Tuesday, September 9, 2008

My Grumpy Old Man Column

This column is going to make me sound like a grumpy old man. Not just any grumpy old man, but the grumpy old man made famous by Dana Carvey on Saturday Night Live (remember back when SNL was actually funny). In the routine, Carvey played an old man who complains about all of the new and improved stuff today's youth have that he never had as a kid. He would say things like:

"In my day, we didn't have video games! We just sat around and watched a potata' bake!"

"In my day we didn't have hair dryers. If you wanted to blow dry your hair you stood outside during a hurricane. Your hair was dry but you had a sharp piece of wood driven clear through your skull and that's the way it was and you liked it! You loved it."

"Life was a carnival! We entertained ourselves! We didn't need moooovin' pitchurrrres. In my day, there was only one show in town -- it was called "Stare at the sun!" ... That's right! You'd sit in the middle of an open field and stare up at the sun till your eyeballs burst into flames! And you thought, "Oh, no! Maybe I shouldn't've stared directly into the burning sun with my eyes wide open." But it was too late! Your head was on fire and people were roastin' chickens over it. ... And that's the way it was and we liked it!"

But I must admit, kids today have got it made in many ways. I often joke about how I'll have to tell my grandchildren that most homes didn't have computers until I was about 10. I will even have to tell them that the first video game system came out when I was a kid. And it will be likely they will laugh at the images of Pong they find online and tell me that I'm "oooooold!"

Kids today have high-speed Internet. HD TV. HD Video games. TVs in the back seats of the cars they ride in. Portable gaming systems. Cell phones (I still don't get why a 10 year old needs a cell phone). They have hundreds of cable channels. Wireless everything. I could go on. In many ways, the youth of today are very lucky to have so much information and entertainment available to them so conveniently. Imagine writing a paper on Shakespeare with the Internet at your fingertips. Makes you wonder if they still use the dewey decimal system at all!

But in many ways, I feel sorry for them. Some of my best days as a kid were those days I was outside playing sports with friends or letting my imagination take me on an adventure with matchbox cars and other simple toys. But I mostly feel sorry for today's kids because all of this instant gratification around every corner has helped put them in the disposition to be little dictators of their households. And parents typically give in, rather than expose them to even the briefest period of a gratification void.

For instance, how many times have you gone to a restaurant and have seen a mother hunched over asking her child what he/she would like to order? "Do you want the chicken fingers? No. Okay, how about the hamburger? No. Okay, how about a hot dog? No. Okay, how about mac and cheese? No." So now, you have a waiter standing there waiting and the other patrons at the table held hostage until little Timmy decides on what he wants to eat...which inevitably leads to him asking to have ice cream for dinner.

I recall as a child being happy to have a limited choice and a short time frame in which to decide that choice:

"Hamburger or Fish Sticks?"
"Okay, you're getting a hamburger. Go sit down."

And parents do this to their kids with everything. The moment they demand something, parents respond to them with responses as if to convince the child of the logic behind a decision. They actually attempt to reason with a four-year old. For example:

"I want that toy."
"But I want it."

"We can't get you that toy today because Christmas is coming up and you might get it as a gift. Maybe if you don't get it for Christmas, we can come back to get it. Is that okay?"

Here's how that reasoning went when I was a kid.

"I want that toy."
"Why not?"
"Because I said so."

And that was all it took, because I knew if I kept asking, not only would I not get that new toy, but I could be grounded from playing with the toys I did have. It wasn't mean or heartless parenting back then. It was disciplined and taught me to value the times when I was treated with toy or a special meal. And it taught me that you don't always get your way. And many of my friends have parents who were the exact same way.

So, yes, this column probably makes me sound old and grumpy. And that's fine. Am I envious of the fact that a nine-year old literally has the tools to put together his own movie from his desktop? Yes. Do I wish I had cartoons to watch during our long drives down to Florida for vacation? You betcha. Do I wish I had exposure to information on literally any subject I wanted to know about by simply going online? It sure would have made school much easier. Am I completely happy with my childhood? Without a doubt.

Because I know, as an adult, that people say "no" all the time, and there are times when I don't get what I want. But at least I have had the experience to know how to handle it.

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