Why do adults belittle young people so much?
Sure, they can be naive, inexperienced, entitled, petty, easily distracted, irresponsible, and reckless—all of which is observable in their thoughts, actions, and behavior on a day-to-day basis.
But enough about adults. Let’s talk about the youth. (Ba-dum-tiss.)
A few days ago, my wife and I took our two-year-old son to a small, indoor playground. This was a good way for our son to burn off some energy before bedtime.
At this playground was a mixture of children—all very different. Observably, they was a modestly diverse collection of different size, races, genders, and age. I probably could make some assumptions about these kiddos’ socioeconomic statuses, but that would only lead me to the exact same conclusion that I usually arrive at every time I ponder this subject. (I’ll get to that conclusion later.)
Back to the playground. With his shoes already off, our son hit the ground running with a full head of steam, charging into the playground. He immediately engaged in his four favorite pastimes: running, climbing, jumping, and roaring like a dinosaur.
The dinosaur roars captured the attention of the other children, and they instantly reciprocated. They did one of two things: 1) transformed into dinosaurs and roared back, or 2) pretended to be scared and let the other roaring children chase them. A flurry of motion, ear-to-ear smiles, and gleeful giggling filled the room.
As I sat and watched this cheerful moment, my mind started to drift elsewhere. I thought about my day at work, what’s happening in the world, etc. You know—boring adult stuff.
And then I was reminded that Linda Brown just passed away a few days prior. (I apologize in advance for tangential mind.)
If that name does not ring a bell, it will probably sound more familiar in this context. Brown was nine years old when her father attempted to her enroll her at an all-white school in Topeka, Kansas in 1951. After being denied enrollment, Brown became the centerpiece of arguably one of the most important legal decisions in our country’s history: Brown v. Board of Education. The unanimous decision by the Supreme Court in response to this case ruled that “separate but equal” was anything but. According to our highest court, segregation was inherently unequal and unconstitutional. Though not overnight, the desegregation of schools followed this landmark decision.
Brown grew up to become a lifelong activist, who was committed to challenging racial injustice until they day she died. She was 75.
A thought hit me like a ton of bricks: Brown’s experience isn’t far removed in a historical context. We live within a generation of a very ugly period of American history, where who you were as a person was predominately determined by the color of your skin.
But yet, here are these children in the playground. There wasn’t even a moment of hesitation to connect with one another. The moment was as seamless as it was spontaneous—as if they were lifelong friends all along. If I didn’t know better, I could have easily assumed that they planned all of this in advance. That’s how natural it appeared.
The chances of a similar, harmonious scene occurring during Brown’s life were slim—at least, not without conflict.
Children aren’t born prejudicial or hateful. They learn this behavior—as well as many other awful traits—from older generations. We adults are the ones with all of the baggage, and we seem all too eager to bequeath it to our children.
All of this brings me to my aforementioned conclusion. And that is this: despite what we are told, the kids are alright; it’s the adults who could learn something new.
At this very moment, young people are becoming more politically engaged. The recent “March for Our Lives” is an excellent demonstration of this trend. (Whoops. Another tangent.)
And yet, most of what I see from older generations are gross generalizations and ad hominem attacks directed toward these young people. The first Tide Pod joke was about as unfunny as the last several hundred iterations.
Now, I don’t necessarily agree with many of the proposals coming forward from this particular movement, but I will never belittle young people for becoming more involved. In fact, I would argue that I have a greater responsibility to embolden this trend. It is incumbent upon older generations to encourage and support young people along this path toward becoming responsible, thoughtful, and engaged citizens. If we are concerned about how polarized our conversations have become, then we should lead by example by civilly engaging with those who will inherit our dysfunctional world.
We don’t have to coddle or patronize them, but we most certainly shouldn’t reject or ignore them either. As those playground kids and Linda Brown taught me during that moment, children might be the only group capable of making this world a better place.