Generational articles are a pet peeve of mine. I hate the stereotyping, and the way those articles ignore the fact that every generation since the beginning of time has said that the subsequent generation was no good. To quote Socrates:

“Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority, they show disrespect for their elders and love chatter in place of exercise; they no longer rise when elders enter the room; they contradict their parents, chatter before company; gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers.”

People have been complaining about “kids these days” for a long time, and I wasn’t going to be one of those people.

Then my oldest daughter became a freshman, and I realized I made a classic parenting mistake: I thought I had it all figured before there was ever anything to figure out.

I got cocky.


Shifty-Eyed Warrior Poets

My daughter Liz is an amazing kid. She’s smart and funny, and to date has never gotten in any real trouble. She has an honors class schedule that makes me proud while simultaneously shames me for how unmotivated and lazy I was when I was her age. I love her to death and couldn’t ask for a better kid.

Yet, halfway through her freshman year she is driving me crazy.

It’s the phone, the same iPhone 4 she’s had for two years. Housed in a pink case, its greatest disruption prior to this year came when she was going Buzzfeed crazy, but even that wasn’t that bad, because we would often share “articles” with each other.

Then came Curtis, the funny boy who is Dawson to her Joey, only in this dynamic Curtis is the one sneaking through the window and pining for her. (Metaphorically, anyway. Curtis is too scared to introduce himself to my wife or me at school functions—let alone sneak through a window). After Curtis came Jessie, a nice kid who has the naturally shifty look of a teenager, is a wrestler, and aspires to go to the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. Jesse won points with me on that, and apparently won some points with Liz, because he is the first Official Boyfriend.

Watching these boys has reinforced two things everyone knows: boys like Curtis will never learn how unlikely it is to “friend zone” your way into being the boyfriend, and unlike Curtis shifty-eyed warrior poets like Jesse almost never find themselves in the “friend zone”.

Phone-Free Time

It’s not just Jesse and Curtis who keep Liz attached to the phone. She also has a circle of friends with solidly female names (names like Annie and Julia) who are engaged in an ongoing group message, the content of which I’m sure is mesmerizing.

The two-headed monster of Jesse and Curtis (Jertis?) plus the group chat means she is constantly on her phone.

Her attachment to the phone means she is never fully engaged in the world around her, and the constant presence of a group of kids I barely know looms large in household. Before dinner. After dinner. During family Jeopardy!. Pretty much all of the time, which meant things had to change. Each night there is now a block of phone free time, beginning at 6 and lasting until 9. Liz found it draconian, but she accepted it.

Because she’s a great kid.

Still, great kids become adults, and adults are in part products of their environment. For the first time I’ve started to wonder how this group of kids—kids who have never lived in a world without texting and social media—will survive as adults. Prior technological advancements changed social dynamics, but nothing is as intrusive as the smartphone. For the past few months I’ve seen my daughter struggle to be completely present in the moment, and adult life requires the ability to present, at least some of the time. Work requires you to be present.

Marriage and relationships would struggle to survive a constant side conversation.

Maybe this is just sour grapes. I knew, theoretically, that there would come a time where another boy would make her laugh with funny pop culture references (like Curtis does) or hold her hand on the couch (like Jesse does). I knew, theoretically, there would come a time when I wasn’t her best friend (like the faceless group of phone girls is).

But I also think that maybe I was wrong, and maybe there is something to the idea that this group of kids will struggle when they have to put the phone down, and take notice of the boss or spouse that has no obligation to love you or keep you around no matter what (like dad does).

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