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.