During the course of a normal day, I’ll hear the words, “You just don’t understand!” come out of my daughter’s mouth at least twice. Usually it’s accompanied by an epic eye roll or foot stomp. It’s easy to dismiss the drama that comes naturally to a twelve year old, but after our last argument I realized something: she’s right. I don’t understand a lot of things about the world she lives in. And here’s why:
I don’t understand the fact that kids can’t problem solve.
When I was twelve, I had already spent at least half of my life outside with friends wandering the neighborhood, climbing trees, and riding bikes. We had to be responsible because we weren’t just responsible for ourselves; we were responsible for any younger neighborhood kids who tagged along. And parents trusted us to do that because it was just part of being one of the big kids. But those days are long gone. There are fewer packs of neighborhood kids roaming the streets, climbing trees, navigating metal climbing structures. Today’s kids have never even seen a wood and metal merry-go-round.
If there were problems or arguments, we handled them. We didn’t go running for Mom or Dad or the Nanny (Nanny?!) to make sure every little thing was fair. Sometimes it wasn’t fair. Life lesson learned. When we said, “I’m never talking to you again!” and stomped off, we all knew it meant that we were going to go home, sit inside for an hour, get bored, and come back outside to play. If we didn’t get past the petty arguments, there would be no one to play with. Kids today are subject to “stay away orders” in schools now! The school yard equivalent of a restraining order! Because of an argument! Seriously? Sometimes you need to have a screaming match and clear the air so you can be friends again, or not. But that’s not allowed anymore. There would be ‘mediation’ for those kinds of situations!
I don’t understand the structure, structure, structure.
Today’s kids spend most of their free time indoors. To add physical activity and socialization to the day (because we all know they don’t get enough of that in school) kids are scheduled nearly every minute of the day. I feel for families bigger than ours. I know moms who spend their afternoons and evenings in the car going from Soccer, to art classes, to Scout meetings, to softball, and Spanish lessons. The kids don’t even have time to breathe! And don’t even ask about their weekends. Where’s the free time? The play time? The family time? It’s why I insist on family dinners and family movie nights and marathon games of Risk on the kitchen table – something my daughter’s friends love coming over to join.
I don’t understand being constantly surrounded by bullies.
When I was a kid, no one saw bullying and they certainly weren’t looking for it. Today, no one sees bullying even though they’re always looking for it. From Scouts to school to pediatricians, everyone asks about bullying. They talk about bullying. They create buddy benches, school curriculum, and friendship circles to combat bullying. So they call everything bullying, even stuff that falls under the “kids-being-idiots-saying-stupid-stuff-to-be-mean-but-not-actually-bullying” category. They say, if you’re being bullied, don’t fight back, just tell an adult. Don’t stand up for yourself? Where’s the lesson in that?
I don’t understand social media.
Oh, don’t get me wrong, I understand Facebook and Instagram. I know when to hashtag and when not to. I get Kik and Twitter and SnapChat. What I don’t understand is how to go through life without someone or something in your face all the time. I don’t understand what it’s like to have people offering their opinion on everything you do. I can only imagine how exhausting it must be to spend all day with people, then come home and still have to deal with them on social media. There’s no possibility of getting away from it all.
Having to sift through all those comments about the new black boots you spent every penny of your allowance on when you’re still trying to figure out who you are and what you like, it’s horrifying. And sure, it’s easy for me, as a mom, to say, “Just turn off the phone!”. But it might be physically impossible to separate a teenage girl from her phone these days. It’s just not that simple. I know how crazy it makes me when my phone is going off constantly with notifications from texts, emails, and apps. It’s the same for kids. Only it’s worse because I have more impulse control than the average teenager. I also have good self-esteem and the ability to sort through all the bullshit from people who don’t matter to get to those who do matter. Teenagers are just figuring that out.
So, to my dear attitude-y daughter, here’s what I DO understand:
None of this crap matters. Do you know why none of it matters? Because it’s all just about the people. Sure, things are different today. The math is different. The technology is different. But kids are the same. Some are going to be nice. And some are going to be jerks. And you won’t always be able to tell which category someone is going to fall into. People – classmates, teachers, your friends’ parents – are always going to try to put you into a box, because that makes it easier or faster for them to figure you out. It’s not just you, they do it to everyone. Jock, brain, goth, girly-girl. Don’t buy into the box. It’s not who you are. It’s just their perception of you. So if you really think I don’t understand, try me. Maybe we’ll figure it out together.
And I know that everything feels really big right now, because everything IS really big when you’re twelve. And that’s ok. You’ll get there. Age and experience will give you the wisdom to determine what is truly big and what only feels big at the moment. And some day when you’re as….wise….as I am, we’ll sit down for a cup of coffee and you can tell me all about how your daughter yelled at you because you just don’t understand.
About the author: Kerry is a stay at home mom who rarely finds herself actually at home. When she is at home, she shares it with her loving husband, amazing daughter, and two incredibly snuggly dogs. She has been writing since she was ten years old and has never once been completely satisfied with anything she has ever written. You can find her at: Facebook or on Twitter where she talks about pretty much everything.