As a child of the sixties, I remember an era both simple and less cluttered; one that always felt comfortable and fun, like how walking barefoot at the beach on a summers day is comfortable and fun. Ask most sixties kids about their childhood and you’ll be met with wide grins and stories of sixties-kid antics and bad-assery.
The sixties (and seventies) were a time of youthful (and curious) exploration, adventures and (fairly tame) rabble-rousing. Kids never got bored, and you know why? Because sixties parents never allowed it! Even the slightest mention of boredom initiated the perfunctory, “When I was your age” speech, prompting sixties kids everywhere to get out of the house and look for something to do, which they always would.
We’d read comic books, play in the park (often past dark) or ride our bikes around the neighbourhood, always stopping by that one scary house every neighbourhood has (where a creepy, rarely seen occupant who drinks blood and eats babies for dinner lives), that parents tell kids to steer clear of.
On Saturdays, my gang of boys and I would walk the four miles into town to enjoy 60 cent matinees, telling our parents we were seeing some lame Disney movie when in fact we’d watch whatever Kung Fu double-feature (with titles like “Fists of Fury” or “Master of the Flying Guillotine”) played that week. On the way home, we’d always swing by McDonalds for a 35-cent milkshake, making it a perfect Saturday all around.
Oh, and without fail, on hot sunny days every single person-children and adults-would drink from the garden hose. And it was brilliant.
Only four things limited kids of the sixties: Our allowance, our imagination, our sense of adventure, and however much slack our parents cut us- which, as long as we did our chores and homework got done, was a fair bit. All in all, it was a great life.
Unfortunately, things are very different these days. Most notable is how some parents and kids behave both towards each other, and towards society in general. The strict cornerstones of our sixties upbringing -good manners, personal responsibilities, respect for others- seem to have all but vanished.
For example, in the sixties parents had non-negotiable, do-or-die expectations of their offspring. These were backed by a single, ominous threat: If we didn’t do what mom said, she’d threaten to tell dad when he got home – and we didn’t want that, did we? (I didn’t think so). For those of us with military fathers, this threat loomed extra large.
This method of compliance was incredibly effective. In fact, I’d say it was responsible for more bedrooms getting cleaned, lawns being cut and tardy homework getting done than all the allowances (for movies and milkshakes) for a year.
Remember those times you’d hang out with your friends, and someone’s much younger (and annoying) sibling tagged along? Who does that? Oh, I know: The kid who whose mom said “If you don’t take little Jimmy to the mall with you, your father will hear about it when he gets home”, that’s who.
Trust me, it’s impossible to sneak a smoke or a beer when some juvenile little rat-fink is salivating for the chance of squealing on you, so as teenagers we were reluctantly forced to stay on the straight and narrow. Come to think of it, by sending little Jimmy along, maybe our parents were onto something.
Yesterday’s sixties kids are today’s parents and grandparents; and sadly, many have abandoned the disciplinarian methods or stern values of their own upbringing. Unfortunately, by doing so, they are robbing newer generations of vital skills needed to be successful citizens come adulthood.
For example, it’s commonplace for today’s youth to:
Talk back to parents and other authority figures
Ignore basic responsibilities, or take responsibility
Spend too much time online; not go outside and enjoy nature
Not say “please”, “thank-you” or “you’re welcome”
Expect rides everywhere, but not walk, God forbid
Not write thank-you notes for gifts received
Be disruptive in classroom settings
Be disrespectful to strangers, or simply ignore them
Have no fear of consequences, because they rarely exist
Now I get it: Times have changed, and it’s understandable some of the natty, dog-eared (and potentially dangerous) ways of the sixties have been tossed aside, and rightfully so. These days, not wearing bike helmets and seatbelts are against the law; as is letting four kids lay in the back of the station wagon to play cards whilst hurtling sixty miles per hour down a highway… So yeah, some things needed to change.
But has raising our children to be good, kind and decent adults; those who act with honesty, respect and integrity; have these also become things of the past? I sure hope not.
Two generations later, I now believe that many of the “so-called” rules, disciplines, veiled threats and forced babysitting gigs we endured weren’t just about keeping us kids in line. No, they were our parents way of teaching us to get along with others, learn confidence, make good choices, and take responsibility for our behaviours and actions.
Put another way, discipline and respect were how sixties parents taught sixties kids to be decent human beings, the kind who could eventually function as adults in society. Not teaching newer generations these things potentially sets them up for adulthoods of failure, insecurity, loneliness and lost opportunities both personally and professionally.
A colleague of mine complains of a twenty-year-old employee where they volunteer that habitually shows up at their service job ten minutes late. When the guilty party does finally arrive, they’ll toss an insincere “sorry I’m late” (plus a bullshit excuse) toward whomever is waiting to go home, all while sipping the Starbucks extra hot soy milk latte they–you guessed it–stood in line an ironic ten minutes for. This scenario plays out every shift, without fail; but why?
Why don’t their parents teach them this isn’t acceptable behaviour? Why doesn’t their boss give them an ultimatum to respect the workplace rules? I don’t know why; what I do know is our latte’ hero wrongly believes being late and disrespecting their co-workers (and their workplace) is okay behaviour when it’s absolutely not. So what gives?
In her book, The Blessing of a Skinned Knee, clinical psychologist Wendy Mogel offers insight on why some children don’t respect authority figures. She says when parents are disrespectful to authority figures (police, teachers, little league coaches, spouses, etc.), they teach their kids to be disrespectful to authority figures, including those most prominent in their children’s lives – themselves.
It’s the old, “Do as I say, not as I do” parenting style; and it’s not just about respecting authority figures. It’s about things like being late for work everyday and not giving a shit about who is inconvenienced by it. Go figure.
So yeah, part of the Millennial and Gen X and Gen Z and Gen Whatever’s behaviours like a lack of respect for others, habitual tardiness, negative attitudes or the Instagram viewpoint that hard work for a nice lifestyle is beneath them are all reflections of learned behaviour; behaviour often taught by the adults in their lives. Adults like former sixties kids, including me. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
My thought is this: Regardless of who we are, how old we are or which generation we represent, let’s set positive examples of how to treat other people. Let’s err on the side of kindness and consider other people before ourselves. When we do this, we set an example for younger generations to follow, which can only be a good thing, right?
And what’s the most effective way for us to do these things? It’s quite simple, really.
Approach everything in life like it was the sixties (except the part about not wearing seatbelts or bicycle helmets), and the threat of a grumpy after-work dad is at hand. We can do the things we say we’ll do. Be respectful to others. Show up on time. Above all, let’s set an example so young people can see the proper ways successful adults live, and treat other human beings.
That said, on blistering hot summer days, we should always drink from a garden hose, and do you know why?
Cause that’s how sixties kids roll, baby.
Author Bio: David Knapp-Fisher
As founder of The Inspired Humans Project, David loves sharing inspirational stories. His TEDx talk, “Discipline or Regret, a Father’s Decision” been viewed over 112,000 times, and his book, “Punch Failure in The Face, The Buy It a Beer” has 36 five star reviews on amazon.ca.
David lives in Victoria B.C. and spends most of his time trying (& usually failing) to stump his son with movie trivia or planning his next big adventure; both while drinking great coffee, of course.