Magazine | April 22, 2019, Issue

The Revolution Will Not Be Fruitful

‘By the time you’re old and in an armchair, me and my friends will be taking over the world!”

That’s a recent quote from my ten-year-old — and yes, he said “me and my friends,” not “my friends and I.” Am I ashamed? Certainly not! That minor grammatical travesty is how you can tell that this declaration actually occurred in real life, unlike those highly suspicious, likely fake “wisdom from the mouths of babes” quotes that bubble up with alarming frequency from supposedly earnest writers on our loquacious old friend, the Internet.

In case you’ve never seen one of these journalistic doozies — they’re basically the equivalent of two outfielders crashing into each other trying to catch the same fly ball, except there’s only one person involved — they usually go something like this: “Hey, Internet! My very worried three-year-old just happened to ask me about the legal and environmental issues surrounding continuous-fossil-fuel-delivery systems and gas-pipeline transport. Why yes, I do happen to be writing a story on this very topic, and yes, I do happen to be on deadline. Why do you ask?”

The world is full of trickery and confusion, friends, and the best we can do is soldier on.

Anyway, at the time of the actual quote from an actual ten-year-old that actually happened in real life, my son was on the couch watching the NCAA basketball tournament, our cat somehow slumped across his forehead. Here’s the hilarious part: When he declared that he would one day grow up and take over the world — as an aside, I hope my proverbial armchair is planted in Portofino or the Seychelles when this happens — I was actually writing a story about that very topic, and I also happened to be on deadline. Holy cow! It was an ink-stained miracle.

Kids running the world, you see, is a hot topic these days — but it’s a topic that unfolds in weird and contradictory ways. You’ve no doubt, for instance, heard about the Democrats’ latest scheme to lower the voting age to 16. In early March, Representative Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts introduced, albeit unsuccessfully, a constitutional amendment in Congress to do just that. Later, Nancy Pelosi sang the idea’s praises. California and Oregon, meanwhile, are considering proposals to lower their voting ages for state and local elections — California’s to 17 and Oregon’s to 16.

Here it is obligatory to point out one’s own knuckleheaded nature at the age of 16, and I will not fail you now. When I was 16 and went skiing for the first time, I did not first learn to stop or turn. Instead, I went directly to a very large hill at the center of the resort that everyone could see. Next, I bombed straight down at Mach 2 before crashing through an entire ski-lift line (“Excuse me! Excuse me!”), sending people tumbling like dominos, before finally wiping out in a pile of rented equipment, mental shambles, and mortification. (Legal disclosure: No one was hurt!)

Oh, and I also once drove my Ford Econoline van — an old-school, full-size, Mystery Machine–scale wonder coated in eye-searing brown and tan stripes — halfway into a forest before running into a ditch and realizing I wasn’t even on a road at all. (In case you’re wondering, no mind-altering substances were involved in either incident. Being 16 was enough.)  

At this point, you can probably intuit where I stand on the whole let-’em-vote-at-16 thing. But there are also a few bizarre flip sides to the growing “children are the future, but we need to make it the future now, before they mature and change their minds” political craze. One, for instance, is the growing conviction on the left that it’s questionable to have kids at all.

In certain environmental circles, of course, soft Malthusianism is like a little black dress: It never goes out of style. Most recently, Democratic sensation Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez went viral with an Instagram plea to her 2.5 million followers: “There’s scientific consensus that the lives of children are going to be very difficult. And it does lead young people to have a legitimate question: Is it okay to still have children?”

So, in summary: We need young people to vote, because only they can save the planet from expiring in twelve years, but they also might want to stop having kids just in case. This is kind of a bummer for existing young people, if you ask me. Even if they manage to save the planet, there won’t be any newer, younger people in the future for them to boss around. They’ll miss out on one of the most fun things about being an adult!

I’m kidding, I’m kidding. However, speaking of bossing people around, we’ve come to our last weird cultural development surrounding children: the implicit assumption that they’re too hapless to do anything of importance on their own. (Except vote, of course!) The New York Times recently covered the phenomenon of “snowplow parenting,” in which terrified overachieving parents mow down “any obstacles in their child’s path to success,” so those children “don’t have to encounter failure, frustration, or lost opportunities.”

According to a new poll by the Times and the Morning Consult, moreover, 74 percent of parents with children aged 18 to 28 still made doctor’s appointments for their kids. Seventy-two percent reminded them of deadlines, including those for schoolwork. A bold 15 percent regularly texted or called their children to wake them up.

Yikes! This is madness. It is also super, duper weird. Whatever happened to learning things the hard way? Consider the wisdom I gained from the Epic Forest Van-Driving Ditch Dive of 1993.

Well, never mind. Go out and vote, young people! But be careful, and don’t do anything else! And maybe consider not making any new young people — people who are supposedly the future — in the future! Confused yet? Never fear. So is everyone else.  

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Readers write in on Patrick T. Brown's essay on parenting and Jack Fowler's piece on Mark Janus.

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