April 19, 2011

Snapshots from wilder times

I wish I had access to all the pictures back home so I could begin to provide some visual documentation of the major differences between falling and rising-crime times, aside from the obvious ways like how scary strangers in cities used to look. Luckily one of my brothers just scanned some random photos from awhile back.

During the shift toward pacification and infantilization over the past 15 to 20 years, we've lost sight of the good that came along with the bad in more dangerous times (such as, for one thing, the opposite of infantilization -- growing up faster). Someone needs to preserve that in the collective memory, especially for the mid-'70s through the early '90s because most of the Baby Boomers assume that, for example, children riding in the bed of a pickup truck (no car seats, no seatbelts) stopped in the 1960s, whereas in reality it continued right through the 1980s and early '90s. * They were too old to be in touch with what young people were going through then, and so have no direct memory of how kids were as wild or wilder than they were in the '60s and early '70s.

I've only got two pictures, but they do relate to topics I've yakked about before. First, a reminder of how teenagers over the past 20 years have voluntarily dropped out of the freedom-for-youth culture ("fight for your right to party"):

Helicopter parents wanting to keep their kids out of the driver's seat are one side of this, but the kids themselves bear some blame too for not finding a way around their parents' prohibitions like young people used to do when disobedience came naturally.

Now only about 40% of 16-17 year-olds have a license, which means that most of them have probably had no real driving experience at all. Contrast that with this scene from I'm not sure, but looks like 1993 or '94:

Those are my twin brothers, either 11 or maybe 12 years old at the time. I got to drive the tractor around age 10 also, several years earlier. I'm not sure if I'm taking the picture or my mother, who would've thought nothing of pre-pubescent kids driving a motor vehicle around my grandparents' back yard. As I recall, we got to turn the ignition, while my grandfather put it into gear, and then we got as much experience as we wanted using the steering wheel and giving it a little gas. I don't think it went over 10 mph, but we didn't care -- it was more about being in control and roaming wherever we wanted, rather than just where our parents would take us.

Before I detailed my summer job at age 10, a now extinct practice in the age when parents push their children to remain frozen in a pre-rite-of-passage state until middle age. My brother too had something of a job at that age, although he didn't put as much sweat into it as I did mine. Still, here's proof that as late as 1993, 10 year-old kids tried to enter grown-up world as soon as possible:

This was at a small baseball card convention held in a local church basement. He also sold them out of his room, which he advertised with a sign in his street-facing window. He's on the left, and that's me (age 12) helping him hold up the fort on the right. You hardly even see kids selling lemonade by the roadside anymore, or setting up their own garage sale to clear out old toys and books and other junk. He even had his own cash register, just like the ones that grown-up businesses used, because he didn't want the experience to be kiddie and fake.

The falling-crime times of the mid-'30s through the late '50s could never have produced a fifth-grade entrepreneur like Alex P. Keaton, notwithstanding the nonsense on all sides about how that character was supposed to represent a throw-back to that era. In reality, as reflected in A Christmas Story, Brighton Beach Memoirs, Radio Days, and Leave It To Beaver, kids of the mid-Depreesion through The Fifties were sheltered dweebs whose helicopter parents would never have approved of them joining the adult world so fast. The same was true during the falling-crime times of the Victorian era, famous for busybody adults crusading to end child labor so that they could learn all day long (yay).

So, whatever bad there may be when the world gets more dangerous, it also causes people to mature -- it puts the whole society to a test. It's a bit unreal to think that at the tail-end of rising-crime times, my brothers and I were more grown-up at ages 10 or 12 than the average college freshman is today, who's probably never had a paying job, driven a car (especially without a seatbelt on), or played his first game of "I'll show you mine if you show me yours."

It will be fun and interesting to see what happens when the Millennials are the ones in charge of running everything in 20 to 30 years.

* And regarding vehicle-related craziness in fiction, Footloose blew Rebel Without a Cause out of the water -- Ariel straddling two racing cars, one of which was headed toward a semi; the game of chicken with tractors; Ariel's train-dodging stunt; and the narration of a game of "highway tag" that ended with both cars tumbling over a bridge, killing Ariel's brother, and sparking the recent crackdown on wild youth behavior.


  1. Your posts always rub salt into my battle wounds from the fights I have with my contemporaries over these topics. For example, just last night I was conversing with an older gentleman who does lawns for a partial living. At some point I found that he throws younger family members and other sanctioned youths a bone and pays them under the table for help. Thinking of the future, with boys 6 and 8, I inquired as to what age he would consider someone for help. That act brought down the wrath of my wife, sister, and others who found out, and this isn't the first time that putting "age inappropriate" tasks in front of my boys has gotten me into trouble.

    It drives me insane to see parents outside working in their yards, knowing that their children are inside vegging out. Growing up, if my parents were working, I was working. I didn't get an allowance and I didn't get paid for doing anything around our house. If I wanted money, I had to find work with my grandparents or on a local farm. Working for my grandparents meant they would pick me up at 8 a.m., sharp, and then working on one of their properties (they had 5 different plots of land that varied between 2 and 20 acres) doing man-type labor, such as hauling rocks, clearing brush, painting barns, repairing fences, etc., until dark (8 p.m. or later) for $15-$20. I started with them when I was 8, picking up sticks and mowing, and the difficulty level of work only increased as I got older. Working on local farms took the usual forms: mucking stalls, working the hay fields when in season, unloading feed and tack, etc.

    I live in the suburbs, so I don't expect my kids go out and find farm work, but I do have enough land that there are real outdoor jobs to be done. They already know that if I'm outside busting my hump, they're going to be doing something to help out. I'm working on people that will allow them to work for money as they come of ages that they can handle the responsibility, and I expect them to do so. There will be no allowance and when appropriate, I will remind them that the next widget they want will have to be on their dime, unless they're willing to wait until Christmas/birthday and willing to sacrifice some other widget they could have gotten.

    I wish others shared my values because I know I'm going to have big fights when my boys don't see their peers having to work. It's inevitable and I'm not sure how I'm going to respond when it happens. They're also not going to be too happy when I expect them to get work permits and look for jobs at 15 1/2. When they're 16, they will have access to vehicles and I will expect them to earn any extra money they want to spend. This bit about kids not driving these days is appalling. I didn't know a single kid who wasn't frothing at the mouth to drive. My parents took me out to dinner when I got my license (the day after I turned 16) to celebrate not having to drive me to sports practices or work anymore. They were literally pushing me to drive as soon as possible.

    I worked nearly full-time to full-time from 15 1/2 on. I was proud that I moved out of my house at 17 and paid for my own college (+ huge college loans of course). I even had "Worked full-time through high-school and college and financed %100 of my education" on my resume, at one point. I thought this was an important distinction for employers to take note of. Today, though, parents see work as a distraction from academics and extra-curricular. I was expected to balance all 3. I don't see colleges and employers supporting the working high school and college student either, so where is the motivation to work? Where is the section on the college applications that asks about your job and gets employer feedback/recommendations? Where is the weight with college entrance boards for % of time employed? During the application and interview process, when do employers ask college students for the same?

  2. I remember when little kids *wanted* to mow the lawn because that was something that normally their father or a high school guy did.

    After lots of begging, I finally got my mom to let me cut the grass when I was in 4th or 5th grade. I wonder if today's high school guys have the arm strength to even start a gas-powered lawnmower like I could at age 10? And I was not a big brawny kid then either (or now).

    Yeah, "work experience" on the resume now must refer to unpaid charity work, not wage or salaried labor. If you've ever worked, they smell you out as someone who will be more immune to the higher ed cult myths and rituals.

  3. Its hard to teach these values when the modern American family unit consists of a single parent and a Spanish nanny.

    Most families don't have fathers that serve as admirable paternal role models, since they are in jail or barred from seeing their children. Working career mothers are incapable of depicting masculine qualities for children to adopt.


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