Pub­lic per­ma­nent ado­les­cents

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - Suzanne Fields

Apop­u­lar book pub­lished at the end of the ‘50s, the decade once blamed for ev­ery­thing bad, ex­am­ined the plight of the young at the mercy of bi­ol­ogy, kids need­ing the coun­sel of grown-ups en route to com­pe­tent ma­tu­rity. The au­thor of “The Van­ish­ing Ado­les­cence,“ one Edgar Frieden­berg, failed to dis­cern ex­actly what was com­ing into fo­cus at the dawn of the Age of Aquar­ius. The baby boomers were pack­ing the bags they would one day carry into their se­nior years.

Ado­les­cence didn’t van­ish; it tri­umphed. The “never trust any­one over 30” gen­er­a­tion be­came the gen­er­a­tion that in­sists that ev­ery­thing is due them once they’re over 60. They‘ve re­placed the il­le­gal pot that eased the psy­cho­log­i­cal pain of grow­ing up with pre­scrip­tion drugs that as­suage the aches of grow­ing old. P.J. O’Rourke in the Weekly Stan­dard writes only half in jest of the com­ing drain on So­cial Se­cu­rity: “How can present So­cial Se­cu­rity al­lot­ments be ex­pected to fund our sky­div­ing, bungee-jump­ing, hang glid­ing and white-wa­ter raft­ing, our ski­ing, golf and scuba ex­cur­sions, our photo sa­faris to Africa, bike tours of Tus­cany and so­journs at In­dian ashrams, our ten­nis clin- ics, spa treat­ments, gym mem­ber­ships and per­sonal fit­ness train­ing, our lux­ury cruises to the Gala­pa­gos and Antarc­tica, the vacation homes in Hil­ton Head and Vail, the lap pools, Jacuzzis, and clay courts be­ing built thereat and the his and hers Har­ley-David­sons?”

The po­lit­i­cal im­pli­ca­tions are im­mense. Ex­pen­sive braces to straighten crooked teeth are cheap com­pared to the cost of the new hips, knees, ar­ter­ies, hearts, lungs and kid­neys that will have to be cov­ered by tax­payer con­tri­bu­tions to Med­i­caid and Medi­care. But bet­ter, in their view, paid by the tax­payer than the af­flu­ent boomer. When Hil­lary Clin­ton was over­heard by a re­porter to say that she would ask wealthy Amer­i­cans to pay more in pay­roll taxes to save So­cial Se­cu­rity, she quickly re­treated to cover in the dimly lit cave of “fis­cal re­spon­si­bil­ity.” The free lunch has be­come the free din­ner at the gourmet restau­rant.

John McCain played gotcha! with Hil­lary’s profli­gacy by mock­ing her ear­mark for a mil­lion dol­lars of tax­payer money to pay for a mu­seum com­mem­o­rat­ing Wood­stock. The Bea­tles weren’t kid­ding when they sang: “Will you still feed me when I’m 64.”

Real ado­les­cents have the ex­cuse of rag­ing hor­mones and un­con­trol­lable urges. The new PMS is a post-menopausal syn­drome de­mand­ing the re­cap­ture of youth, a kind of boot for the mind be­hind the wrin­kled brow. It was not ever thus. The ado­les­cent of the ‘50s was mythol­o­gized in the movies “Rebel With­out a Cause” and “The Wild One.” When a per­plexed grown-up asked Mar­lon Brando, the wild one, “What are you re­belling against?” he replied: “Watcha got?” The baby boomers that fol­lowed dis­cov­ered lots to rebel against, hav­ing to grow up and be­come wise most of all. The teenage tem­per tantrum worked. The kids got their way as the grown-ups lost theirs.

Some peo­ple blamed the Viet­nam War and Richard Nixon for lead­ing to the for­fei­ture of the re­spect adults had al­ways counted on. My mother thought the in­tro­duc­tion of flip-flops as per­mis­si­ble footwear was what started it all. Be­hav­ior that was once “good” or “bad” was re­duced merely to “ap­pro­pri­ate” and “in­ap­pro­pri­ate.” Lit- tle girls ex­changed their dolls with di­a­pers for Bratz Babyz with fish­net stock­ings and filmy tank tops. Lit­tle boys learned about pimps and ho’s from pop­u­lar mu­sic.

Boomers came of age ea­ger to of­fend ev­ery­body but were so in­dulged that any­thing that of­fended them be­came taboo. The so­cial slights sen­si­tive ado­les­cents al­ways de­cried were writ large with nar­cis­sis­tic per­cep­tion cod­i­fied in po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness. Edgar Frieden­berg’s “Van­ish­ing Adoles- cence” has been suc­ceeded by books an­a­lyz­ing per­pet­ual ado­les­cence. Charles Sykes, in his “50 Rules Kids Won’t Learn in School,” looks at what hap­pens to chil­dren and grand­chil­dren of boomers who suf­fered in­sti­tu­tional and parental per­mis­sive­ness. Rule 4 of the rules not learned: “You are not en­ti­tled.” Ex­am­ples in­clude “the dou­ble latte with cream, Michael Jor­dan run­ning shoes, a cell phone with lim­it­less text-mes­sag­ing. “You’ll have to work for all of it,” he writes, “and then fig­ure out how to pay for it.”

Diana West in her book, “The Death of the Grown-Up,” says trou­ble be­gan when chil­dren started as­pir­ing to ado­les­cence rather than adult­hood. They re­placed in­for­ma­tion with an­i­ma­tion: “More adults, ages 18 to 49, watch the Car­toon Net­work than watch CNN.” An ado­les­cent lurches within min­utes from fear and in­se­cu­rity to self-con­fi­dence and bravado. But a cul­ture sus­tains per­pet­ual ado­les­cence at deadly peril. It’s our col­lec­tive iden­tity cri­sis.

Suzanne Fields, a colum­nist for The Wash­ing­ton Times, is na­tion­ally syn­di­cated.

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