Fear Itself by Provost Bill Bussey
I don’t know about you, but if my mother and father had insisted on following me Halloween night, the granddaddy evening of childhood experiences, I would’ve dug a foxhole in my backyard and egged my own house. As far as I can recall, sometime in the late 1960s or so, horror stories spread of poisoned Halloween candy and razors buried in apples. Those stories have proven to be urban legends. Yet, the 1982 Tylenol poisonings were the real deal, and as a result, both store-bought items and childhoods came with new protections.
Soon, the days of a twelve year-old boy grabbing his baseball glove and meeting a group of kids at a playground early Saturday morning and maybe coming home briefly for a baloney sandwich before heading back out until dinner, were pretty much over. And when most kids trick or treat now, their parents watch from the sidewalk, stationary silhouettes in the dark, making sure “thank you” follows the sound of candy hitting the bag. In the world of kids, the trick or treating experience now has been watered down to resemble a Saturday matinee at the movies with your parents sitting behind you.
For as long as anyone can remember, fear, along with its cousin inadequacy, has taken hold of the parenting process by profiteers and self-promoters who constantly suggest to mothers and fathers that they are not covering all the bases to keep their children safe from all that hovers on the distant horizon. Nothing sells like fear. If a gruesome murder hasn’t happened locally, you can now be sure that the once-local news station will present a feed from, say, Stockton, California, that will make you think twice about walking to CVS that night for the prescription that the ads said would make you less anxious. It all sort of reminds me of those screaming “Boston Strangler” tabloids that used to be positioned right between the Necco wafers and the “TV Guide” at every corner store when I was growing up. I slept with one eye open for a decade.
Technology, too, is moving ahead faster than ever and many parents understandably feel that it is taking their children away from them as well. Many of us spent Sunday night watching “The Ed Sullivan Show,” “The Six Million Dollar Man,” or “MacGyver” with our folks. Today many of our kids spend Sunday evening up in their rooms doing one thing or another on the computer, just like most other nights. Our fear is that not only has something special been lost but also the sense that too often nothing good is happening behind closed doors. Long ago we all realized the crucial role technology would play in our children’s future, and we have all resigned to this cultural shift. Yet it remains unsettling to many of us that something that did not exist when we were our children’s age now seems to be dictating their future as well. It’s not unlike what happened when telephones started to come with long cords that allowed teenagers to hold conversation out of earshot.
While the Internet will always remain a social force to be reckoned with, many teens now see their Instagram and Facebook page as an extension of themselves and, more importantly, of how they wish to be seen. Increasingly, they are no longer so quick to be so mean online. Let’s face it: one online insult is one too many, and of course, it still happens too often. But most teenagers would rather avoid any direct social repercussion or drama, and the reality is that their peers will often call them out publically for online missteps. In some real ways, social media, for all its misuse, has also evolved into a social leveler that increasingly rewards those that are trustworthy, creative and irreverent. That’s been true for quite awhile. Adults tend to let their imaginations run wild when they think of kids and computers. If you ask most kids what they like to do on the computer, they will tell you that they prefer to watch shows and movies on Netflix.
Yet, at the risk of over-simplifying the adolescent experience, most teenagers are, and always have been, resilient. It comes with the territory. Although the college process looms larger than ever, most kids live in the here and now. Many spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about their appearance, whether peers like them, or whether or not they are going to be chosen for the major part in a play. This, too, has always been true. More often than not, though, their peers have a far more immediate influence on them than adults. It’s in that secret world of chats and texts, the world where parents are not allowed to watch over them like a Halloween stroll, that all too often our children’s sense of self over the past few years has taken a beating. And so has the confidence of exhausted moms and dads who are trying to do their best. Many parents today understandably wonder how can they best prepare their children for the future when they are unsure as to how they can best navigate the rest of the week. Not unlike, I suspect, the way my father, a WWIII veteran, no doubt felt when he first heard Led Zeppelin one Christmas morning.
Like their children, parents, too, have been conditioned to be resilient and learn quickly from their mistakes. Each generation of Nobles parents, challenged and aided by cultural shifts, continue to move forward, and at their best, welcome the opportunity to be guided by their own children. Within today’s culturally and technologically complex world, present-day parents, like their own parents who ducked and covered, seek to sift through the latest flotsam and jetsam in hopes of finding a common ground with their children that will stand the test of time. To varying degrees, it has always been that way.
Our current Nobles students are impressive in their acceptance of others, in their genuine kindness and support of their peers, and in their willingness to trust the intentions of adults. The vast majority seem “to get” why they are here and respect not only the opportunity but also those who help them navigate life in and out of the classroom. Anything less would not be the Nobles that I have come to know.
And a major reason that all this is true is because the vast majority of today’s Nobles parents have also made a concerted effort to trust the school, to trust that their children are doing their best with the cards that they have been dealt, and most importantly, are, like past generations of parents, aware that they themselves are doing the best they can with what they know and with what they have—and that in itself has always been good enough. I’d like to think that most parents are taking more time to getting to know and enjoy their children rather than worrying about them. I certainly hope so. It goes by so quickly.
So, take a well-deserved bow. Parents don’t get enough credit. And I suspect that’s always been true, too.