This article first appeared on Sunday’s edition of Malta Today
It’s a sure sign one is getting old when one’s thoughts automatically start subconsciously forming the phrase, “When I was young…” or “In my day…”
It’s happening to me more and more often lately, and I have to abruptly stop myself from this train of thought. For it’s a given that every generation thinks that their own childhood was far superior. Wearing our rose-tinted glasses we look back with nostalgia at how we were raised, at the music we loved, at how we used to play and the things we used to do. It all seems so wonderful now, doesn’t it? (Although I am sure there were pockets of misery and real unhappiness but they are pushed aside to the distant corners of our brain because it is so much nicer to look back and recall everything as being just peachy keen).
Of course, if we had to be honest we would have to admit that part of that yearning and wistfulness for the Good Old Days has a lot to do with mourning our lost youth. No one likes getting older and the occasional bittersweet melancholy which grips all of us at some point or another is directly linked to the inevitable passage of time, and the visible signs of grey hair, expanding waistlines, creaky joints and wrinkles.
There are times, however, when the yearning for a simpler time has nothing to do with the process of aging, but has everything to do with a world which seems to be pushing and urging children to grow up faster and faster. “Chop, chop, hurry up, no time to waste, you’re not a kid any more, you need to learn to deal with the real world” seems to be the current mantra.
And yet it is an almost schizophrenic mantra, because on the one hand there are people clamouring to have the age of consent and the right to vote lowered to 16 and yet, on the other hand, as most young adults continue to live at home, unfettered by responsibilities, especially if they prolong their status as students, we have a generation which remains unnaturally dependent on their parents far longer than they should. We cannot seem to make up our minds how we want children to be: it’s OK for them to dress up like a miniature Miley Cyrus at the age of 12, sexualizing them way before they are ready to handle it, and yet we balk at the idea of them riding a bus or walking to their destination alone, because “they are too young”. So which is it? Are they too young, or are they old enough? It definitely cannot be both.
This is like when people are lax about allowing children to watch TV shows and films or play PlayStation Games despite the fact that they are clearly marked with an age limit. I wonder: do they think that regulators simply throw an age limit on the box just for fun? The contradictions are all over the place: one minute a parent thinks it doesn’t matter if the child is exposed to graphic violence and sexual references because “you cannot be too over-protective with children” and the next, the same parent will come down like a tonne of bricks, shutting the child out completely from life-changing decisions instead of allowing them to have some kind of say (for example in cases when the parents separate and the child’s life is turned completely upside down). In the latter case, suddenly, the child is treated like a child again, with absolutely no consideration for the fact that they have been caught up in a swirling vortex of bewildering events over which they have no control. The child has to lump it, whether it’s a change of home, school, country or even a new Mummy or Daddy. Or when a parent arbitrarily decides that’s it, you are NOT seeing your real father/mother ever again because I said so, shut up, we are the adults, this is what we want and what we have decided.
When it comes to those over 16, there is even more puzzled reasoning and inconsistency: sex, check, voting, check, but then I still hear of parents who pamper and mollycoddle their teenagers too much. They insist on driving them everywhere (God forbid their entitled behind should touch the seat of a bus). At a time when the teenager should start making some autonomous decisions such as which choice of subjects and career path to take, you still hear of parents who take over completely. Oh, but what if a teenager chooses the “wrong” subject and makes a terrible mistake? Well, it won’t be the end of the world, and anyway, our teenage years are the years when we are still trying to decide who and what we want to become. Some people discover their calling early on, others have to stumble and fall (and fail) and try different things before they figure out what they are good at. So what?
You get a lot of fuss made over inconsequential things: a job on the other side of the island is “too far away” for a teenager and it would mean waking up very early, so he turns it down…. and then you see young teenagers still roaming the streets of Paceville (and drunk) in the early hours of the morning.
There is such a great deal of confusion and mixed messaging going on that it is no wonder that children, prepubescents and adolescents across the board are becoming more and more difficult to handle and to deal with. Every time they think they have understood what is expected from them or what they can or cannot do, someone shifts the goalposts and they are in unchartered territory again. As every experienced parent will tell you, the most well-adjusted children are those who have been raised with clear-set guidelines which do not waver. The do’s and don’ts do not come and go on a whim or depending on what mood the parental figure is in.
Perhaps what everyone needs to do is clear their heads from all the confusion and decide what they really want from this next generation. Having sex and voting like your parents does not make you a grown up; nor does staying out till 3am and getting sloshed. It takes time for adolescents to mature and form their character, both psychologically and emotionally and trying to speed up this process will only result in immature adults who have failed to allow themselves to grow in stages and who will remain forever stunted as a result