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HAGER: Let's face it: Our kids are just different than we were

• Oct 26, 2017 at 2:00 PM

We’ve had several morning meltdowns at our house lately. We have the usual suspects and triggers: getting up late, not being able to find a favorite shirt, missing a shoe. We can’t seem to keep track of a hairbrush; apparently we need to tether it to the bathroom counter like ink pens in the bank.

The last few mornings, though, have involved hopeless, desperate tears, hiding in the closet and refusing to go to school — all because an iPad wasn’t charged the night before.

Mornings like that make me wish for a time when connectivity was more limited. People have existed for thousands of years without the sort of instant technology we have today, and in many ways I think we were better for it. My kids can’t believe that I didn’t have my first cellphone until I was in my 20s, that computers were new and large and slow and clunky when I was a teenager. They will never know the peculiar and other-wordly sound of a dial-up modem pinging into the outer universe.

I find it sad that my girls won’t hide in the pantry for private phone calls with the curly phone cord stretched across the kitchen like caution tape, that there isn’t a reason to amass a box of old passed notes from working at the Bil-Mar with school friends. The kids of my millennial generation won’t know what it is to wait at home for a phone call, they don’t know what a busy signal is — they don’t have to wait for much of anything. Our kids don’t have to risk calling someone’s house and not having that someone they were calling answer the phone — that trapped space where you’re asking for a boy and realize that his mom has no idea who you are or why you’re calling her son.

The pace of our technology has far outpaced my ability or willingness to keep up. And I feel like it’s raising a generation of kids who are not in most ways the same as the kids we were. Fights over screen time when we were growing up didn’t exist, because there were two hours of cartoons on Saturday morning on one of about four channels, and later there was TGIF on Friday nights, maybe “Wishbone” on PBS after school.

Maybe it’s just my family, though I don’t really believe it is, but now we have everyone in separate rooms with headphones or earbuds, listening to music or watching a show or playing a game; now we are disconnected in ways that I don’t think we’ve been before.

Sure, the technology available today has aspects that are good and helpful. My mother lives in England and was able to Facetime my daughter on her birthday; a long-distance phone call on a corded phone wouldn’t have been quite the same.

We played outside, we rode our bikes everywhere, we played pick-up basketball games and built forts in the woods. We checked in at lunch, and if we had a troupe of kids there was enough Kool-Aid and sandwiches for everyone.

The world isn’t all that different, not according to recent statistics. It isn’t more dangerous, there aren’t that many more kidnappings, but now we adults consume and consume all of the hurt and the brokenness this world has to offer in a cycle of endless bad news and heartbreak; and then we hold on so tight to our kids.

This week, we sat around the table in our kitchen and ate spaghetti and watched our daughter open her birthday gifts. For more than 20 minutes, three adults cooed and crowed and gazed as a small, pink furry robot hatched out of an egg. We took turns rubbing the egg, shouted jokingly about the contractions getting closer. Finally it hatched in a flurry of electronic sounds and robotic movements, and I think we were all slightly ashamed of ourselves, even as we joked about whether or not the new animal would get along with the rage-filled Furby that lives in the linen closet.

And tonight I wish I could give my kids the freedom of my own childhood. Not the ease — I didn’t say ease. When I was the same age as my daughter, my parents divorced, my best friend’s house burned to the ground and her mom left her physically abusive dad, our families struggled. But we couldn’t escape into things and communities that weren’t real; we had to face each other, we had to work it out, to learn and to grow in real time.

I wonder if not having communities that we are a part of face to face, real and painful and joyful sometimes in the same moment doesn’t cause some of the apathy and disconnect our kids feel. I wonder if not having space for meaningful connections leads to the bouts of anxiety and self-harm our older kids experience.

I wish for the clean, metallic water that gushes from a hose in the summer, walking what felt like miles down the railroad tracks in Conklin on a hot summer day.

I don’t think there is an answer — not one that I have anyway. I think, as Stephen King would say, the world has moved on. Our kids are different than we were, and that’s just the way of it.

But it doesn’t stop me missing home.

— By Alicia Hager, Tribune community columnist

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