Parents, generation after generation, hope their children will have an even better life than their own has been. If you read what moms and dads say about their dreams for the future of their children or talk to friends and family, it’s fairly consistent. We want our kids to enjoy the best of what the world has brought us — and then some.
A sense of parental melancholy, though, pervades the Allstate/National Journal Heartland Monitor Poll released last week. For 18 years, it has measured public sentiment about childhood and prospects for the future.
This year, the poll notes that 79 percent of the American adults surveyed believe they had a better childhood – or at least were children in a better time. Today’s kids won’t fare as well, they predict. By large margins they think their offspring will become adults who have less opportunity to hold a steady job or own a home without incurring a lot of debt. They don’t expect their children to have as much opportunity to build a comfortable retirement. Financial security may prove elusive for today’s kids, they say.
Both parents and other adults surveyed have a lower opinion not only of the next generation’s prospects, but of the kids themselves. They say that today’s children will be less patriotic and will have a poorer work ethic. They will display a lower level of civic responsibility than current adults.
Their pessimism, by the way, extends beyond the children into the world of politics and the state of America in general.
If you ask the kids themselves — and they did a separate survey of teens to get their feelings — you find the opposite. The majority of teens would not trade their lives today to live in the era when their parents grew up. They are upbeat, believe more in college’s value than their folks do and very few are pessimists about what is to come in their lives.
My girls and I often talk about what the world and I were like when I was a teenager. There was more freedom, I think, in my youth. If terrorism played any role at all in policies that impacted me, I didn’t know it. On the other hand, the girls would be horrified to return to an era where you had to go home to use the phone. Throw in the little tidbit that we didn’t have any Internet when I was in high school – or texting, or even instant messaging – well, you might as well send them back to the cave.
They can imagine it no better than at their age I could have pictured a world without TVs or microwaves or cars. Or than my mother could have pictured not having a refrigerator.
We tend to want life as we know it, in part maybe just because it is how we know it. The unknown is not a comfortable place.
Parental longing for the good old days is nothing new. My mom hated my music, didn’t like evolving styles and thought I’d be much better off if my childhood was more like hers. I feel that way about my girls sometimes.
There’s no doubt the world is rockier terrain, the challenges pronounced and somewhat frightening. I don’t know what careers will beckon my girls or what job prospects will be. I don’t know what will happen with the economy. I have about given up hope that we will ever find a way to join hands across the party-politics divide and work together for the sake of everyone.
But I haven’t given up on youth — or the optimism that is a part of being young. My role as a parent is not to gloom-and-doom them into a state of depression. It’s to help them find the places where they can make a difference, the toeholds they can dig into as they move into adulthood.
Realistic, prepared and excited to move forward.
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