Usually, negative feedback about my column comes from internal sources. A certain individual in the KASB Advocacy Department dismisses my monthly musings with snarky mentions of “your little blog” or “I’m sure that appeals to someone.” Even former superintendents must have thick skin so these roll off my back. Last month though, criticism came from a highly placed education official and it stung.
Word got back to me that this individual said my work was “not up to par.” Naturally, I was ready to strike back with snide comment about lame-o Talk-o-Tuesdays. And then it got ugly. Emails and texts flew back and forth, with only comments about our mothers being off-limits. He even accused me of embellishments and hyperbole!
But then something weird happened. We ran into each other at a meeting. He gave me some good feedback and ideas for a future column about bullying, anxiety, and how things have changed since a couple of 60-somethings were in school. So thank you, Dr. Watson, for some great insights about kids, and our changing culture.
Go back in time with Randy and me to 1962. A black 1955 Chevy driven by Harrison Ford is cruising Main Street and he is calling out John Milner in his yellow Ford Deuce Coupe. That is just a slice of action that took place in the 24 hours depicted in George Lucas’ “American Graffiti.” There were fights, break-ups, hook-ups, drag races, dances and all manner of drama. Just another night in 1962 America.
Now jump aboard the time machine to another high school movie based in the year I graduated from high school, “Dazed and Confused.” A little less wholesome, without the inspirational ending, but with an equal number of fast cars, break-ups, hook-ups, fights, dances and drama. Randy’s movie ends with the hero going off to college, while in mine, the goal is scoring Aerosmith tickets.
But the movie ending isn’t the important part of this lesson, it’s the end of the weekend that is important.
In BC days (Before Cellphones), all of the drama of a typical high school weekend ended Saturday night. Every dumb thing a kid did trickled into the school week and usually dissipated by Wednesday. I could avoid that kid who called me out, take a different route to class and not see the girl who broke up with me, and the stupid thing I said or did would be subject to the memories and interpretations of anyone who cared after Sunday afternoon. Our lives were like whiteboards, events and incidents barely visible or gone after the eraser of time took over.
Now think about “American Graffiti” with cellphones. Susanne Somers would be an Instagram Influencer instead of the mysterious blonde in the Thunderbird. Toad’s romantic night ends up with inappropriate pictures showing up on Snapchat, and John Milner’s innocent friendship with junior high age Carol Morrison (MacKenzie Phillips) ends up with him up on charges after videos of them cruising go viral on TikTok. In “Dazed and Confused,” videos of the hazing attacks would be turned over to police, there would be a Facebook page devoted to Pink not signing the coach’s drug and alcohol pledge, and the moon tower would be geotagged on Instagram.
We had erasable whiteboards. Kids now have digital records, slow-motion videos that can be replayed thousands of times before midnight Saturday. Our brains have the ability to edit the videos that play in our memories. All of us suffer from the illusion of the older I get, the better I was. This Thanksgiving, just for fun, replay a childhood memory and see if it matches with everyone else’s in your family. Spoiler alert- it won’t. My sister conjures events out of whole cloth and I’m sure she thinks the same of me. This coping mechanism built into our brains is denied to today’s students. The camera doesn’t lie and doesn’t go away.
As we become more aware of the effects of trauma, anxiety and depression on our children, I still hear adults complain about “kids today.” Kids are soft. They need to toughen up. All of this anxiety and depression is just psycho-coddling. No, it is the result of a whole new way of interacting with the world. Randy and I had our good-natured spat via text and email, but when we actually talked face-to-face, it ended up in the lessons of this column. Our kids don’t always know how to do that, and we adults don’t know or understand how they cope with the digital record of their lives.
These are the challenges of a new generation.