Part of the frustration of growing older is seeing the mistakes that younger people make. There are experiences you want them to have that they won’t. There are experience you don’t want them to have that they will. Sometimes the damage is out of their control; sometimes it’s self-inflicted. You want them to have the strength to rise above the damage, but that’s not something you can give.
(1) As a child of a teenage mom, there’s really nothing good to be said about the experience. I was perhaps luckier than many in that my grandparents could step in and provide a stable environment. Now, in this country according to AARP, more than 7.8 million children are being raised in homes headed by their grandparents, and this number has been rising sharply. I didn’t know that I was on the cutting edge of a social trend back in the 1950s.
There are both positives and drawbacks to having elderly surrogate parents. The positive is a stable family environment. The negative is that there are a lot of things they just can’t do. Activities ranging from pitch-and-catch to camping are off the table. At the time I didn’t realize what I missed. I didn’t see what other kids were doing that I couldn’t. However, I made sure my own kids were not similarly restricted.
(2) Most kids have an amazing ignorance of the world around them. Until they start driving, most can’t tell you how to go from the grocery store to their home. We don’t need text messaging to distract drivers. All we need is an inexperienced driver who doesn’t recognize a turn he needs to make until the last second. Add weather, texting and alcohol, and its amazing how many actually survive being teens.
(3) American society is still shaped to a large extent by Winston Churchill’s famous description of liberal and conservative. To paraphrase: if you aren’t a liberal when young, you have no heart; if you aren’t a conservative when you are old, you have no head.
In US society, the youth are more liberal, and can be at times quite vocal about what they feel, but they don’t vote. Fewer than half of Americans under age 30 vote in presidential elections. That was the major challenge of the Sanders campaign this year — Sander’s reliance on a constituency that is unreliable.
The lesson of the Bush administration is that “what you don’t do matters.” It’s no accident also that Catholic and Episcopal liturgy each week asks for forgiveness for “things not done.” If a few thousand younger voters turn out in Florida in support of Al Gore in the 2000 election, then there would have been no Iraq war. Without the war, there is much less government debt and we could afford lower cost education and healthcare that we desperately need.
The people who feel that voting is a waste of time are the ones with blood on their hands.
We would have a very different America now if a few more younger people had felt compelled to vote in 2000.
(a) The Election Project, University of Floriday. http://www.electproject.org/home/voter-turnout/demographics
(b) AARP “Grandfacts” http://www.aarp.org/relationships/friends-family/grandfacts-sheets/