Thursday, 29 June 2017

Age segregation

This, I thought, was well-said:

"If you brought people from 300 years ago or 3,000 years ago to live among us now, if you dropped them out of a time machine, I think the first thing that would stun them is just simply our material abundance and our tools, and especially our digital tools. We have more built stuff than anybody in human history by huge magnitudes. I don’t think you could possibly arrive here and not first be surprised by our material abundance.

But if those folks stayed with us for a while, 30 days later, that would wear off, and the thing that would be most striking to people from other times and places living among us is how age-segregated we live. It is a really, really weird thing to allow our 17-year-olds to believe that the world is mostly made up of 17-year-olds. It’s strange, it’s not healthy, and it’s not true, and that’s the way we raise our kids. They are hyper, hyper age-segregated.

As the father of 15- and 13-year-old girls, I get that the pure slight of a 13- or 15-year-old girl really hurts. But it’s not really enduring if you have any wisdom. Right? If your 13-year-old knows 60-year-olds and 75-year-olds, and they’ve been through a lot of life experience, another 13- or 15-year-old girl saying something trite and mean to you, it’s water off a duck’s back if you have any perspective.

I don’t think we’re serving our kids very well by allowing them to live these hyper age-segregated lives. And that’s closely connected to the core driver of our perpetual adolescence category, which is that our kids don’t know the distinction in their belly, they don’t feel the distinction between production and consumption. They know aging through grades in school as their productive work time, and then the rest of life is just different forms of consumption. That’s really unsatisfying and it’s really unfair to them.

Again, this book is not a blame-laying book, but if I were laying blame in this book —

COWEN: And he’s not. [laughs]

SASSE: — I would not be blaming millennials. I would be blaming we parents and grandparents that we’re not helping think with our kids about the fact that we’re not celebrating scar tissue with them. Scar tissue is the foundation of future character, and they are able to persevere, and they need to develop a work ethic. They just happened to live at the richest time and place in human history, and so they live a life that’s almost entirely separated from productive work environments. That’s never been the case of anybody who’s ever grown up before, that they didn’t grow up around work.

One of the most basic things that makes you happy in life is thinking that you’re needed. My work, our work is needed. Not “Does my back hurt at the end of the day?” or not “Do I think I get paid enough money?” or not “Is there some annoying person three cubicles away who talks too loudly on his or her phone?” But when I leave home on Monday morning or whatever day you begin your workday or workweek, “Do I think anybody needs me?” If you think that, if your work matters to somebody, if you have a meaningful way to contribute to your neighbor, you’re basically going to be happy.

And if you don’t have that, you’re almost certainly not going to be happy. And right now, we’re raising our teens segregated from work, and therefore, segregated from any clear sense that they’re needed now or going to be needed in the future, and that ends up feeling a lot like cotton candy. It’s pretty Peter Pan–like and pretty miserable.


One last point: When I was a college president, we used to host these dinners for donors at our house. We would do these rolling salons of 8 and 10 and 12 people all the time. And one of the questions that my wife and I started to ask people, and it was fun if you were talking to a 45-year-old or an 85-year-old: “How do you recognize whether or not a kid or a grandkid is mature?”

And one time we were hosting this party, and this woman said, “Oh, that’s easy. For a boy I know for sure. If a boy is old enough that I would trust him to be alone with my baby for 90 minutes, such that he might have to change a diaper during the time he’s there, he’s a man. And if he’s not, he’s still a child.” And all these 30-year-old guys around the table started squirming in their seats . .

For some reason this put me in mind of Harry Potter. Harry Potter's life is not strictly age-segregated (how old is Hagrid? Dumbledore? Voldemort?) and his work matters - it's needed. Is part of the reason for the success of the books something to do with that? 

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