As a member of Generation X in the purest sense, I realize that there are plenty of short-comings inherent in my generation. Yes, there are problems with any generalization. Even so, I think we all agree that generations tend to have things in common. For instance, I think Generation X has had to exercise a great deal of patience as a result of the most influential generation in American history, the Boomers, being just ahead of it. I think this “learned” patience has manifested itself in a solid work ethic, patience, and an ability to find recreation in the crevices and nuances of life. Generation X invented the extreme sports phenomenon. In a discussion with a group of Gen Xers I remember one friend saying, “We make the best movies.” If Gen X movies are not the best movies, something so subjective always in the path of debate, they can certainly claim a level of unprecedented creativity and cleverness. As a generation, Gen X has had to push out beyond comfort and the familiar to find itself and its place. And it has done so in areas of like technology and career.
As the first latch-key generation, a large contingency of Generation X parents — to their credit —made a solid vow to the nuclear family as a corrective. Admittedly, this has, at times, emerged in unhealthy ways. For instance, as great as team sports have been in providing a forum for families to “do life” together and instilling character, commitment, and goal-setting within our children, these commitments have perhaps been the greatest contributor to an eroding devotion to quiet, solitude, and family time we’ve seen over the last decades. Additionally, we gave the world a new term: helicopter parenting. Because of our own adolescent experiences, it seems we have over-corrected to the point of facilitating an extended adolescence, particularly in our young men. In my opinion these mistakes are of the most well-intended kinds. Even so, for years as I’ve watched our kids grow up I’ve thought to myself, “You know, we may not have it all figured out and probably won’t. But I think we’ve made great parents.”
That is, I thought that until just recently. In a doctor’s office waiting to be called into one of the smaller waiting rooms I picked up a magazine, flipped through it, and stopped at an article about nude photos of women — non-celebrity, people-you-meet-on-the-street-everyday women —being uploaded and shared to the public. The article addressed the emotional fall out, shame, and embarrassment of this. One of the women understandably changed her name while another quit her job and moved to a different city to pursue a different career. I understand all of this. But what was clearly missing, and the reason I was interested in the article, is the rationale for the pictures in the first place. No where was it addressed why these pictures existed. Not growing up in a world of digital photography, the existence of these photos lies just beyond my understanding of what is normal.
Later that day I shared this experience with my wife and 20-year-old daughter with the implicit question: Why do these photos exist? While I had a hard time understanding, my daughter showed no surprise. “Dad,” she said, “that’s actually a fairly normal part of the dating routine.” My expression urged her to expound. “At some point in the relationship, usually within the first 2-3 dates,” she continued, “the boy will ask for pictures like the ones you’re asking about.” What struck the deepest part of me, however, was the next part. “That’s why it’s so hard for [my sister and me] to find good guys.” Since then more information has come to light about adolescent use of pornography and a complete lack of modesty among those under 18.
When I was asked to contribute to a recent blog I knew immediately what I wanted to address. Friends, there is a crack in the foundation. There is a crisis emerging in our families, specifically, in our failure to be attentive to what’s going on in and round the lives of our children. Objectification, sexualization, abuse, fantasy. These trends don’t just affect boys and practical expressions of masculinity, but also the minds and hearts of our daughters. Somewhere along the line while we were espousing the merits of bacon, running adoptions to Africa and China, championing U2 and Bono, and inventing Facebook, during our watch pornography, gaming, and the fantasy industry found a way to capture the hearts and minds of our children.
I have research from sources like Life Health and Wellbeing, real comments from teens and young men in forums, Covenant Eyes, and Medical News Today that I’m uncomfortable sharing in this capacity. You may want to Google ADA (adolescent dating abuse) and PIED as starting points, particularly as each relates to adolescence. Each of these articles point to this alarming trend and consequences if allowed to continue unchecked.
Even though our kids are reaching into the late teens and early 20s and in many cases post-college mid-20s, the job isn’t done. And for those Gen Xers that still have children in the house I would encourage you to give a thorough inspection of what’s happening behind the scenes. I’ve seen research suggesting this demographic carries with it more stress than any other generation. This unusual level of stress might not be a result of having so much going on in terms of commitments and activities, it may be because they’re taking on too much on the emotional side of life; that they are disoriented. My fear is that there is a natural level of what we can emotionally manage at various stages of life and that natural level is being artificially inflated to an unmanageable level.
The short version is, as I told a friend recently, I think we’ve dropped the ball. Particularly troubling to me in this regard is that Gen X has taken parenting no less seriously than prior generations and I would contend even more seriously. On our watch, however, we are seeing these alarming trends of depression, abuse, loneliness, and pornography use that affect humans to the core. In terms of the appropriate reaction, I think the first step is to take an inventory.
- What’s important to you?
- What is the goal of your parenting?
- What is your role in the life of your son or daughter?
- Are you a leader in your child’s life or are you trying to be a friend?
- Are you willing to take on the hard decisions?
Like with a lot of life, these answers come as the result of sincerity and intention. We don’t drift toward the worthwhile things of life. These things demand something of us. Parenting is no different.