Jim Fusilli, rock and pop reviewer for The Wall Street Journal, recently opined that Rolling Stone magazine’s Top 500 Songs of All Time reflected “boomer bias,” pointing out that a disproportionate number of selections were from the 1960s and 1970s. That got me thinking of the many times I’ve been accused of idealizing 1950s child rearing. I do, in fact, often compare the manner in which children were raised in those halcyon days with today’s “parenting,” daring to say that the 1950s was a much better time for kids.
One example: We controlled our games. We decided what, where, and when we were going to play. When we were of sufficient number, we picked the captains who choose the teams (so we learned to play both with and against everyone). We figured out who was going to play what position, the rules, fair versus foul, and so on. Today’s kids play organized sports that are micromanaged by well-intentioned but very misguided adults who actually think they’re doing them a favor. We may not have become better ball players (debatable) but we had more fun, developed better social skills, and we never got trophies for anything.
I maintain that compared with today’s kids, we boomers had much better manners, more respect for adults, and better social skills overall. For example, we looked people in the eye when we talked to them and we didn’t grunt. But in all fairness, we weren’t connected to cell phones and other forms of anti-social media. We wore our shirts tucked into our pants, which fit, and the only kid who wore his hat turned around backwards was the catcher on the baseball team.
It’s a fact that the mental health of children in the 1950s was considerably better than is the case concerning today’s kids. We were a whole lot less likely to become seriously depressed, commit suicide, or develop debilitating anxieties.
We were less violent. When I attended Valdosta High School in Valdosta, Ga., almost all the junior and senior boys came to school with guns in the trunks of their cars during hunting season. The principal knew, as did all the parents and teachers. No one was concerned. From what I gather, Valdosta High School was by no means unique in that regard.
Most boomers came to first grade not knowing their ABCs, yet we outperformed today’s kids at every grade level while sitting in what today would be considered overcrowded, underfunded classrooms. We achieved economic independence from our parents at earlier ages. By the time I was 24, I knew of no one my age still living at home. And we were not living in posh digs, by any means. My wife and I, for example, brought our first child home to a 40-foot long single-wide trailer. We got a ride from the hospital because we had no car. We ate lots of frozen chicken pot pies (after cooking them, of course). But we didn’t know we were poor. We were free! Today’s kids, by and large, are not programmed for deprivation of any sort.
I’ll stop there. Fusilli might say I suffer from “boomer bias,” but I most definitely do not. Tom Brokaw called my parents’ generation the Greatest Generation, but he was most definitely wrong. The Greatest of All American Generations was the generation of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and George Washington, but the next few generations still burned brightly. In 1839, Alexis de Toqueville wrote, “In America there is, strictly speaking, no adolescence. At the close of boyhood, the man appears.” It’s been sliding slowly downhill since then, I think, and more recently, it’s fallen off a cliff.
In short, I do not idealize the 1950s. Nonetheless, I am convinced there really is such a thing as the “good old days.”
Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his web site at www.rosemond.com.