Nothing New Under the Sun

Written By: R.M. Strong
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"I had to go through the same thing when I went to school." Every parent has uttered this phrase, or something similar. We have used the phrase to comfort a kindergartener who comes home crying and to tell a freshman to suck it up and go back to school. But is it true?

As the old proverb states, there is nothing new under the sun. Everyone has had to deal with bullies, teachers, and peer pressure. There are still those students who get better grades than others. The popular students are still there-as are the loners. You can find that popular student who is friends with everyone.

Of course, some things have changed, as well. Students now have cell phones; MySpace; blogs; metal detectors in schools; terror alert levels; role models that are a size -3; different, more dangerous, drugs; iPods; on-line predators; and some are seeing their art, music, and sports going the way of VHS.

Communication between friends is a lot easier now with instant messaging (IM), e-mail, MySpace, blogs, and cell phones, but communication is more and more impersonal. There's much less face-to-face contact between friends-even good friends.

School violence is also on the rise. In addition to gang violence and bullies, since 1996, there have been over 30 school shootings. Most are not gang related, but a single frustrated boy with a grudge and a gun. Everyone remembers where they were when they heard about the most famous school shootings such as Columbine High in Colorado. Now, students are shocked to hear that there was a time when a school shooting would dominate a week of national news.

Our Cold War has been replaced with their War on Terror. The only difference with our war and theirs is that the terrorists have done much more to this country than the Soviets ever even threatened. Now, with alert levels and conflict overseas, there is a very real threat that students of all ages are acutely aware of, and it effects all of them.

The effect of the media on our young people is devastating. The epidemic of eating disorders is countered only by that of obesity. Girls, especially, are told that to be pretty they must wear a certain style of clothing and have the correct measurements. This is emphasized when girls do not have a supportive father-figure to tell her she is beautiful no matter what-even if she acts like she doesn't believe what he's saying. The encouragement of a trusted and safe adult man is important for young girls. Just as important is knowing who your daughter's friends are, and who is encouraging them.

Tobacco, drugs and alcohol were certainly in school a lot earlier than we were, but they seem to be much more dangerous now. Drugs and alcohol-either the obtaining of, or the results of consumption-are at the root of much of the teen crime and death. Peer pressure now is not to take a drag off an unfiltered cigarette, and you do not go to parties to hang out and watch movies.

iPods, iTunes, and other MP-3 players (portable and on the computer) have also made stealing more prevalent. Burning a CD for a friend is exactly the same-in the eyes of the industry-as stealing a CD from the music store. We are raising a generation that doesn't think twice about theft, and does it every day-that has to scare us!

One thing we have to worry about that our parents didn't are on-line predators. Sure, sex offenders have been around since the beginning of history, but the ease and anonymity given them by the Internet has only helped their cause. Predators cruise MySpace with impunity, and tell our students what they want to hear.

Don't get me wrong-the Internet is a wonderful thing. There are many excellent resources on the Web. But just as a gun is not evil-it's how you use it that makes it bad-the Internet can and is being used for evil intent. Most students do not know the dangers, or don't believe their e-friend could be like that.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. New advances in technology have made what was risky for us treacherous for students today. But just as when we were going to school, everyone's experience is different.

The next time you need to comfort that kindergartener or scold the freshman, take the time to sit down and talk with your child to see what is really going on-it may surprise you to see how they view the experiences we lived through. Use some of your personal experiences to comfort them, but keep in mind they-for better and worse-live in a world that is above and beyond the one we grew up in.

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