Kids these days… I’ve had a couple of conversations today where elements of youth and the dynamics of living on opposite sides of the “age” divide come into play. A senior professor at a university spoke of his realization of his own “migration” from one to the other. After a promotion and tenure meeting where two junior professors had been granted tenure, he offered comments about his memories of being on the other side – when he was a junior professor, suspicious of the established old fogies who were entrenched into their ways and lived in their own little worlds. Now, being among the “old fogies,” he viewed the idealistic, sometimes fearful, new faculty with a level of “paternalistic” concern for their over-eagerness. Relax, he wants to say to them; hold on for the long haul. In a way that I do not remember hearing so much before here in the Village, I have heard some of the long-term staff talking about the “college kids” who are here as part of the shorter term staff. There is a high degree of appreciation for their work, commitment and idealism, but there is also a deep awareness that there is some kind of “divide” here. I imagine that those “college kids” have their own awareness about it as well.
In both conversations, I found myself thinking about Jesus’ words to his disciples: “There is much yet I need to tell you, but you are not ready to hear it.” In both cases I also commented about the image of “migration” as a helpful way to think about the transition from childhood into adulthood – this process that has become increasingly complicated and long in our society. While previous generations and cultures have had (some still do) clear markings of entering into adulthood – going out into the woods to become a man, Quiñceañeras or debutantes – the transition in most of Western culture is not clearly marked and it has been extended. Teenagers are the “immigrants” making their way from the world of childhood into the world of adulthood. The latter is a world foreign to them, one where they must learn new language, customs, values, worldview, etc. The differences, of course – as highlighted in part by the comments from the professor above – are often heightened by our own anxieties. We do indeed have much more in common with one another. To think of teenagers as a “tribe apart” may not be the most helpful.