Pulling out of the driveway last summer and looking over at the shaggy lawn in desperate need of mowing, this happened with my almost 12-year-old son.
Me: “When I was your age, I used to cut a bunch of yards in the neighborhood to earn money.”
Son (eyes never looking up from the iPod he didn’t pay for): “I’m having a different life than you ... a better one.”
He was right, of course. Yet he couldn’t have been more wrong.
Kids today are living much different lives than their parents, but here’s betting few of their parents will concede that different means better. Sure, just about every home has central air conditioning and you don’t have to sit through commercials or be limited to just three TV channels (plus PBS), but all these modern trappings don’t necessarily make life any more enjoyable than being shooed out of the house in the morning and not coming home until you heard the familiar distant scream of your mother calling you for dinner.
This old-man rant is brought to you by the news Thursday that 18 boys soccer players at Greenbrier High School were suspended and kicked off the team for drinking alcohol while on a school-sponsored team trip to a tournament in Jekyll Island.
Athletes breaking training rules is nothing new, of course. That’s been happening for generations, and the ones who got caught have always paid the same price.
What is unique to today’s generation is the method of detection – social media.
The Greenbrier kids busted themselves via Twitter, according to school administrators. Somebody saw it, passed it along to the school’s safety officer and further investigation into social media left smoking guns that held up in subsequent interviews.
This is the same way that the rapists on the Steubenville, Ohio, football team were ferreted out, incriminated by their own boastful text messages, photos and videos of their sexual assault on an unconscious girl at a party with numerous peers as witless witnesses eager to spread the word of the sordid activity they didn’t bother to stop.
In that case, social media exposed a horrific crime and, just as importantly, a culture of athletic entitlement and weak ethical conduct. We should be thankful for that.
We should also be thankful the Greenbrier kids didn’t get caught doing anything worse than drinking or (a couple of them) smoking a little synthetic marijuana. This was NOT another Steubenville situation of young athletes run amok and devoid of any moral code.
These were boys being boys – albeit very stupid ones doing it on a school-sponsored trip and then leaving a “paper trail” in the ether. The penalty for violating school policy and team training rules is the same as it ever was – suspension and barring from competition. It might ruin the season of the No. 2 team in Class AAAAA, but it won’t ruin their lives. It’s a lesson that hopefully they can learn from.
Aside from the obvious lesson that breaking rules and laws is wrong, perhaps this generation needs to learn to take a break from Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, put down the “smart” phones and look around the world. It’s a pretty beautiful place with a lot going on. Not every second of it needs to be instantly documented.
And these “conveniences” are largely just distractions – often dangerously so. Statistics illustrate that texting while driving is more dangerous than drinking and driving – the distracted driver taking longer to react to a hazardous situation while texting (70 feet) or glancing at e-mail (36 feet) than someone right at the legal limit for intoxication (4 feet). While driving under the influence has been universally demonized (and rightfully so), doing the same thing “intexticated” hasn’t inspired (yet) the same level of moral outrage.
Modern technology is infectious and can infiltrate all of our lives – even of the parents who should know better. Just this week I went to lunch with five colleagues. No sooner had we all sat down to our table at the Boll Weevil than all six of us were staring down at our phones – playing games or checking messages or Googling whatever was so important at the time that it precluded old-fashioned conversation.
Our hurried and electronically obsessed lives today aren’t necessarily any better than they were 30 or 40 years ago when E-ticket meant the best rides at Disney World and twitter was the sound of the birds you heard while playing in the woods. As often as not, our gadgets are just a distraction from actually living.
Perhaps it would be better if our kids put down the iPhones and smelled the freshly mown grass and the sweat of their own labor. It won’t prevent boys from being boys, but it might make them more aware.