Should my mother-in-law pass down a piece of family jewelry to my youngest child who is turning sixteen this week?
She thought she might. She was considering polishing the silver, cleaning the gemstones, whatever it would take. Then a friend said something, which led her to reconsider her decision. “Kids don’t appreciate heirlooms like they used to. They don’t care for them as they should. If I were you, I wouldn’t give something special like that to a teenager.”
My mother-in-law told me this over Mother’s Day brunch with my daughters only a few feet away from us at the table. I don’t think she believes it to be true that my teenagers are careless with the things she passes down to them, but her friend’s comment definitely made her stop and think.
Kids these days. Lazy. Too busy texting and snap-chatting to connect with their peers on a deeper level, let alone be respectful around adults. Expect everything to be handed to them on a silver platter. Too fascinated by the next new thing to appreciate something that’s been passed down from generation to generation.
The insinuation is that somehow we are superior to our children, grandchildren, other people’s kids, and especially to those kids living in environments that don’t fit our idealized image of childhood, based on memories of situations and teachings, which have been washed clean of every speck of dirt.
It’s true that many things have changed, that kids today do things differently than we did, and that they can, at times, be lazy or disrespectful or unappreciative. So what? Many things changed between our parents generation and ours, we do things differently than they did, and every one of us has been lazy or disrespectful or unappreciative, especially during our teenage years.
As a mother for 18 years, I’ve had the luxury of being an observer, and on occasion, a guide or taskmaster not only to my children but to the multitude of other kids who have come into our lives through neighborhoods, schools, places of worship, and extracurricular activities. I’ve seen them face obstacles and work their way through them. I’ve seen them create imaginary worlds beyond the capacity of my tiny mind. I’ve seen them treat each other with kindness and love, often when they thought nobody was watching. And I’ve seen how full they are of all of the things we are full of: love/hate, happiness/sadness, tenderness/roughness, strength/weakness, etc.
This past weekend, my husband and I attended the Eagle Scout ceremony for a young man we’ve known for years. He is the son of friends, he’s worked on odd jobs for us, and he’s in a relationship with one of my daughter’s closest friends. He is the typical 18-year old whom I’ve come across: he’s polite around adults and has fun with his friends. I’ve never watched him that closely, but I’m sure he texts a lot, posts pictures or comments on social media, and does things that would surprise me both for good and bad.
The first thing that struck me when I entered the room where the ceremony was to take place was that on a Saturday night, several 18-year old boys and girls (men and women?) chose to sit through an hour+ long ceremony to watch their friend get commended for his hard work. These teenagers turned off their cell phones, and remained quiet and respectful while several Scout leaders spoke and gave gifts and spoke some more. And, when their friend went to the podium to say a few words about his accomplishments, and found himself choked up with emotion and at first, unable to speak, not one of those teens mumbled under their breath or giggled or did anything to suggest they had anything but respect for the moment and for their friend. He cried without hiding his emotion and a bunch of teenagers, who’d given up their Saturday night, proved what I know to be true based upon what I’ve seen with all of the kids who’ve come into my life the last 18 years: at the core, people are people, all looking for friendship and love and fulfillment and respect from others. All of the little things (like technology) that fill their lives certainly impact them, sometimes in negative ways, and they often do stupid things and make poor choices, but that same thing could be said of you and me and our parents and grandparents and great-grandparents.
I think that kids rise to the occasion when they are made aware of the significance of what is happening in the moment. And even if one of those kids had reacted badly to his friend crying in front of all of us, I am certain he would learn a lesson about respect from the kindness of his peers, and next time he is in a similar situation, he will do better.
And THAT is what it’s all about.