My generation included activities not as apparent for Generations X and Y. Yes, we went to school, did homework, waited for Christmas and Easter and summer vacations. These were not entitlements, by the way. We believed they were rewards for being good kids, as well as holidays from hard work. We also had after-school clubs and sports, went to parties, loved making and getting calls from friends and, if we were girls, waiting for a certain special boy to make our hearts and feet race on our way to the phone.
What differs between Alpha Generation, born in the years between 2000 and 2012; and Baby Boomers, born from the mid-1940s to mid-1960s? What about the other people born between these two ends of the graph? As children and teenagers, the Boomers had no computers, no cell phones, no electric car windows, no dirt bikes, videos, or CDs; in short, they had very little instant anything. Encyclopedias, Basic television, public swimming pools (backyard pools for the lucky), rock and roll, vinyl records, dial phones, Kangaroo Shoes, skates, bicycles, and teeter-totters were among the standards of youth.
Generation Xers, born between 1965 and 1980, shared all the things the previous generation had. In addition, they saw the spurt of technological innovation with early computers, clunky cell phones, and more television channels. They came into a world experiencing a great deal of social change. Forward looking, the youngest gravitated to modern gadgets with a fascination that could be perplexing, even frightening, to Boomers.
By 1980 and stretching into the mid-nineties, Generation Y or Millennials, were the first to grow up surrounded by electronic and cyberspatial wonders. Generation Z, arriving between the late-nineties through 2012, take all electronic devices for granted. Perhaps, some even view them as extensions of their own anatomy. The latter may be disturbingly true for the very youngest generation, Alpha. Alphas are now about ten years of age; their group will bear the moniker A Generation until in a very few years, another generation displaces them as the baby.
As these somewhat arbitrary, age-grouped divisions reveal, technology threatens to damp down some of the most natural impulses and joys of child- and young adult- hood. The first half page of my children’s book The Titus Gift reads:
"I said, 'I am so-o-o-o bored,'" Erica told Tommy. He had lost count of how many times. "There's nothing, nothing, NOTHING to do around here!"
"I heard you, I heard you, and I HEARD you! And even if there was something to do, you'd be bored today," her brother answered. "Wanna know why?"
Erica made her nastiest face and turned away.
"I'll tell you why, anyway," Tommy insisted. "You're bored because you can't go visiting faraway places like your swanky friend Alicia. Plus, you're mad at her for going, not staying here and being bored with you!"
It was true, and Erica was furious with Tommy for being right when she felt so wrong. "Liar. You're just a big, fat liar!" she said. "I don't care if Alicia gets to go all over the world fourteen million hundred times!" But no matter how hard she tried, Erica would never be able to convince Tommy she didn't care, especially once the tears began to spill down her face.
Erica and Tommy are among the first Boomers. Moreover, they live in a rural area. Once school is out, they are on their own. Illness and financial hardship add to the discomfort of their isolation. What sees them through are imagination, a loving family, and a neighbor who seems to know them better than they know themselves. In hindsight, I suspect I wrote the story for myself, or for the aspects of myself represented by those kids. Even now, theirs is a world I would like to inhabit, at least for the length of time it takes to read the book.
Young children, if we as adults have forgotten, are innately imaginative, curious, and eager to form loving relationships with others. I fervently believe they do this most effectively with those who love them first, who show them through their behavior that life is a gift of immeasurable consequence. Beyond food and clothing and a safe roof—obviously fundamental to their well-being--young children need affection. Engage their wonder and sense of adventure, their need to receive and to feel compassion, and their growing confidence in a welcoming world, and parents will have done much of the formidable work their roles demand. One activity can help provide these essentials and instill humor and awe: Reading. Reading aloud, even to very young children, makes a connection between books and affectionate attention from a relative or friend. The infant associates the reader’s voice, identifying it with someone focused entirely on this attentive activity. As beginning readers continue story time, they gradually memorize the story’s words, pretending to read, then actually reading them. Older siblings bond with younger ones when they assume the role of story teller.
In my view, certain elemental needs obtain, whatever your generation: safety, sustenance, affection, boundaries, the ability to imagine. Hypersonic SFX, CGI,
manufactured thrills and paint-by-the-numbers experiences cannot truly rival genuine human affection and guidance. Unless bred away from the real joys of running through the sprinklers, climbing a tree, roller skating till you’re tired enough to go home, walking with a three-dimensional friend having an “old-fashioned” conversation, and leaning against a grandmother’s shoulder while she reads from the Yellow Fairy Tale Book or Mother Goose or Raggedy Ann, not many healthy children will opt first for living via computer.
The joy of reading to people is mutual. The Titus Gift engaged a classroom of fourth-graders for the three weeks I visited them. I have no reservations expressing how much fun it was for me to hear-read my own story, and to receive the rapt attention and flurry of questions from those kids. To this day, unashamedly, I declare that I will willingly read to someone, as well as gratefully listen to someone who wants to “tell me a story.” The experience is deeply satisfying, almost a lullaby, bringing with it the sensory recollection of people in my upbringing who took the time to sit with me, open a book, and expand my world.