Admittedly, this started out as another comparison about how growing up in the ‘70s and ‘80s was more idyllic than growing up would be today — why life in the era of The Brady Bunch and The Cosby Show was simple and carefree. I wanted to explain how parenting a future Generation Xer was easier than raising Millennials. I was wrong.
I grew up in a society not yet aware of the terms playdate, social media and sexting. I didn’t have the protections of seat belts, childproof caps and bike helmets. Now, cell phones have eliminated the need to always carry a dime in your pocket, and instructing your kids to “look it up,” means tapping a few words into Google — not flipping through the massive Encyclopedia Britannica. Today's world is one of automatic safety, instant information and prompt gratification.
Just like today, my parents did the best they could with the resources available. Much like my mother did with Baby and Child Care by Dr. Spock, I poured over every chapter of the What to Expect series when my kids were little. If I fretted about missed milestones or couldn’t identify a peculiar rash, I called my mom. When she was a perplexed parent, she consulted my grandma. No matter what the childrearing trend is at the moment, nothing outweighs the basic wisdom of generations and experience.
Some argue millennials are faced with more troubling current events than previous generations. Perhaps not. We tend to remember only the bullet points of our history, and there are parallels betweent the events of my generation and my children's: Contemporary battle cries call for healthcare reform and the legalization of gay marriage, while the Supreme Court of my youth dealt with forced busing and the Equal Rights Amendment. The Iraq War is often compared to Vietnam. ISIS is a current threat to our nation’s security, but Charles Manson and Richard Ramirez (aka the Night Stalker) made my generation afraid to sleep at night.
Music is also a frequent target. Contemporary tunes are often accused of being more raunchy than past chart toppers. Oh really? Are "Hot in Here," "Apple Bottom Jeans" and "Blurred Lines" any more suggestive than “Afternoon Delight," "Super Freak" and "Need You Tonight"? (There’s something about INXS that still makes me sweat.) I think my sons would be more comfortable clarifying the reference in Fergie’s "London Bridge" than I would explaining ZZ Top’s "Pearl Necklace."
Movie options haven’t changed much either. Fantasy, war, love and intrigue remain just as popular as ever. As long as family-friendly movies continue to break box-office records, they will never be scarce. I delighted in classics such as Herbie the Love Bug, Escape to Witch Mountain and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, much like my children were enraptured by Toy Story, Shrek, and Elf.
My husband and I wanted to share some of our favorite childhood films with our children. We soon realized, however, that the PG rating of yesteryear was much broader than today. Startled by the language in Goonies and Ghostbusters, we gained a new appreciation for a PG-13 rating. Having to explain to our 5- and 7-year-old sons what a possessed Sigourney Weaver meant by “I want to feel you inside me,” was proof enough.
And what about modern television? Yes, the boundaries have steadily expanded, but the amount of choices continues to escalate exponentially. You can now channel surf a tidal wave of options. You don’t have to settle. When I grew up, we had one TV with eight functioning stations. If you could adjust the rabbit ears just right, maybe you could catch Speed Racer on the illusive Channel 51. (My secret crush was the cryptic Racer X.)
That was it. You got what you got and you liked it – or not. Still, shows like Love American Style intermingled with American Bandstand. We had M.A.S.H. confronting society and Happy Days celebrating it. Saturday Night Live appeared when I was 10 and I continue to watch it, along with my 20-something sons. My youngest and I are currently enjoying Murder in the First, almost as much as his dad and I appreciated Hill Street Blues. Both are Steven Bochco creations. Same bat-time, different bat-channel.
Now that I am what some might consider a mature parent, I have realized society doesn’t necessarily change. Rather, the world at large simply exchanges one crisis, one dilemma, one fad for another. Nations alternate allies and swap enemies like trading cards. Earth Day celebrations have replaced the crying Native American of the ‘Keep America Beautiful’ campaign. Trends ebb and flow, then circle around again. (Didn’t I hear that shoulder pads are making a comeback?) Your best guide as a parent is a strong sense of commitment to pass on the values you embrace and hold on tight for the ensuing rollercoaster.
To paraphrase a wise duo of my generation: "Ah you know you know you know you got to... keep on rollin', keep on rollin'... roll with the changes" -REO Speedwagon.