I recently received a paean to my generation — the so-called "boomers" — that has been circulating on the internet for some time now. It recalls and celebrates the freedom we enjoyed as children and the personal responsibility our parents enforced upon us — concerning the latter, much to our frequent chagrin.
Peanut butter was a dietary staple, we wore nothing more protective than baseball caps when we rode our bicycles, which we often rode miles from home, our social media consisted of face-to-face conversations, we learned respect for others via telephone party lines (look it up), we climbed and almost to the kid fell out of trees, and so on. The point is that my and my parents' generations "produced some of the best risk-takers, problem-solvers, and inventors ever."
As I engaged in wistful thinking, it occurred to me that we saw no therapists, took no brain- and behavior-altering drugs, received no bogus psychological diagnoses, and weren't sent off to rehab facilities (other than the occasional wayward kid who spent time in reform school), and yet our mental health was 10 times better than that of today's kids.
One of the reminiscences that carried great meaning for me was "The idea of a parent bailing us out if we broke the law was unheard of. ... They actually sided with the law!" I smiled from ear to ear.
I was 17 when I was arrested for disturbing the public peace. Hey! I was simply celebrating my graduation from high school! Give a guy a break! Actually, I was one of seven fellow grads who was hauled off to the local police station where we were fingerprinted, mug shot, and perp-walked back to cells where we awaited our bail-bondsmen, aka, our parents.
I watched from behind bars as one fellow rowdy after another was released into custody. When I finally got up the courage to ask the jailer when my parents were coming, he said, "They're leaving you here."
What?! Yes, they left me in jail for two of the longest days of my life. On Saturday morning they showed up and informed me that freedom was a relative thing: to wit, I was grounded for the remainder of the summer. What could have been the most glorious of summers turned into two months of yard work, painting the entire house and explaining my incarceration to my few law-abiding buddies.
Charges were eventually dropped but I never again saw my accomplices. I don't have any idea what became of them, but my life is better because I experienced, up close and personal and before I could increase my rebellion any further, what generally happens to people who believe they are above the law.
I think, ruefully, of today's parents, many of whom seem to think that good parenting consists largely of protecting one's children from the vagaries of personal responsibility; and I ask myself if we will ever recover from their good intentions.
Write to family psychologist John Rosemond at The Leadership Parenting Institute, 420 Craven St., New Bern, N.C. 28560 or email [email protected] Due to the volume of mail, not every question will be answered.