Thursday, January 2, 2014

What's Up With The Kids Today??

There are a lot of conversations being had lately about the kids of today and why they are this or why they are that. There is a lot of conjecture and sometimes absolute disgust. The kids today. What's up with them? There is enough blame to go around. The parents, the teachers, the system, technology, testing, media, and even little league baseball have taken blame for kids today. As instructors in the pageantry activity we use words like, "overly-sensitive" and " entitled" often. They all want "special attention" and "they all want the solo" is often heard in conversations over drinks and in the offices of band directors all over the country. A recent problem at Lassiter High School in Georgia, highlights the problem with the kids today and with absolute clarity. It would seem to point the finger at the culprit; the parents, thus making the answer to the "why" seem like an open and shut case. They aren't though or at least in my's not just the parents. In my twenty plus years teaching in this activity I've seen my share of kids with problems and kids that create problems. As we all have, I've seen laziness, weakness, brats, out of control parents, kids who are bullies, and kids who are so full of themselves that they believe their paltry 16 years on this planet qualifies them as an expert in spinning a flag or playing a horn. I'm thankful though, because out of all the kids I've worked with, most of them are not brats and they aren't entitled drama queens, who believe every solo was meant for them and every hot sunny day during band camp should be spent under a shade tree, as opposed to the scorching blacktop called the practice field.

In my 20 plus years I've seen some doozies, though. In 1997, a member of an independent guard I taught tried to create a coups, because she didn't think the staff knew what they were doing. We made finals without her opinion, but thanked her for her input anyway. In 2004, at a high school I was teaching, a girl wouldn't eat lunch with her fellow performers during an all day rehearsal. Instead, her mother brought her a lunch in a nice yellow basket with crackers, brie, and actual plates. They sat off to the corner while her peers ate their sad looking peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and warm Gatorade. In 2010, a young performer told me that my sabre technique was dated as she refused to deviate from her drum corps training. I won the battle as I proceeded to torture her for weeks to come with my outdated, non drum corps sabre technique that she uses to this evidenced by the warm up I saw her colorguard do before a show. In one epic rehearsal, a performer called his mother from the floor and told her that he hadn't had a break in 2 hours. Consequently, his mother told him to get his ass off the phone and stop calling her. She won booster of the year in that program.

We all have stories like these. When I marched drum corps in 1990, I was kicked off the field for talking back to Jeff Wrobluski. Now...that's just something you don't do, but I did it anyway and paid dearly for I should have. I was acting arrogant, cocky, and thought I knew more than he did. Kids acting out date back to basically, the beginning of kids. Teenagers have been acting out and testing the limits since God put an apple in the Garden and told Adam and Eve to not eat it.

At some point in 450 B.C., Socrates stated the following:

“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."

Since the beginning of time, youth have been a thorn in the side of adults. I know I was and I'm fairly certain that most people reading this were thorns as well.

Kids who start a season and don't finish it though, are probably my biggest pet peeve. Sometimes it's because it got too hard or they didn't grasp the time commitment. These kids appear to be more and more readily available as the years go on. Health concerns also tend to be popping up more than ever before. It seems that the youth we are working with are struggling more and more with just simple survival and I don't completely understand why. What's the difference in today's kids and yesterday's kids, because I believe there is one. Every year I teach, I publish the schedule months in advance. Every rehearsal and every show is calculated to practically the hour and every year without fail, there are kids who just MIRACULOUSLY didn't get the schedule. They miscalculated hours that rehearsals would take and quit half the way through. They are over scheduled with school and band/winterguard and tack on drama, softball, track, and part time jobs and seem absolutely amazed when they are told that they are being irresponsible for missing or being late to practice. In the independent world it's usually money that just seemingly "shocks" the kids. A contract in September states that the dues are $1,500 dollars, but year after year independent guards end the season with massive debt, because kids...young adults, failed to budget and failed to live up to a contract in which they signed. They reap the benefits of performing, while stealing money from the owners of the guard.

So I ask again. What's the difference in today and yesterday? Are they entitled? Do they lack responsibility? Do they lack an inability to plan? Are they "soft" with an inability to suffer through the ups and downs of life? Do they lack the ability to think ahead and plan and prepare? Maybe looking at the following 9 possibilities and adding it all together for a combined synergistic effect will give us the answer as to the "why," without blame and without judgment.

1.The Parents

Parents of today are fighting a war and it's a war of fear. Raising a child today takes guts. From day one, mothers are told that if they don't breast feed their baby will grow up with maladies all the fault of the mother, because she didn't breast feed.

A true story. When my son was one day old, a woman in the hospital, a lactation specialist, woke me up in the middle of the night to breast feed my baby who just happen to be sleeping soundly. She grabbed my breast and shoved that baby on it. The whole time telling me why this was important and that feeding him formula would basically kill him and I would be damned to hell for eternity if I fed him formula in the first year. didn't kill him as I told her to shove her information up her you know what and fed him formula anyway.  She didn't ask if it would work for me or my lifestyle or if it was something I wanted to do. She simply fed me fear without my consent.

Parents are facing daily media reports of school shootings, bullying, sexual predators, car seat failures, bike helmet disasters, lead paint, toy recalls, failing schools, and impossible testing standards. They live in fear of succeeding as parents and thus, they tend to over protect. The bar in raising children is high and that height is creating a perfect storm of over protection.

2. Those Ridiculous Tests

Our schools are faced with an impossible dilemma. Get the kids to pass the test or the state will take you over. Here in Pinellas County, the state took over a number of schools who were failing. This creates a culture of test, test, test and teach to the test, teach to the test, teach to the test. Where in there will children learn to play, when play is what teaches children about socialization, dedication, and analytical thought? When physical education is cut to the bone and the arts are considered a "luxury," then how will our children learn the lessons of life? How will they learn negotiation skills? How will they learn about true passion?

3. Technology

This goes without saying. We have an obesity epidemic in this country and although there are many reasons, research time and time again shows that technology plays a role. We know through Pew Research that kids spend almost 6 hours  in front of non-educational media everyday. EVERYDAY. Tack on the concept that at the tips of their fingers is a computer and smart phone, and that we are handing our children access to the world 24 hours a day. For a living I work the bullying problem. Children are learning to bully by what they see and how often they see it and conflict resolution comes in the form of text messages and emails. In one rehearsal, I see kids immediately gravitate toward their phones the second a break is given or rehearsal is finished. That time on the cell phone is precious to the bonding of a performing unit. Even if all they do is complain, at least they are complaining together. This year at a marching band contest I watched kids in the stands practically ignore each other as the stadium lit up with that dull blue light from a smart phone. Technology as wonderful as it is, creates a social dynamic that our children may not have the ability to truly manage. With technology we create unnatural self importance as selfies and home made videos dominate the internet. With that self importance comes a potential for kids in rehearsals to think they are better than they are or deserve more than they have worked for.

4. Everyone's A Bully

Oh my God!! As a person who can actually speak from expert status, can we please, please stop with this word. One bad situation in rehearsal is not bullying. The drum major who yelled at a member for being late is not being a bully. They are simply being a drum major. Bullying is abuse over the course of time. It's not someone who stared at you wrong on the field. However, kids and parents are using this word as flippantly as the media does, because they don't know what bullying really is. This causes an over sensitivity to natural conflict and discipline. Conflict is still an important element in the development of children and when everything is classified as bullying then children lose a skill that they so desperately need as adults.

5. But All Kids Should Get A Trophy

This situation went down in my "Epic Colorguard Situations" book.

"My daughter is now a senior. She should be guard captain."

" Your daughter is irresponsible and doesn't practice."

"But she has earned it. She's a senior."

"Mrs. Smith, staying in school as impressive as that is, is not a reason to make your daughter guard captain. 75% of kids in the state of Florida graduate high school. I can't possibly have that many captains."

In all fairness, I hear this argument a lot in general society. "Well back in my day, all kids didn't get little league trophies just for participating." Actually, that practice does go back to the 1950's. Kids did get participation trophies, but the difference was that awards for "best this" and "best that," were given more often. Philosophically, I struggle sometimes with those awards, because when the unit created an impeccable show, then what's the point. It's a team right?  However, they are important because in life and specifically on the job, money is tied to performance and often, it's the person who was the best who gets the promotion. I have found that in the pageantry activity regardless of how great the unit is, there are always leaders and always followers. Sometimes there are kids, as well as staff members, who reap the rewards of a medal without really doing the hard work. I've had performers that just coming to rehearsal was the best they could do, while others practiced feverishly at home, paid their dues in full, and managed to be an honor student.

6. Too Much To Do

There is a ridiculous amount of activities to keep kids entertained today. There was fascinating research done on kids and activities in 2012. It was found that when the economy crashed in 2008, and when parents had to choose what would be cut from the family budget, that extracurricular activities were last to go. Part of that research also stated that kids today participate in almost 3 times more activities at a time then kids did back in the 80's. So, when you have a young girl who use to just take dance, now she will take dance, karate, soccer, and music lessons...all in the same week. Tack on homework, school testing, and technology then what's left in the day? Add on the fact that usually, it's not them who control the schedule, but mom and dad. They simply aren't getting the down time they use to and that down time is crucial in their social and analytical development. Down town is when children tend to be most creative and also get into the most trouble, but getting in trouble is important to learning the concept of natural consequences.

7. They Are All ADD They aren't and we have to stop using this phrase interchangeably to describe children who can't focus or remember things. There is significant data that states the use of pharmaceuticals has skyrocketed and there are children with a diagnosis of ADD who should have just gotten some early spankings, but not all kids are taking pills. It is also true that more children are entering adolescence at an earlier age and we have children who truly do suffer from ADD, depression, and Autism.  However, that's not most children. Review the previous 6 possibilities and we can find reasons why children can't or won't plan ahead. We can find why children struggle with remembering information and working through problems. We can also try to remember that they are kids and kids do not have the use of the frontal lobe that adults do, which can cause forgetfulness and a lacking of understanding consequences. The pharmaceutical culture we exist in does however, create a group of young people who are raised on the concept that something must be wrong. Ankle swelling becomes a sprained ankle. A headache is a brain tumor and getting hit by a sabre from a misguided toss, becomes grounds for a potential lawsuit.

8. Reality TV

This one is more just out of pure disgust. How can we possibly teach our children that women are not the two dimensional bickering mothers of Dance Moms and their dance role models are not an over weight abusive figure that screams and yells, when we glorify those figures rampantly? How do our girls learn that drama is not a part of growing up when Bravo and Lifetime show women as jealous, over sexualized stick figures? Conversations with our young women at rehearsals must start to include these discussions so we as directors aren't faced with performers who expect drama at every turn.

9. Maybe It's Us

When I hear about a director who let a performer escape the season without paying dues in full or at the least communicating honestly about why they couldn't pay dues, then it hurts not just the youth, but the rest of the activity. We contribute to the problem of irresponsibility. When we let the parents cross the boundary from booster to staff member, then we perpetuate the problem. When a member acts out and asserts themselves as a pseudo member of the staff, then we diminish the adult role to nothing more than friend. When we don't let the youth work out their own problems, then we teach them that every problem is epic and drama is an acceptable part of life that they are incapable of handling.

I am the biggest advocate for children. I believe in them and I believe in the future because of them. I refuse to be one of these adults who live in a fantasy land that "back in my day" things were so much better. I don't believe that and I won't believe that. I must however admit that times have changed. I have more problems with the kids today than I did years ago. I have more meetings with parents than I did in the 90's and the meetings are practically trivial at times. I see that the youth I teach are struggling to keep up with homework. I now have more kids than ever before sitting in corners on breaks studying. Social media is relatively new and keeping up with it is challenging at best. Violence although down, is perpetuated in the media, creating a society of children who grow up fearful.

I don't know what the answer is, but as I sit and listen to blame being thrown around like equipment being tossed in the gym, I have wonder if it isn't one issue, but a multitude of problems facing our children today. My hope is that we can create a dialog in our activity to that allows us to share information on the best ways to work with the youth and their parents. I advocate for a more educated activity in youth development and an activity that continues to graduate youth into the world who are strong, independent and able to take on the world.

This is my 2014 pageantry wish.