Like most adults my age, I have adopted social media along with the rest of the world as an efficient way to reconnect and stay in touch with my distant family and friends. This time of year is the best time of year to be on social media, in my opinion. The pictures! Wonderful, happy, pictures of end-of the school year events, summer fun, and WEDDINGS (honestly, my favorite!). I think it was around the end of May, as I was gazing upon all these posts that questions started popping up in my head.
As a more, ahem, mature woman, I can’t help but think about how things have changed from when my children were growing up to now. My questions here are sincere because it seems growing up in the U.S. has changed quite a bit in the last 20+ years, probably as it changed in the 20 years prior to that and so on. I wonder if growing up in the U.S. right now is better than it used to be?
Take into account while you’re reading that most of my social media “friends” have enough food in their bellies, a roof over their heads, and clothes on their back. They earn the means to raise their children and thus, I think there are less basic worries and perhaps a greater desire to celebrate the joys in life. I totally get that. My husband and I struggle to keep the balance. Should we go on vacation or sock that money into retirement? The answer is not always clear to us. Too often, we see friends and family “waiting” for retirement to enjoy their life and something devastating happens before they get there.
Back to my question: is it a better experience growing up in the U.S. right now than it was 20+ years ago? I’ll tell you why I have that question. Pre-schoolers are wearing caps and gowns in order to graduate from being 4 to being 5. Pinterest-inspired (and definitely Pinterest-worthy) birthday parties are being given, starting with gender reveals during pregnancy and continuing until children say “stop, I’m too old for that.” Children receive cell phones, video games, and other traditionally “adolescent” privileges at younger and younger ages. Kids today have experiences! Activities! Travel! One friend took her elementary-age child to Disney’s Art Institute because he likes to draw. Fifth grade proms. High school prom-posals. Oh my. The prom-posals. Kids are traveling internationally and experiencing other cultures and ways of doing things. Truth be told, I didn’t even travel outside the U.S. until I was 45.
It also seems to me — and I stress the “seems” part because I am beyond the active childrearing years — that teenagers are not working at jobs outside of schoolwork and chores at home. I read an article the other day that addressed the joblessness issue among teens today and it surprised me to read that the findings revealed that teens aren’t working at part-time jobs because they are using summers to continue to prepare academically and experientially for college applications. Wow. That’s some added stress to families.
So. These are my observations from social media. Downright objective, I know, but question-generating for me nonetheless. Part of me thinks this is a natural process of growing older. Comparing generations. Another part of me, though, sincerely questions the differences. I know now how important it is to travel and experience other cultures, environments, and situations. Do today’s young parents already get that? It seems that more have than when I was growing up. A trip to the beach was downright glamorous and highly anticipated once a year (or less) when I was young(er). Do today’s parents realize how fleeting our time is here on earth and work to make as many special memories as possible before their kids move away and begin lives without mom and dad? I can get behind those ideas. Honestly, I wish I had had some of those realizations 20 years ago when my kids were small.
Let’s also look at the other side of the coin. May I insert here that the element of competition might be at play? Mommy wars is a real thing. Women striving to outdo other women through their children. It happens in the workplace. Isn’t it logical that it also happens in the family and childrearing context? Is that what is driving the “uber-childhood experiences”?
That leads me to my next question. Are today’s children programmed to be disappointed adults? There has been research done in this area. Some note that today’s young adults experience anxiety and depression at greater rates than previous generations. How do young adults continue to experience life events when parents aren’t around anymore? Don’t you suppose that there is a bit of shock and letdown when they realize that there won’t be a parade for them when they start their first job? Is there a transition of the responsibility to create joy? To whom? Spouses? What does that expectation do to young marriages? I would imagine that it takes a while for people to figure all this out. How long does it take for young adults to find their own, sometimes less sensational, ways of celebrating or simply experiencing life? I rarely see pictures of “twenty-somethings” throwing Pinterest-inspired parties for themselves.
As with most interesting life situations, there isn’t a black and white answer. Is this trend good or bad? I don’t think it’s that simple. It’s a shade of gray (no, I haven’t read the books). It’s one of those things where it’s up to moms, dads, and kids to make sense of it all and pull the good out of it and use it to lead fulfilling lives. Likewise, the not-so-good should be weeded out and discarded along the way. Easier said than done, eh?
As noted at the beginning, this old(er) woman has a lot of questions. I’m still not sure of the answers, but I have confidence that all will work out for the good of American families. In the meantime, I’m considering asking some of these families to consider me for adoption! I’d LOVE to go to a Disney Art Camp.