Those Darn Kids!

August 18th, 2010  |  by  |  Published in Uncategorized  |  2 Comments

This coming weekend’s New York Times Magazine story—about the tsunami of 20-somethings who are taking ages to grow up—makes me a little queasy. It’s not that the magazine has identified a fake trend, or that I’m annoyed to be reading about these silly, optimistic young people. It’s that, early on, after establishing that the phenomenon is real, the article swings away from the external factors influencing this trend and toward … psychology:

Getting to what we would generally call adulthood is happening later than ever. But why? That’s the subject of lively debate among policy makers and academics. To some, what we’re seeing is a transient epiphenomenon, the byproduct of cultural and economic forces. To others, the longer road to adulthood signifies something deep, durable and maybe better-suited to our neurological hard-wiring. What we’re seeing, they insist, is the dawning of a new life stage — a stage that all of us need to adjust to.

I guess you’d put me in that “To some” category. Why are kids moving back home, not getting married, not having kids, not advancing professionally? Um, because grown-up American life as codified by the Baby Boomers—go to college, move out, get a job, get married, have kids, get a hideous divorce—is WAY TOO FREAKING EXPENSIVE. Not to mention simply unrealistic. The jobs aren’t there, and the ones that are there don’t provide the same kind of stability our parents’ generation experienced, and the whole process of having kids is so messed up—from family leave to day care to universal pre-K—that who can imagine getting it started around, say, age 25?

And, in fact, where does this notion that these five stages of growing up are “traditional” come from? I mean, was that how it worked for anyone but the upper classes in the pre-1945 era? Once again, I get the feeling that the Baby Boomers are defining normality, and are pretending to be shocked when their children (and now, I guess, grandchildren) aren’t following the same path. AND, instead of acknowledging that their decisions have created a world where no one can have the same easy lives they had, they… they… they psychologize us.

Oh, no, it can’t be that their multitudinous fuck-ups—I’m thinking of, say, certain recent wars and banking disasters, plus too many policy failures to mention—have made their kind of lifestyles utterly unsustainable. No, that’s CRAZY TALK! Actually, kids today are different because their brain chemistry is different. Being in your twenties is special. And we all need to learn to treat these young not-quite-adults with sensitivity. Or pills. Preferably pills, because then we don’t need to think quite so much.

So, to all Baby Boomers (except, of course, my beloved parents), I say: Go fuck yourselves. Yeah, you had Vietnam, civil rights, and the Beatles, but then you grew up, got complacent, decided to mythologize your own youth, and let it all go to hell. When you’re all gone, we won’t mourn you. We’ll be too busy dealing with the mess you made—too busy, in other words, to grow up.


  1. Ted's Dad says:

    August 18th, 2010at 1:18 pm(#)

    Matt –

    Since you’ve excluded your parents, I hope you’ll let Ted’s off the hook too. I’ve done a little research into generational history and I believe that one of the effects of the 20th century was delayed adulthood across society. It was compounded of longer life expectancy, rising standards of living, the general availabilty of automobiles and probably 1000 other factors. In 1900 – and well into the 20th century – it was routine for a boy to finish schooling at 16 and get a job in a facory, an office or more than likely a farm. Girls would get married and have kids. Getting a high school diploma was a significant achievement. College was something that only the affluent could could dream of. I myself was the first college boy in my family and I’d say that was true of many if not most of my college friends. (We didn’t hang with the fancy guys who parked their sports cars outside the fraternity house. And we worked for those guys most of our careers.) Yes, my generation had its fuckups; Clinton, W and I are all graduates in the class of 68. But here’s something else that you ought to factor in. We Boomers are what sociologists call the Bulge Cohort. So many of us were born in such a short period after the war that we formed a bulge in the previously orderly parade of generations. Our parents came of age in the Depression, which depressed birth rates. As a result, at every stage of my life (I hesitate to speak for all of my generation, so I’ll keep it in the first person)what was plentiful only yesterday became scarce today. That applied to schoolrooms, college admissions, first professional jobs and nursery schools. At this end of our lives, it applies to retirement funds, post-retirement jobs and I’m sure someday there won’t be enough cemetery plots. The 20-somethings are no different than we were or for that matter any other generation was. We worked hard, we raised our kids and we tried to have as good a time as we could. Just like you. The stories of a few people who feel they’re entitled to – well, to what exactly? – is what gets printed when no one wants to read about wars and recessions any more. It’s the kind of non-news news that the Times and other media seem to specialize in these days. But remember that the Dad in Bye Bye Birdie sang “Kids! What on earth the matter with kids these days?…Why can’t they be like we were, perfect in every way?” That was in 1963, and the kids in question were us.

  2. Matt says:

    August 18th, 2010at 1:41 pm(#)

    Dammit! How dare you go and ruin my ALL-CAPS RANT with a reasonable and rational response!

    I wouldn’t argue with much of what you say, except to add that the decisions about what goes into the “non-news news” seem to be made primarily by baby boomers. Maybe that’s the source of my frustration—that the media sentiment seems to be “Look at this great world we made for you; why aren’t you using it exactly how we did?”

    I’ll also note that while Baby Boomer rebellion gets framed as part of a classic musical, youth rebellion in the past 25 years or so lands squarely on a different spectrum, from worryingly misguided to outright dangerous. This will persist, I figure, until we 20- and 30-somethings have all the power. Then we’ll look at our own children’s rebellion with dismay.

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