The Decline of the Age of Innocence.

I feel like I should add a disclaimer here at the top: despite what I say in this blog entry, I still love children more than almost anything. I merely think that our society is going to encounter more and more of a problem when it comes to the behavior of younger generations.

Sometimes I’m afraid of our future.

I have been a volunteer at a local after-school program for the past four years. I work with students in third, fourth, and fifth grade on an almost-daily basis, and throughout my time with the program, things have been changing.

During my first and the better part of my second year, things were exactly how you’d expect them to be; behavior was more or less age-appropriate, although we were not without out issues here and there. Toward the end of my second year with the program (my senior year of high school), we started to see a shift.

Kids at this age no longer have even the most basic respect. (And for the few who do, I apologize.) They don’t respect the adults in the program, and they certainly don’t respect each other. The director struggles to even read announcements; the various conversations amongst the children continue, they call out things to try to be funny, and they continue to play on their electronic devices. Something that should take five minutes turns into a twenty-minute struggle, complete with outbursts straight out of Family Guy.

Oh, yeah. They watch Family Guy. I also know for a fact that one of my third graders watches SNL on a weekly basis. Half of them have Facebooks, and I have finally stopped feeling guilty for denying the half dozen friend requests I get per week from the kids.

And let’s talk about electronic devices for a moment. I had one of my eight-year-old girls tell me today that she got an iPhone for Christmas when she already had an iPod touch. The iPhone itself would have been ridiculous, but when she already had pretty much the same device? This is ridiculous. I work with a lot of low-income families who can barely afford to clothe their kids, yet I can guarantee that each and every one of these children has either a Nintendo DS, a PSP, or a cell phone. In the case of one child, the principal of the school bought him a pair of shoes because he was without, yet I had to speak to him twice today about having a cell phone out in school.

I understand that every parent wants to give his or her child everything, but there have to be priorities. I’m thinking that you should probably buy your child shoes before you decide to buy him a new Playstation 3. These parents collect welfare from the tax payers, but instead of using it wisely, they milk the hell out of the system and buy luxury items that half of the taxpayers can’t even afford. It turns my stomach.

Instead of the children being grateful, they lament that they got the wrong cell phone or the wrong color DS. I remember a month or two ago when we brought in apple cider as a special treat for the kids. Rather than thank us, they stood and complained that we weren’t pouring the cider quickly enough. It doesn’t matter if you remind them about manners; they sigh, roll their eyes, and change for perhaps an hour before reverting back to thinking that they are entitled to everything the world has to offer.

What’s almost as bad, or possibly worse, is that they know entirely too much about sex, and because they see it and hear about it on TV, they think it’s the coolest thing in the world. I overheard a conversation about Megan Fox’s anus (those were the exact words) and had to walk over to the boys and tell them that it wasn’t a suitable topic for school. When the boys dance, they either pelvic thrust or grab their crotches a la Michael Jackson. (Actually, sometimes they aren’t even dancing then this happens.) Third graders are dating, and sometimes we even have to keep an eye on some pairs of kids who mysteriously disappear around the Big Toy. At times it feels like all we hear is sex and cursing… in an elementary school.

Innocence really is becoming a thing of the past, and that truly scares me. What’s so beautiful about children is the fact that they are innocent, in most senses of the word. I know plenty of wonderful, beautiful kids who are in primary school, and I’m almost afraid for them to enter the elementary school system because the students there have gotten so out of hand. Some don’t care about any consequence. They waltz out of detention declaring, “That was so freakin’ dumb. That kid I hit deserved it.”

My hope is that they manage to gain maturity as quickly as they have gained a vast vocabulary of sexual terms and an arsenal of video games. Otherwise? We’re screwed.

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Authenticity.

The thing about having a blog is that you’re supposed to post in it.  Yeah, I’ve been really good about that.

I encounter a problem in my life, as many do, concerning time and not having enough of it.  The past two or three weeks have been madness personified, and though I have had many writing ideas, I have not even come close to having the time to write.  What better time than 1:05 in the morning, right?

Lately I’ve been contemplating the discrepancy between people and their online personae.  In the age of email and Facebook, it’s usually the case that we see more of people online than we do “in real life.”  Which one is the more accurate representation of the person?  Obviously, you would think that the real, flesh-and-blood person would be the most genuine, but I’ve seen cases where this doesn’t seem to be true.

Because I am a writer (or like to fancy I am one, anyway), I believe that the written word is one of the most powerful tools of expression.  The “voice” in someone’s writing is the true essence of them, or so I’d like to think.  I’ve always thought that emotion was easier expressed when written somewhere, because some things are too painful / embarrassing / sentimental to say out loud.  It seems to be easier, at least sometimes, to say our inner-most thoughts on paper (or, in this case, computer).  At least in my life, I feel like I’m freer to express emotions in this way, which is why I often post quotes on Facebook about life, love, and loss.

However, I don’t think I’m the only one.  It’s interesting when you’ve known someone for a while and then add them on Facebook.  Sometimes you can be surprised about what they choose to post.  Someone who is fun and light can have a very serious and emotional Facebook.  (I know, it seems like I’m reading too much into this, but hear me out.)  The opposite also occurs often; you know someone who is shy and reserved, but on Facebook they’re tagged in every party album holding that notorious red Solo cup.

Then, of course, you have really intelligent people who, on Facebook, fall into txt spk and show little emotion, but for the intents and purposes of this blog, we won’t talk about them.

So, again, which of these is the “real” person, or is it a duality?  Is there a part of us we deem appropriate for general, in-person communication and one that we feel is best for an online forum?  Why is there a difference?  (And you have to admit, there’s definitely a difference.)  My theory–and it’s nothing more–is that we like the feeling of hiding behind a computer screen.  We feel more comfortable admitting personal truths to online representations of people than to their living counterparts.  We want people to know us, and sometimes it’s easier to construct that through pictures and quotes than it is to say the right words in the real world.

I think this might be my reading too much into things, but I’ve always found it much easier to express myself through writing.  I can edit what I say if it doesn’t come out right, and the words come more easily than when I speak.  (I tend to get tongue-tied because my brain works much faster than my mouth.)  What does that say about our society?  We speak our true thoughts through the Internet, but in the tangible world we hide more than we show.  At least the message gets across,  I suppose.

And then, when it comes to emails, the down-to-business attitude makes everyone sound exactly the same, but that’s a topic for a different day.

As always, my writing is nothing more than vastly generalized theories that have really no basis or organization, but I wanted to see how these thoughts would play out in writing.  If I manipulate them enough, I think I can make something of them.  If not, at least I can stop wondering about this so much.

Yep.  I think too much.

Playing the Part.

We are all human beings.  It seems a very obvious fact, but it’s something we can very easily forget or overlook.

As soon as we’re born, we are cast in a role.  We are labeled with the characteristics associated with our role, and as we grow, we are given different roles.  We play the parts of student, son/daughter, friend, etc.  We encounter other roles, and it is here that the problem starts to arise.  There are the roles of teacher, policeman, doctor, and countless others.  The clash of these characters can sometimes take the humanity out of the human race.  In a school setting, there are teachers and there are students.  Outside of school, these roles should melt away, but they don’t.  There are employees and bosses in the workplace, but after hours, those lines are still drawn.  We are a collection of labels: poor, smart, ugly, mail room worker.  It’s as if these sets of roles are tattooed on our very limbs.

How often do we let these labels get in the way of our ability to get along with a person?  Students forget that teachers are human beings with families, problems, and lives outside of the halls of academia.  Teachers forget that students are more than their letter grades, their tough exteriors, and the company they keep.  Bosses aren’t all curmudgeons delighting in the suffering of their employees, just as employees do not live merely to serve their superiors.

And while we’re on the subject of superiority, what gives us the right to say that one human life is superior to another?  Level of education?  The people they know?  Why do we stalk celebrities and hold their lives under a microscope?  What makes them so interesting and so much “better” than the rest of us?

When you strip away all of the characteristics that society has cast upon us, we are all human.  We are all living, breathing, loving, hurting, beautiful human beings trying to make it in the world, and it’s no help when we forget that we are in this together.  The minute we put someone on a pedestal is the moment we knock someone else down immeasurably.  When the working day is done, we are all on equal footing, no matter what car we walk to or what house we go home to.

Let’s come clean and start over, regardless of what life or society has decided we are.  We have more in common than in opposition.  I promise.