The buzz online this week has been the tongue-ing and twerking of the former Hannah Montana. I am usually hard to shock but, I admit it, I was a bit unnerved by Miley, which was probably her intent. Seeing her provoke us with her super-long tongue was like driving by a car accident; I didn't want to look but I couldn't stop myself. I watched it two more times online to be sure that I understood the twerking part. I was staring straight into the gaping crevice known as the generation gap.
Us Boomers expect our teenagers to behave better (whatever that means) even though our TV-viewing exposure during our upbringing was different than our own teenagers' TV diet.
I don't know how we can expect them to have the same moral compass that we have when ours was developed through spending our formative years with television role models like Jethro, Perry Mason and the crew on Gilligan's Island . I loved Mary Ann and Ginger and all the wisdom that Gilligan gleaned from The Professor.
Let's not forget the impressions left by Marlo Thomas as That Girl and MTM as Laura Petrie ("Oh, Robbbbb!") I had my first crush on both of Dick Van Dyke's characters -- first as Rob Petrie and then as Bert in Mary Poppins. With Barbara Eden in I Dream of Jeannie, it was love at first sight and maybe that had a bit to do with her belly button, but I wanted to live down in that tiny Jeannie bottle with her, even though nothing racy ever happened down on that red wrap-around couch.
Don't even get me started on Family Affair. I have moved three times in the past few months and I can't find my social security card, but I know that my Mrs. Beasley doll is where she has resided for 40-plus years, which is on the upper right shelf of my bedroom closet.
I memorized every episode The Brady Bunch. I wanted six stair step kids too! But only if Alice came with the package. I loved Bewitched and my Saturday mornings were spent eating Cap'n Crunch watching HR Puffin Stuff, which tickled my quirky side.
The edgiest that my TV viewing ever got was watching Dark Shadows; Barnabas's eyebrows gave me a pit in my stomach that my dark side enjoyed. I credit him with kindling my life-long attraction to bad boys, not that I've ever fully given in to that part of my own dark side; I have managed to avoid vampires for the most part.
Star Trek was also extreme from where I sat on my living room floor in Ohio. I loved imagining there were dimensions beyond Uniontown and that was about as far as my imagination traveled, sitting on the floor combing my Crissy dolls's long red hair. I couldn't imagine places more wonderful than June's kitchen on Leave It to Beaver, as long as Eddie Haskell didn't ruin it by sauntering in the back door.
I also learned a lot of the Life Basics from Ann Landers' simple advice about complicated dilemmas.
Now that our kids are on the verge on adulthood, we suddenly expect them to work as hard as we did. How many of us had a crap job at the mall or bussed tables or mowed the neighbors lawn from as soon as we were old enough to push a lawn mower? And how many of us can say that our kids have been given the same opportunity to learn through sheer grunt labor that anything of value comes through applying ourselves over time?
I know that I haven't. We expect our kids to not be spoiled or entitled or narcissistic, even though we have handed them "things" without providing them with the privilege of experiencing how good it feels to work hard to earn it.
So what do we do to battle back at this point? Not much, I'm afraid. As parents, I think we underestimate the influence of their Music Videos idols, so if there are some positive role models that can counter the twat/tongue-lashing we all took from Miley, then maybe our teens will hear the message more poignantly.
Ashton Kutcher made a speech last week and I think he has been influenced by Steve Jobs through playing his character in the movie Jobs. He makes three points to our kids and I clapped my hands as I listened to his speech. As a mom, I want them to grow up to be better at life than me. He talks of working hard, valuing intelligence and remembering that no tomorrow is promised. But he makes it sound much sexier than that. Watch it here.
And listen, what we see on TV is not reality and never was. Mr. Brady passed away from AIDS. Bob Denver and Mary Ann got busted for pot. The second Darrin succumbed to prostate cancer and the first Darrin, to emphysema. Perry Mason and Rock were gay, which would've broke my grandma's heart. JR Ewing destroyed his own liver after his character was shot and Bob Crane met with a tragic end for real in a sleazy Arizona motel room.
So maybe we don't need to have angels as idols, we just need to hope that our kids can take Nike's advice to "Just Do It"
This applies to most of the rest of their life, be it homework, writing Thank You notes or calling home. And the more they do not want to do it, the better they will feel after they do. Passivity is corrosive to the soul. Strength and Hope are not cultivated by sitting around browsing the internet all day, they come from the everyday accumulation of the experience of living; from making a list and checking things off, from bearing your teeth and bit by bit,even though it is agonizing and torturous and you are scared to death, THAT is where you get stronger. And a by-product of strength is hope. And hope gives you a reason to live.
So Just Do It.
Also, I try to remember that character is forged in delay. Just like with waiting five minutes before you open the fridge and blow four days of your diet, instant gratification is over-rated.
If our kids can cultivate the power of restraint, not that I ever have, but if they can, then they will not only never be in the police blotter for road rage, but they will also develop self-awareness and they will see in a way that most Greenwich kids cannot until they are older, that getting everything immediately and exactly as they want it keeps them from cultivating the part of their personality that they need to develop to charm their way into an upgrade to First Class that they will never if they have already been pre-boarded and are waiting for the other slugs to shuffle into the rear of the aircraft. Waiting for things will make them a better person.
Here are a few more things I like to tell my kids:
-- Deadlines are your friend.
-- Don't offer your opinion unless someone asks for it.
-- If the shoe doesn't feel great in the shoe store don't buy it. And don't buy the first pair you try on. This can also be a metaphor for your love life.
-- Monitor yourself. You will now need to develop your own Parental Control dial. Being able to hear the words "don't go there" in your mind and to heed them is a powerful practice. Benjamin Franklin was the master of this.
-- Addictions to things will sneak up on you and before you know it you are playing Scrabbleblitz all night long, even though you have an 8am Socialist Relations class in the morning.
-- There is something about the human brain that doesn't know when it is totally hooked on something. So when you hear the words, "Come on! Let's have one more" pay attention.
-- Work wise, be on the lookout for something that you love to do and figure out a way to get paid for it. If you are really connected to the mission of your job and you believe you are part of something bigger than yourself then going the extra mile is easy.
-- You can be messy but it will cost you. Wasting time looking for things is annoying (I am a living example of this) and makes you late for stuff. Whether it is your keys or that email that your teacher sent you that you forgot where you saved, being organized can simplify your life.
-- Always put your keys in the same place. That goes for your phone, your money, your car registration in the glove box and most importantly, your beach pass.
-- My kids already know this, but don't count on your parents for money. You can hope for financial support from them but don't count on it even if they have lots to spare. Money from your parents should be viewed like you should view a miracle; you can hope for one but don't depend on one.
-- Happiness is a choice. Maintaining a positive attitude is something you can decide to do. Just like with diet and exercise, continuity is essential. Notice what if feels like when you are happy and determine to do it as often as possible. I had a friend who would walk into a gorgeous room and only notice that the painting on the wall was crooked. Don't be like that.
-- See fun as a priority. Most of you will be going off to college, so this bit of advice will most likely take care of itself. For most of your moms and dads, their college years probably tipped the needle to the highest end of their lifetime fun-o-meter. And since they are most likely footing the bill for college, perhaps I should not emphasize this point too much. (Parents, don't forget to get the flunk-out insurance.)
-- Finally, take care of your health. When you are young you think this means not smoking crack or getting to bed before 2am. But I am thinking more along the lines of working out. The great thing about exercise is that it quickly changes how you feel about yourself. Also, small lifestyle changes -- over a lifetime -- will help you stay younger for longer.
-- The more you change, the more you want to change and your motivation, resolve, courage and ability to see things through will all improve as a result. You start to crave a salad!
-- And as for the vague promise of living longer (a thousand years from now), though it would be nice to have those years right up front in the cash of the present moment, ask anyone on their deathbed and they will confirm that one more minute, hour or year would be awesome.