Oh, Boomers. Sometimes you mean well, and sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you gift us with nuggets of awesome that guide us toward the sort of world your earnest Live Aid envisioned, and sometimes you pave the road to hell with intentions. Whether or not they’re any good remains to be seen, however. You might want to rethink these pieces of advice you’ve gotten from the older generation.
“You can do anything you want, as long as you set your mind to it.”
A lovely, encouraging sentiment, of course, but one for which unrealistic expectations are inherent. In the real world, you can’t always get what you want. Yes, even if you dream hard, work hard, sacrifice hard, reach for the stars hard and all that, things don’t always work out. Sometimes, that internship you need to land your ideal career winds up with a more qualified candidate. Sometimes, you just aren’t that sweet, smart, successful cutie’s type. Sometimes, you fail the test, and movie-friendly pluck and perseverance aren’t enough to inspire a rule-bending or two. Dreaming, working hard, and sacrificing for a passionate goal are all admirable, valuable virtues necessary for self-improvement. But they need tempering with preparedness, flexibility, and improvisation skills of Batmanian proportions, as well as an open mind.
“You are special and unique.”
Well, on a largely genetic level, mommy and daddy and teacher are right. But their reassurance that the Juniors and Muffins of the world are just wee little snowflakes unlike anyone else (an analogy which is not, by the way, supported by science) so often leaves out a key concept — relativity. Outside your loved ones, most people don’t give a flying fig whether you’re an honor student , Little League pitcher, or Future Underwater Basket Weaver of America. Parents should take pride in their kids, for sure, but don’t expect anyone else beyond your sphere to care. If you dole out unchecked affection and validation, you wind up with selfish, entitled kids who run red lights and scream at the nice old couple whose car they subsequently demolish, and future generations so neurotically starving to stand out that they copyright baby names and set up email accounts for infants to set them apart from the nasty, unwashed masses who still use the passe letters I and C. Nurturing a strong ethical character should probably take precedence over raising the next tabloid darling.
“Don’t go out dressed like that. You’ll get raped.”
If this advice ever worked, then it only worked in a parallel universe where victims are the perpetrators, where nothing bad ever happens to women in religious coverings, children, or men, and where mice and elephants are best friends. In reality, rape and sexual assault happen to every demographic, wearing every type of clothing imaginable. It has nothing to do with what the victim chooses to step out wearing and everything to do with predatorial power plays. Obviously, such a thing as appropriate attire exists. But don’t teach lessons about them by demonizing and foisting the blame of one of the most dehumanizing crimes out there onto the recipient.
“You really don’t want to flip burgers the rest of your life.”
Funny enough, many of the Boomers who blame the current economic meltdown on immigrants holding down jobs enjoy touting said jobs as totally beneath their wonderful and unique children. The only way to be a shameful burger flipper, lawn mower, or housekeeper is to be a burger flipper, lawn mower, or housekeeper with the ethical compass of Enron executives. Ambition can be a great thing, but just because someone has a certain job doesn’t mean they inherently lack it; it merely means that their goals and priorities sit elsewhere. Plus, painting these workers as uneducated, unmotivated, unskilled, and the like only reinforces class (and, in some cases, racial) stereotypes and stigmas. So if Junior and Muffin want to flip burgers forever, that’s perfectly OK. So long as they don’t steal from their employers or pee on the patties, paranoid parents should fear for nothing.
“Go to college. You shouldn’t have a hard time finding a job if you do.”
… unless the economy collapses, in which case 85% of you will be forced to move back home and 35% of you will face unemployment for more than a year — the same rate as high school dropouts, in fact. Yes, even if you hold a graduate degree, which can even work against you since employers don’t want to pay you more than your undergraduate-only peers, even if you’re loyal and genuinely don’t mind a salary slice just to start somewhere. Have fun with those additional student loans, though. Really sorry about all that. But don’t even think about applying for laborer positions. You went to college! You’re too good to lower yourself to that level! Not that you could, anyways, since, once again, those employers won’t risk you leaving quickly if something better comes along, nor will they want to pay more than what your competition will accept. Thanks for foisting a catch-22 onto us, Boomers. We salute you.
“You better settle down soon.”/“Eventually you’ll settle down.”
It’s not crazy to wonder if the whole roughly 50% divorce rate in America stems from how often we tend to push young folk into the traditional marriage/babies/suburban houses/golden retrievers timeline. Wed by 25, first child before 27, and the like. Clueless Boomer blogger Penelope Trunk enjoys pushing this tidbit onto her peers (just search for it) and future generations who look up to the experienced for advice. It works perfectly fine for some folks, obviously, but a “one-size-fits-all” approach to settling is actually dangerous for public and private mental health alike. Look at all the stressful stigmas levied onto single people, for example. Even the supposedly female-empowering Sex and the City ultimately proved all about landing a man. We get it: some of you want to be grandparents while you’re still agile enough to play with them. But allow your kids some autonomy here and let them live their lives organically and comfortably. If they settle, great. If they don’t settle, also great. Take more satisfaction in their accomplishments and character and not how quickly they start their own family. We’re dealing with enough pressure as it is.
“You have no reason to complain, because kids in Africa starve.”
Malnutrition in children and adults is a tragedy that absolutely needs addressing on local, national, and international levels. But it’s also a tragedy that has absolutely nothing to do with Junior and Muffin’s very legitimate complaints right here at home. Or their not-so-legitimate complaints, for that matter. For one thing, your kid might actually be suffering from the cognitive distortions associated with clinical depression, and dispensing guilt and dismissiveness might actually worsen the condition. Make sure their mental health is, well, healthy before addressing whining. There are far more effective ways to build empathy and promote perspective than invoking this knee-jerk cliche. You don’t want to teach kids that clinical depression amounts to nothing but silly drama and a lack of knowledge about how the world works.
“Too many video games/TV shows/the Internet rots your brain. Read a book.”
Only through this twisted logic could Twilight prove more edifying than TED. Lax parenting rots the brain far more than rotten programming or websites ever could. Pointing all the blame at media intake shifts the responsibility of raising decent human beings off moms and dads and stems partly out of a fear of emerging technology. Funny enough, those video games the kids are into these days have been known to slow Alzheimer’s, improve response time and visual acumen, and even nurture social skills. All media outlets — not just books — are sort of like science and religion in some ways. When used responsibly, they prove stimulating and educational, building people up and together. When not, they encourage mental mildew, tearing people down and apart. It’s all about content and intent, not the conduit through which it hits the audience.
“Greed is good.”
Gordon Gekko, you’re why Occupy Wall Street happened. Sure, you were originally an antagonist, but even people who thought themselves “the good guys” followed your materialistic example. We can’t land entry-level jobs thanks to your insistence that you use credit to live outside your means. We’re paying off student loans for worthless degrees because appearances hold more weight than raising us healthy, happy, and stable. We have to sit and watch CEOs leave the ones who helped earn them wealth with absolutely nothing and no legal compensation. You taught us cleverness without intelligence, success without empathy, and ambition without responsibility. And now you turn around and click your tongue over how we grew up. The arrogance that eventually ruined our collective coming-of-age story begets the very same willful blindness preventing you from admitting you even screwed us over in the first place.
“If you cross your eyes for too long, they’ll stick that way.”
The worst that could happen is you get a headache after a minute. You cross those ocular orbs and you cross them proud, buddy.