Raising Honest Children in the Age of Trump

January 25, 2019

As a first-time parent it’s been quite the trip watching my daughter’s cognitive development. I started charting it here on this blog but, at almost four-and-a-half, it’s just accelerated to a rate that seems impossible to chart. Last week she appropriately used air quotes and I felt like I had completed my job as a sarcastic father. She’s on her own. I’m quite confident I could drop her off at a faculty cocktail party and she’d be fine. She recently told me, “We don’t say that we hate Donald Trump. We say we don’t like him very much.” Touché, Cozy. Touché.

Which is why part of this stage of development has a troubling facet. Lying. Nothing too big, but she’ll say she washed her hands after going potty and they are perfectly dry. (A tell-tale sign.) Or I’ll ask if she’s picked up her toys and she’ll say yes and I’ll point out all her toys on the floor and she’ll proclaim, “I was just kidding!”

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I’m well aware this is normal for a little kid but biography occurs in the context of history and at the moment the free world is being led by one of the biggest liars in history. The challenge of raising a good child in the era of the bad president will surely be the stuff of many child psychology books to come. How can we bring our children up as decent honest people in the shadow of one of the most loathsome, dishonest, and buffoonish bullies to ever wrap himself in a flag? Even MAGA hat wearing parents must have to tell their kids, “Now just because the president does/says that doesn’t mean you can.” (Although there are probably a few MAGA dads that have said, “Grab ‘em by the pussy, son.”)

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The lies of Donald J. Trump are too voluminous to count. He just makes stuff up on the spot because it sounds good. Just ask him how much his useless vanity wall will cost. It’s something we’ve all done occasionally. We’ve inflated details in a story or thrown out numbers we weren’t 100% sure were accurate. “Yeah, 75 percent of people who vote Republican have never eaten sushi.” Sounds right. But Trump does it every single day. Fact checkers have died of fatigue.

Which makes it harder to convey the importance of truth-telling to our children. In this post-factual world full of massive whoppers (“Global warming is a Chinese hoax!”), fibs and white lies seem almost cute. Truth is a sliding scale. Stephen Colbert coined the term “truthiness” in 2005, but to raise a child in a daily onslaught of “alternative facts” seems impossible. There’s an “If you can’t beat ‘em join ‘em”” devil on my shoulder that wants to tell my daughter, “Kid, lie your ass off if it gets you what you want. Every one else probably is doing it.”

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Trump is the absolute worst role model for anyone, especially children. He’s a spoiled rich kid who throws tantrums when he doesn’t get what he wants. He lies pathologically. He bullies relentlessly. And he lives on buckets of KFC and gallons of Diet Coke. I saw him when I was in DC last month in the back of his limo heading towards the White House. I swear he had an Egg McMuffin hanging from his gullet. I haven’t heard what he’s done with Michelle Obama’s vegetable garden but I’m willing to bet that when he’s dragged off the property by the FBI, the CSI team will be digging it up. 

The good news is outside his weird cult of MAGA loyalists, Trump is the perfect boogyman. If I catch Cozy in a lie, I whip out the Donald. “Cozy, you told me you turned off the TV and you didn’t. You know who lies like that? Donald Trump.” The look of horror on her face. It’s also good at dinner time. “You want ice cream for dinner? Do you want to look like Donald Trump?” She races for the carrots. There was a boy who pushed her in her pre-school. I told her to tell him to stop acting like Donald Trump. It shut that shit down.

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I have to wonder about this generation of youth growing up under the specter of the Orange Menace. Whether or not those MAGA hat wearing prep school pricks from Covington Catholic were harassing a Native American elder, they were at a rally to end reproductive choice for women and girls in America (and caught on camera making jokes about rape, and harassing girls, and appearing in blackface at an earlier basketball game). The white parents couldn’t defend them fast enough. (The lead prick’s mother blaming the whole thing on “black Muslims.”) Is this the fate of Generation Z? Or are they the kids from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School taking to the streets to end gun violence? I’ll send Cozy off with them.

Obviously,  Trump’s otherwise occupied parents never told him the story of The Little Boy Who Cried Wolf, but we tell it in our house. We might have a president than believes science is a hoax, journalism is “fake news,” and math is whatever numbers happen to fall out you mouth, but here the ideals of the Enlightenment still matter and this kid will value the truth. “Don’t be like Trump, kids!”

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Generation Z will turn this gunship around.

February 23, 2018

A week ago I was ready to gather my family and get the hell out of this gun-crazed country. What a difference a week makes. Teenagers across the country walking out of their schools, demanding adults finally make the changes to insure their safety. Students in the Florida state house as lawmakers refuse to ban assault weapons. Kids begging President Trump to “do anything” as he held a crib sheet reminding him to act empathetic. Children throwing their bodies on the wheel and the ground in front of the White House. High school juniors going toe to toe with Senator Marco Rubio about his NRA allegiance, fearless in their contempt. It’s enough to make an old geezer like me think there might be some light at the end of the long dark tunnel.

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A week ago it felt like America was destined for a pointless mass shooting each week as another gun-male took his pathetic anger out on more innocent civilians. Then a girl named Emma Gonzalez channeled the rage of a nation held too long under the terroristic threat of the National Rifle Association. She didn’t blink and she didn’t bow. It was the tipping point. This student of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who survived the worst this country has to offer stiffened her spine and single-handedly opened the floodgates of frustration and fury and put the NRA on the back foot.

Let’s just get this out there before this becomes about the “gun debate.” The NRA doesn’t care about the Second Amendment. I doubt most of its members even really know what the Second Amendment says. The NRA cares about guns sales. They are a lobbying organization for gun manufactures who depend on utilizing any tactic to ramp up weapon purchases. “Obama is gonna take away your guns!” “Hillary wants to repeal your right to carry a weapon!” “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a lots and lots of good guys with guns!” “Buy a gun for everyone in your family! Buy three!”

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The perfect example of this push to sell more guns to a freaked-out America is this moronic call to arm the teachers. This “solution” is even coming from our idiot-in-cheif in Washington. Besides the fact that the NRA spent over $31 million to get the “billionaire” elected, I would bet half of that in cash that Trump has never even fired a gun. I’m a teacher and I’ve actually fired a gun. Lots of them. In fact, I had training with the FBI on some the weapons that are being debated right now. I feel completely comfortable firing a Heckler & Koch MP5 submachine gun but not inside the hallways of a campus full of screaming students.

What these NRA kooks ignore is that the majority of these mass shooter gun-males are on a suicidal mission to “go out on their feet in a blaze of glory.” As long as they take out a few kids before Professor Rambo shows up, they’ve achieved their goal. The thought of a well-armed faculty is not a deterrent, it’s an incitement.

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That’s why the voices of Emma Gonzales, David Hogg, Cameron Kasky, Delaney Tar, and all the other Lakeland, Florida students are so powerful. They don’t have time for the latest round of pointless bullshit from our “leaders.” Their lives are literally on the line. The march they organized (within one week of the slaughter of their classmates) on March 24 is being called the “March for Our Lives” and it will be the first real expression of the collective will of the post-millennial generation, Generation Z, and it’s going to be a game changer.

This fall, the babies born in Y2K will be heading off to college. Those 18 and younger, make up the most diverse and plugged-in generation ever. Most of them can’t vote yet, but don’t think that will quell their political voice. Look at how they’ve turned the tide in one week. The NRA is now public enemy number one (no matter how loudly Wayne LaPierre screams about “SOCIALISM!”). I pity any politician that has taken NRA blood money. Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) took $122,802 from the NRA and should be shamed from office in November. Let their gun money hang like an albatross around their necks.

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We social movement scholars put a lot of weight on 1968 as a watershed year. Yeah, the student uprisings and unrest facilitated the election of Richard Nixon and six more years of the Vietnam War. But it also gave us the 26th Amendment, insuring that 18, 19, and 20 year-olds would forever have meaningful political power. 2018 could be Generation Z’s 1968, hopefully without all the assassinations. This is my daughter’s generation and, if she is any barometer, their energy will drive these old men into submission.

From #metoo to #neveragain, #thetimestheyareachangin. Get ready you old people, the kids are not alright and they are not going to wait for you to get your shit together. Your old road is rapidly aging. I’m ready to lend a hand. What about you? What side of history do you want to be on? These children can’t do any worse than we have.

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The Millennial Effect: Here comes Generation Z

May 18, 2016

As a sociologist of youth culture, I spend a lot of time trying to explain what makes generations unique. The easy answer is – nothing. Broad generalizations are meaningless and teens in 2016 probably face many of the same issues that teens did in 2016 BC. Some things are eternal, like when do you get the keys to the hybrid or chariot?

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But there is a social science of generations, looking at a cohorts born in a similar time and place. The parameters are usually based on changes in birthrates. The Baby Boom Generation begins about 9 months after the end of World War 2. In 1946, with the world safe for democracy, the birth rate in the US exploded and finally began to drop in the early 1960s. Nearly a third of the U.S. population are Baby Boomers and it’s pretty much explained nearly every cultural trend since. The sixties were the “Sixties” because you had so many college-age kids. (Bad time to throw a war.) And now all those boomers are retiring and there’s a Viagra commercial on TV every 60 seconds.

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Then came Generation X, the relatively small generation that I’m part of the first wave. The birthrate bottomed out in 1974, so a lot of of the 1980s “kids in America” had to live in the shadow of the massive Boom. Next came Generation Y, or the “Millennials,” that ended the century. The birthrate jumped up in 1981 as boomers (finally) started settling down, AIDS killed “free love” and they invented the SUV (with a “Baby On Board” window sign).

This 1981-2001 “echo wave” ended up being even bigger than the baby boom generation. They were not only the brats of Boomers who had finally found their way out of the disco. The population of first generation immigrants also got considerably younger. The Millennials became the most diverse generation in American history. They represent the browning of America. Over 35% were born outside of the country, another 26% are first or second generation immigrants and 38% are bilingual. This is my wife’s, story. She is the new face of America.

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These three generations, Baby Boom, Generation X, and Millennial, have some real markers. Baby Boomers watched Star Trek on Friday nights on NBC. Gen Xers watched the reruns after school as latchkey kids (and Star Trek: The Next Generation). And Millennials stream old episodes on Hulu between J.J. Abrams reboots. They are marked by different historical moments; the assassination of the Kennedys, the Challenger explosion, and 9/11. Boomers bought Beatles albums, Gen Xers bought U2 CDs, and Millennials may never have bought music on a physical format, preferring to download it instead. Baby Boomers got sent off to Vietnam, Gen Xers mostly avoided war and many Millennials volunteered for duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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In reality, there is an incredible variation within generations (including Millennials who buy Beatles albums – on vinyl). Usually when the term “generation” gets used it’s primarily referring to the experiences of middle class white males and what they do with their disposable income. The Great Recession of 2008 and the ethnic demographic shift makes the experience of the Millennials even less homogenous, but the one thing that makes them unique is their reliance on social media technology. Where Boomers hung out at the malt shop, the love-in, and the disco, and Gen Xers hung out at the all-ages punk club, the mall, and the rave, Millennials just hang out on line. The skate park gang is now a multiple-player online Tony Hawk game. The youth are no longer wild in the streets (unless there is a Bernie Sanders rally in town).

But these generations shape culture and not just hairstyles and popular dances. The Baby Boom gave us the second wave feminist movement. Gen X birthed Alex P. Keaton conservatism and Madonna sex-positivism and the Millennials gave us social networking. The great contribution of the Millennial generation is the recognition that you are not your job. They’ve seen their parents, painfully loyal to companies and careers, stabbed in the back, downsized and outsourced. Work is now something to provide you an income while you follow your bliss. Why commit to a profession that is just going to be replaced by a computer or Chinese child labor? As a Gen X’er who recently experienced this betrayal first-hand, this way of living sounds pretty good.

The oldest Millennials are 35 and the youngest are 15. The 9/11 attacks in 2001 also marked another shift in the birthrates. So here comes Generation Z, those born after 2001. This includes my daughter, born in 2014. The first Generation Zs turn 18 in 2019. What will their world be like?

It’s exciting to imagine what the 2020s will look like for them. We know there will be more non-white people in the U.S. and a declining pool of old white guys who want to make America “great” again. Z’ers will probably be even more immersed in technology (unless President Trump causes a global economic collapse and we have to revive the Pony Express). Between rising sea-levels and China repossessing the United States treasury, they will have plenty of issues to bring them together. We can hope that by then that whatever wave of feminism that’s happening is just tweaking the finer details of gender equality and expression.  In 2026, Cozy will be 12 and I can imagine her doing a report for a 7th grade class about how her father used to have to explain what feminism was and why it was ever needed.

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The Who played here in Portland last night and when they played their anthem, “My Generation,” I have to think 72-year-old Roger Daltrey grimaced a bit when he sang, “I hope I die before I get old.” But whatever your generation is, you’re going to have to stick around that long to figure what it all meant.