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October 12, 2013

Some advice for the next generation

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The Daily Star

---- — The blog “wait but why” had a great post last month titled “Why Generation Y Yuppies are Unhappy.” In it, the author explained how Gen Y young people, or Millenials, are experiencing a serious disconnect between their expectations and reality. 

OK, we knew this, right? But as a semi-Gen-Y-er (I was born at the very tail end of Gen X), I found the whole thing interesting. And it got me thinking that I, for one, want to help my daughter avoid some of the problems my cohorts and I have faced. Here’s my mini-manifesto for the next generation of young people, whatever they will be called: 

1. Be a joiner. 

My generation grew up with a lot of emphasis on the individual, producing grown-ups who are not big on joining organizations. 

This is nothing new; author Robert Putnam famously detailed the collapse of what he called “social capital” in America since the 1950s in his 2000 book “Bowling Alone.” But my generation has done little, if anything, to stem this tide of non-joining. 

This means two things. One, we’re missing out on some really fun, fulfilling and important stuff. Two, if someone doesn’t start joining these groups soon, they’re not going to be around anymore. 

So let’s teach our kids that it’s OK to be a joiner. Let’s tell them that becoming part of a group doesn’t diminish our own individuality, but enhances it. Belonging to something pushes us out of our individual bubbles and into communities. And that can only be a good thing. 

2. You can be anything you want to be, but you might not. 

As kids, my schoolmates and I heard “You can be anything you want to be” all the time, often in defiance of what seemed to us as obvious truths. Little girl, do you want to be a professional baseball player? Well, if you try hard enough, you can. 

Let’s dispense with the hyperbole. Let’s teach our kids the value of working hard and overcoming obstacles without setting the bar so high they can barely see it. If our daughters want to grow up to be professional baseball players, let’s talk to them about what would have to happen to make that dream a reality, and the things that all of us can do, together, to change the status quo. There’s nothing wrong with being realistic. 

3. “Duty” is not a four-letter word.

Gen X and Gen Y have not been asked to think too much about duty to family, community or country. We’ve been encouraged to think about ourselves. And when we do put duty over our own personal needs or aspirations, it’s not something we crow about, but rather something we admit almost as if we are ashamed. 

Let’s teach our children to honor and celebrate the decision to serve others. Let’s raise kids who will say, “Wow, you’re awesome” when a friend moves back home to help take care of their sick grandma. Let’s make sure they understand that being a society means that people help each other, and not only when it’s convenient for them. 

4. Be the Goldilocks of social sharing. 

Gen Y is the first generation raising children in a fully social-networked world. We’re making up the rules as we go along (how much computer time is too much? Should he have a smartphone? Is it OK to check her browser history?) and we’ve left our own messy trails on the Internet for our horrified children to discover. We’re still seeking balance, not only for ourselves, but for our families. 

It’s horrifying to see some teens post every passing thought or emotion, however raw, profane or hurtful, online for millions to read it, preserved forever. Others share such a Pollyanna version of their lives that they seem like automatons for whom everything is always great, perfect, tidy and beautiful. Still others use social media as a particularly evil means of shaming, embarrassing and shunning their peers. Surely there’s some solution here that’s “just right”?

I hope that my daughter and her peers can learn from the mistakes of those who have gone before. As clueless as we parents can be about these things, let’s try to guide our children to be their genuine and best selves online, just as they are in the “real world.” 

Children are, if only in our fantasies, an opportunity to right the wrongs of our lives. I realize this manifesto says more about me and my own failings than it does about my generation. So be it. I still wish these things for all of our children, and believe they would help make a better society for us all. Who’s with me?

EMILY F. Text ColorSwatch/NoneStrokeStyle/$ID/SolidText ColorSwatch/NoneStrokeStyle/$ID/Solid$ID/NothingText ColorText Color$ID/NothingText ColorText ColorPOPEK is assistant editor of The Daily Star. Contact her at epopek@thedailystar.com