We were at a bowling alley this afternoon with the kids when it happened.
Her 11 and 12-year-old, boy and girl, were complaining; they don't usually complain much, but they were clearly not happy with the lane we had chosen.
They wanted the bumpers (the rails that keep the ball from going into the gutter) up.
My wife and I, allegedly fierce anti-smothering folks, told them they were getting too old for that – we would bowl with no advantage. They didn't seem to like it much, first quietly whining then outwardly pouting about it.
I asked one of the kids why this was such a big deal.
“It's not any fun to be bad at something!”
The other one chimed in, ” I wish the ball was as wide as the lane so every time all the pins would drop!”
The minute the words came out of their mouth, I looked at some of the other adjacent lanes and stopped breathing for what seemed like a minute. I noticed teenagers were bowling, bumpers up. Families with grown children, bumpers up. Everybody except us was playing it safe.
My reaction to my wife was not a predictable grumble about how today's kids are so soft and spoiled, and how horrible those other parents were coddling their kids like that. It was something completely unexpected.
Having fun to them might be becoming more important than competing. Enjoyment is preferable to winner-take-all.
I wondered aloud if a major transformational shift is happening in America, and if it's happening now.
I will preface my prediction by saying I live in ultra red, republican, bright white, SUV/minivan, everyone-has-kids suburbia. I will avoid awkward conversations at future family occasions by adding there are, of course, decent, kind people of all persuasions and ideologies here as well.
But if it's happening here, it's happening everywhere, hidden in plain sight.
Consider the following, please.
1) Americans have lost faith and trust in our politicians to solve our problems.
2) The middle class is vaporizing, having been nicely vaporized by the banks, the evil part of the 1%, and government policies from both parties.
3) People are exasperated, working harder than ever for less and less.
4) Millennials, 80 million strong, are largely color blind, laissez-faire on social issues of every kind. Gay marriage? Meh. Women's rights? Sure. Environment? Absolutely.
5) Kids 12-17 are awarded medals, trophies and pizza parties for finishing last in a soccer tournament. It was fun enough just being there, apparently.
I wondered aloud at the bowling alley if the current crop of parents of young children, rather than hovering and helicoptering, might just be teaching – sending a very powerful subliminal behavioral message: it's not worth it anymore. There is no equality of opportunity. You can't win. You can't beat the corporate overlords and the politicians who suck them off. Maybe they're telling their kids they are fed up with trying and trying – and for what?
The current rules of capitalism demand that when one does well, something or someone else must suffer (employees, environment, etc).
Perhaps it's better to work to live, instead of the opposite – maybe this is the message our kids are being sent.
Is it too easy to crush helicopter parents as merely raising soft, spoiled babies, so they can grow up to ruin our republic? That sounds like a talk show subject.
We might be changing the meaning of what American capitalism means.
Perhaps we will witness an electoral revolution at the ballot box, starting with the midterms in 2014, where angry old white elites will attempt to preserve their wealth and privilege and unfair advantage via an election, but might be overwhelmed by a tsunami of really young voters (of all colors) who shrug their shoulders and vote for different people, not out of anger or for intellectual reasons, but because they simply believe the current douchebags need to go. Enough of this Democrat; enough of this Republican. Enough. Maybe we will decide to put our future under our own control again. Maybe we all have truly had our fill of this partisan war and its many nuclear options.
Perhaps the Millennials who look at leaders in Washington, D.C., recognize the obvious (out of touch, behind the times, not for them), will recognize they outnumber the entrenched and wrinkly elites, and decide to quietly level the field in a way that changes everything forever.
The kids are learning from their frazzled parents our leaders are running this nation straight into the ditch. We're divided, entrenched, unable and unwilling to compromise on anything.
It could get really interesting, when the young take control.
These people don't watch old-school cable news media, ever. It's a wasteland of things they don't care about – phony drama, prefabricated tension, conflict, partisanship and anger. That's not how they use media.They make things happen on their mobiles, their tribal interests shared with all.
A form of direct digital democracy could be embraced by many current 8-18 year olds and most Millennials. If you can toss out an annoying reality TV show contestant via iPad or Nexus, why not use it to run out leaders who don't do what they were told? Idiots, morons and nitwits would still able to participate, just like they do now, so it's not disenfranchising anybody.
As we adjust a national economy to live among the machines, the servers and the robots, this will forever change the way we work and live. Shoe retailer Zappos recently announced a corporate culture shift where hardly anybody reports to anybody about anything!
Maybe the parents at the bowling alley sense this, and in a subtle evolutionary way could very well be preparing the kids for a life that will be lived in a way that requires true sharing and citizenship, authentic community and buy-in to outcomes that benefit the many instead of the few; these outcomes will be digitally orchestrated, by the many.
History shows us great societies of the past did some remarkable things to gain traction when they were burgeoning. America is in the twilight of this phase of our existence, and the new next thing might appear nutso at first blush. But you and I are not going to be here much longer. The 10 year olds of today are in charge of what's next, and along with the machines, the game they will play will be unrecognizable to many of us.
When your neighbor kid brings home a 7th place ribbon next weekend from their soccer tournament, you will not be necessarily looking at a coddled child – you may be staring at the future.
And there's nothing you can do about it.