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by Ron Cruger
On being a kid then and now
2013 Spectator Ron - The Spectator All Rights Reserved
       A news story about a nearby town and its problems with youth gangs appeared in today’s newspaper. It told of the town having a dozen racially based gangs – offering kids “friendship, protection and purpose.”
       This smallish city is home to 12 gangs having 615 actual gang members and 447 affiliate members. Some of the more dangerous gangs require an initiate to kill someone in order to be eligible for membership.
       Today a kid can be killed if he or she wanders into a gang area wearing the wrong colored shirt. The pressure on a pre-teen or teenager to join a gang today must be enormous. So much so that I can’t even imagine what it’s like.
       Looking back and comparing growing up in the 1950’s with growing up today makes it appear that I had led an impaired, slow and limited youth.
Today a teenager must understand hand signs and graffiti. Must be critically aware of their shirt color. Must know in which neighborhoods danger lurks. Danger that could involve automatic weapons and drive by shootings.
In the 1950’s the height of being an intrepid devil-may-care teenager would be to own a Red Ryder BB gun and knock off a couple of tin cans sitting on a back yard fence. During four years of high school I heard rumors about 2 or 3 of the really “rough” guys in school experimenting with marijuana. Out of hundreds of students a few smoked cigarettes. Very few of my schoolmates owned cars. Parking lots adjacent to high school campuses were filled mostly with teacher and staff cars. Being a teenager and driving a car then meant your parents were rich.
Teenagers today probably know more about sex by the time they’re 16 years old than we know at 50, 60 or 70. Playboy magazine was thought to be the ultimate “dirty” book. A kid can see more in 10-minutes on the internet than all the Playboys ever printed. I remember just turning 13 and asking my mother to tell me what “this sex thing was all about.” My mother, told me, “It’s a beautiful thing, son. A beautiful thing between a man and a woman.” Then she handed me a book, “Sex Explained for Teenagers.” I headed for me bedroom, read the book and checked out the pictures which confused and embarrassed me. The rest of my sex education I learned from the guys in high school who were more advanced than me. I still think kids know far more today in high school than we ever imagined (or fantasized).
Many high schools today have installed metal detectors to catch students carrying firearms and knives to class. Private guards and police patrol hallways to prevent violence. School lockers are being eliminated and replaced by bulky backpacks. The lockers too often were repositories for drugs and weapons.
Kids are maturing much faster today. We could go 10 days before attempting to shave off a few scraggly whiskers. Today it is fashionable to have an unshaven countenance. Every rock and movie star must have a 3 day growth on their face in order to look cool so the kids copy them.
The worst thing that could happen to a young girl then was to become pregnant. Parents, relatives and towns would look down on an unmarried young woman and the young father like pariahs and most would shun both. Today there is an epidemic of young pregnancies.
Back then (and I mean way back) kids had to learn multiplication tables (you know, 9 times 12 equals 108. 6 times 8 equals 48). Today every kid has a hand held calculator that takes guessing out of the equation. Laptop computers are standard learning aids, containing billions of pages of helpful information for all students.
Every high school actually taught handwriting skills. Students were subjected to hours of making uniform circles so that upon graduation they could write legibly and uniformly. Today using a computer keyboard is all that is necessary for a student to matriculate.
Today’s high schoolers carry I-Pods containing 500 of their favorite tunes in addition to cell phones that permit them to text messages to another student 3 seats away. Their favorite TV programs can be watched on the same cell phone during recess (do they still have recess?) or during a boring class.
Our cafeterias featured greasy hamburgers, hot dogs, chili and other delicacies that soon attached to our aortas. Today’s menus are created by health nutritionists and offer extended life to students.
We walked or rode bicycles to school. Today’s kids have their own cars, ride on buses or are driven by a concerned mother in a comfortable SUV outfitted with its own television set, DVD players, cup holders and computer outlets.
We watched Superman, The Lone Ranger and the Mickey Mouse Club on television. Today kids watch “Prison Break,” “CSI,” “Desperate Housewives” and “South Park.” Today they learn more about the realities of life in one evening than we did during our 4 year tenure in high school and a few years after to boot.
Kids today are larger, (also fatter) smarter, know more about sex and the world around them than we did. It’s much more difficult to be a kid today. They have so many more serious temptations facing them than we did.
Our days and nights were slower and simpler.