now free to comment at will on their lives, bodies, and faces.

I sometimes think back on how adolescent me might have fared in today’s hyper-speed digital world, where every party is webcast, and those left out see their peers having a great time, in real time, on the tiny computers they hold in their hands. It’s a sobering thought to ponder the loneliness of those who may not be cool enough to get an invite to that party.

All this to say I have an appreciation of this generation’s toughness. Yes, they’re not in the trenches fighting in WWII, but they’re certainly navigating through an adolescent landscape that I for one shudder to imagine.

Kids these days … are pretty awesome, actually.

1 Comment

  1. Sam Pedroza

    Mick, I really enjoyed this weeks “Going There”. You are absolutely correct and my kids who are now in their early 20s have the same attitude. Their openness and thoughtful outlooks should be emulated by all generations.

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