Saturday, September 1, 2007

When "kids" are no longer kids

When I wrote my post on the corrupted usage of the word "single" among the younger generations (though now that I think about it, it's not what single means that is telling, it's what it doesn't mean ), I had already noticed another similar trend: use of the word "kid" by those well into their twenties to refer to their peers.

It's easy to see where this comes from. It's natural for children and adolescents to refer to their peers as kids, and I can well remember doing this myself in high school: talking about the cool kids, the nerdy kids, the shop kids, etc. And if one remains a full-time student, it's easy to see how this habit could persist, especially since our society promotes prolonging adolescence until one's thirties. I've heard my fellow medical students employing this usage--talking about how many "kids" from this year's class are from such-and-such undergraduate institution, for example, or how many "kids" from the med school they saw at such-and-such bar over the weekend. Some of these people just graduated from college this May, but others have been working for a year or two. At my last job, I even had a co-worker, also a medical school applicant, who I think was 27 and did this. I think it's not merely a leftover habit from childhood but a sign of something deeper: that adults don't think of themselves as adults. In the past, a person of the age of majority would have been extremely self-conscious had he let the word "kid" slip in reference to those his age. Now people are using the word without irony, without thinking it's anything unusual.

And just as I've been thinking about this over the past few weeks, Diana West has been in the news with her new book The Death of the Grown Up. In an interview with Newsweek she says:

I remember being at a high-school party, and at 12 o’clock the mother comes into the middle of the room and blows a police whistle and says, “Thank you for coming, goodnight.” What parent would do that today? It’s the same thing with the spring-break syndrome, where kids are planning expensive trips, going out unchaperoned, they are drinking, debauching, absolutely running amok, yet the parents say, “I can’t do anything about it.” Parents have abdicated responsibilities to give in to adolescent desire.

This is reminiscent of the story of the Catholic high school in a wealthy Long Island suburb that cancelled its prom a few years ago because of not merely the debauchery, but the parent-sanctioned-and-funded debauchery that had accumulated around it. Parents were renting liquor-serving limos, chartering "booze cruises," and renting houses in the Hamptons for unchaperoned post-prom parties. Those were presumably parents in their late forties. How much worse will the next generation, those now in their early twenties, be with their children? Will they counter-rebel and return to traditional values, having realized the havoc they're wreaking on society? It's possible if things get bad enough, but it's going to be difficult as long as they think of themselves as "kids."

1 comment:

Vanishing American said...

Interesting post.
I agree that there is a kind of prolonged adolescence for most younger Americans, and it started really with my generation, the baby boomers. But to be fair, many of my generation were responsible and self-reliant.
I know a lot of younger people who do still think of themselves as kids when they are well into their twenties and older, and I know of many, many examples of these twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings who still live at home, or who keep returning home when they run into financial trouble, or they may have Mommy and Daddy supporting them even though they live on their own. Many parents today are keeping their children dependent and infantile. I don't know why; are they too indulgent, or do they want to keep their offspring dependent and thus closer to them?
My parents encouraged me to be independent as soon as possible. Nowadays it seems most parents are unwilling to push their 'kids' out of the nest.