Perhaps people talk about the 'good old days' mainly because they were the days when they were young and strong and the world seemed full of things to explore rather than things to fear. I am sure that when I was young my parent's generation pitied mine for our short attention spans and far too easy time of it, just as my generation pities our children's. I don't think I could be accused of romanticizing my childhood, but I do realize, looking back, I spent a great deal of time out of doors with friends and family, a great deal of time reading and being engaged in creative activity, a fair amount watching television or studying. My husband and I have tried to model our children's upbringing on the good parts of our own, but I admit it has not been easy to maintain a balance of enough work, rest, play, fresh air, study, scheduled activity, time to just 'be' and sit-down family dinners in these times of a million little distractions. We managed to keep video games out of our house until fairly recently, and I believe that to have been for the best for our family, but the digital world is a world of wonder, and a bit of a rabbit hole at times.
At my son's high school graduation last weekend, my friend Ron, a school board trustee and technology enthusiast, made a speech to the group of young men and women decked out in ball gowns and tuxedos. He talked about how in the past ten years technology has changed the world to such an extent that it has made the former ways of communication, research, and recreation almost unrecognizable to the present generation. Their knowledge base has expanded exponentially and the results are both a blessing and a challenge. As he spoke, I began to think about the future of this group of graduates.We, their parent's generation grew up with the idea of a large world with parts still relatively unreachable by the touch of modern man. Now, it truly is 'a small world after all,' thanks to global communication networks and multi-national corporations. The sentiment 'there's so much that we share, that it's time we're aware' has come true in a big way, but perhaps not exactly as the Disney theme song writer had in mind.
The school principal echoed my friend's thoughts in her own speech, expanding on them further to point out the present generation had lived a very different childhood, overall, than that of their parents. Their lives were packed with extra-curricular lessons and play-dates. They had been delivered to the school door and chauffeured to the after school activity. They would find it a challenge to branch out on their own without the preparation through exploratory experiences enjoyed by their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents who spent entire days away from home at the age of ten, were told to return for supper, only to head outdoors again for a game of hide-and-seek with the entire neighbourhood (honestly though, sometimes we could have used a little more supervision). This generation would have to navigate their way through largely uncharted territory. Of course, the speeches ended on a positive 'you have the power to change the world' note, but I left the graduation ceremonies just a little low in spirits. I knew these kids had a lot of growing up to do, and hoped the world would be patient with them.
I wondered if our generation had missed the boat in preparing our children for life in this new world. In filling their days with supervised acitivity, had we robbed them of the opportunity to learn to chart their own course? Had we taught them to fear a life without material riches, rather than to hope for true fulfillment? I think it must be confusing for many kids today. Everyone expects them, upon graduation, to know what their next step will be, but they are not always given the freedom to question and explore all the possibilities. One grad's father admitted to steering his son toward a career with a pension and security, but have we not learned from the present economic climate that there is no such thing as financial security? Post-secondary education is more expensive than ever, and when young people do finish university or certification they expect to land high-paying jobs to keep up the expensive, tech-dependent lifestyle they are used to thanks to accomodating parents.
I remember last year my eldest asked if he could go for a walk at 9 pm. I looked at him and said, "You are seventeen years old. Of course you can go for a walk." It was not easy to feign such nonchalance, because I was busy wondering what made him feel he had to ask. We live in a small farming community with a population of less than six thousand where 'the wrong side of the tracks' means you have missed your turn and are on your way out of town. Ever since, my son has revelled in these solitary rambles and just this morning, a friend said he'd been teasing him because he has seen him walking on top of the railway cars. After he observed my face losing its colour, he hastened to add that they were stationary rail cars, without their containers. This loosening of the apron strings has been a gradual process but as necessary for me as it has been for my son. In allowing our boys to walk home after the evening shift at work since they were fourteen, and gradually letting our eldest find his own way to Vancouver to attend concerts with friends, I have weaned myself off of that hands-on parenting style which came through parenting this generation. I need to know that when my son goes to Europe this summer, he will have the much needed trust in his own instincts, the tools to figure out what to do when challenges arise, as well as the faith not to panic if things go awry. He is going with a group, but they will have independence in some situations and I hope he will gain everything he can from the adventure.
The other day my nine year old daughter said to me, "Mom, when are you going to let me go places by myself?" I do let her go to the store or to the neighbourhood parks with friends, but alone? No, not yet. I know I am protective, but when she asked me my mind went through a complete revolution from imagining the bad things that could happen to her, to the realization that I will have to begin to let her go, too. But it doesn't get any easier, especially with girls. Maybe I'll just stop watching the news.
The photo is of our graduate looking out to sea from Mystic Beach on Vancouver Island.