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The kids aren't not all right

Posted by Jesse Singal  September 28, 2010 11:24 AM

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This AP article, headlined "Are we raising a generation of nincompoops?," contains two of my least-favorite sorts of griping: griping about technology and griping about Kids These Days.

Favorably citing a couple of books on the subject, the author, Beth J. Harpaz, wonders why Kids These Days seem so incompetent, and to what extent technology can be blamed.

Some of her supporting evidence comes right in the very first graf: "Second-graders who can't tie shoes or zip jackets. Four-year-olds in Pull-Ups diapers. Five-year-olds in strollers. Teens and preteens befuddled by can openers and ice-cube trays. College kids who've never done laundry, taken a bus alone or addressed an envelope."

This is all pretty tiresome. For two reasons.

First, based on the diagnosis she provides, it's not really kids who we should be worried about, but rich kids. "Many kids never learn to do ordinary household tasks," Harpaz writes. "They have no chores. Take-out and drive-through meals have replaced home cooking. And busy families who can afford it often outsource house-cleaning and lawn care."

What does any of that have to do with the hypothetical Median American Child? For every kid lounging on the couch playing Playstation 3 while his housekeeper tidies up around him, there are four or five working part-time jobs, helping out with their siblings, and doing whatever else they can to chip in.

But yeah, some rich kids are spoiled. This is a new problem how? And unique to our tech-soaked era how? It just seems foolish to indict a whole generation because of the behavior of a small segment of it.

There's also Harpaz's complaint that some kids don't know how to use an ice tray or a can opener, and don't know how to send snail mail. These wouldn't be such odd gripes if it she were just throwing them out there rather than using them to postulate generation-wide problems. What does not knowing how to use certain devices have to do with intelligence? Why does it matter? If more cans have pull tabs these days, then can opener use will go down, and fewer kids will be exposed to this modern marvel. It's hard to see the relevance.

This is all so very boring. Every generation freaks out about the one succeeding it, and in 2010 it's more profitable than ever to do so, because publishers lap it up and grownups are frightened by all the tech-savvy youngsters running around. "Kids are stupid and we must do something!" is the easiest story to tell in the world. These gripes are in need of some updating.

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ABOUT THE ANGLE Online commentary and news analysis from the Boston Globe. The Angle is produced by Rob Anderson and Alan Wirzbicki. You can follow Rob on Twitter at @rcand.

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