The Problem With Kids These Days

Twixters” are the new worry of the usual worrywarts:

Everybody knows a few of them—full-grown men and women who still live with their parents, who dress and talk and party as they did in their teens, hopping from job to job and date to date, having fun but seemingly going nowhere. Ten years ago, we might have called them Generation X, or slackers [or “Steve” –Ed.], but those labels don’t quite fit anymore.

Apparently, there are millions of these grown-ups kids now: Putting off marriage (women now marry on average at 25 and have their first baby at the same age; ten years ago, the average ages were 21 and 22 respectively); putting off real careers; putting off wearing regular-size pants that don’t hang down below their ass cracks, etc.

The story continues:

The twixters aren’t lazy, the argument goes, they’re reaping the fruit of decades of American affluence and social liberation. This new period is a chance for young people to savor the pleasures of irresponsibility, search their souls and choose their life paths. But more historically and economically minded scholars see it differently. They are worried that twixters aren’t growing up because they can’t. Those researchers fear that whatever cultural machinery used to turn kids into grownups has broken down, that society no longer provides young people with the moral backbone and the financial wherewithal to take their rightful places in the adult world. Could growing up be harder than it used to be?

Well, no.

Learning to pay the rent on small-market radio wages supplied me with more “moral backbone” than all the homework (not to mention marching and rifle drills) assigned to me at Missouri Military Academy. It’s not like the twixters aren’t working or paying the rent, as snipped bits of the story make plain. Really, it’s hard to argue there’s anything inherently wrong with enjoying your twenties – Whomever knows, I certainly did. And yet. . . I can’t help thinking that this time, the worrywarts have a point.

So bear with me while I go into Premature Old Fogey Mode.

The problem with young people these days… is old people. Specifically, their parents. Why, back in my day (really, I’m suffering a bad case of POF tonight) growing up was A Good Thing. By that I mean: being a kid was fine and all, but the really cool stuff was either reserved for adults or considered a special treat.

A few examples.

If I wanted to go on a ride, I not only had to be a good boy, but I had to wait for Memorial Day weekend when Six Flags finally opened. Today, The Home Depot has race car shopping carts. And don’t tell me you haven’t seen some infantile parent pushing their kid around in one at 50 miles an hour. Thirty years ago, I got waffle prints on my ass from the wire mesh shopping cart seat – if I wanted to ride like a child rather than walk like an adult. Today, the choices are between walking endless miles of plumbing supplies, or riding around in a daddy-powered racer.

Then there are clothes. Oh, I don’t mean to bitch about Big Pants and the return of Hippy Chic – youth fashion is nearly always stupid and embarrassing, if only in retrospect. But I do mean to bitch about children dressed like grownups. The little girls I knew wore sexless Oshkosh B’Gosh overalls, not today’s Wee Tramp outfits. [ED. NOTE: Ask any male between the ages of 30 and 50 about the 14-year-old girls these days, and each honest one will say, “Where were those girls when I was that age?”] Now, when a twixter gets married (at age 37 or whatever), there are usually half a dozen tots present in tuxedos, all turned out sharper than the groom. I wasn’t allowed my first tux until I was 15, and then only because there was a formal dance requiring I wear one. We were once expected to be old enough to at least act grown up before we were allowed to dress the part.

Then there are my two pet peeves: Restaurants and movie theaters. Time was, a child screaming during the opening credits meant a quick visit from a politely-perturbed usher – if, that is, the parents didn’t deal with their child first. Either way, problem solved and quickly. Just last year, I had people (not the parents!) in the theater hiss at me for daring to suggest to the parents of a screaming five-year-old that they ought to remove him from the show until he calmed down. Meanwhile, the 15-year-olds spent most of the movie text messaging one another, the glow of their cell phones dragging my eyes away from the flick. And don’t even get me started on restaurants. If I don’t go to Olive Garden anymore, it’s not because of certain Eurocritics; it’s because most chain restaurants have become indoor playgrounds where Mom can get a nice Chardonnay. Back in the day, I’d have gotten a stern look threatening the worst if I so much as squirmed in my high chair.

And we wonder why some kids today don’t want to grow up? We’ve taken all the incentives out of the process. We’re subsidizing childhood, then scratching our heads at why it lasts so much longer.

The other half of the problem might seem at first glance to contradict the first half – but that doesn’t make it any less true. And that is: kids today aren’t treated enough like, well, kids.

When I first heard the term “playdate,” I thought it was a joke. Me and Kevin Kahlmeyer didn’t make dates; we’d ask Mom if the other could come over and play. “Spending the night” was a bigger deal, requiring permission from both Moms. But everything still had an ad hoc spirit to it. Poor kids today need to carry PDAs to figure out where they’re supposed to be and when.

Then there’s the safety issue. I’m completely convinced that I’m a good driver today because, as a kid, I wasn’t required to wear my weight in safety equipment when riding my bike. Kids today aren’t learning those lessons – so it’s really no wonder that they’re spending their money suping up their Honda Civics (or Honda Piper Cubs, as I like to call the ones with those massive, wing-like rear spoilers) instead of putting their cash away to make the down payment on a house. I suffered enough skinned knees (and just once, a skinned face) to teach me that getting there safely is at least half the thrill. To support my point, I remember reading in Reason a few years back that people who drive safer cars tend to cause more accidents than people driving non-Volvos.

In other words: We do our kids a disservice by keeping them in cocoons. Of course, I say all this as someone who hasn’t yet had to raise any kids. Perhaps, I’m just a childless crank bitching about those more fortunate.

But I still can’t help feeling that we’re not raising kids to become twixters – we’re creating twixters from about the age of two. We don’t treat kids like kids while they’re kids, and we’ve taken away most of their inducements to blossom into adults. The result is as odd and off-putting as the word coined to describe them.


On the other hand… who knows? Maybe they’ll grow out of it.

UPDATE: Ed Driscoll concurs, and with better examples.