Observations: These kids today

Published on: August 14, 2013

My nephew Zach with his wife Sarah at their wedding reception on Saturday. Okay, so they may be messy with cake but we don’t have to worry about young people today. They’ll be just fine. Photo Mitch Traphagen

My nephew Zach with his wife Sarah at their wedding reception on Saturday. Okay, so they may be messy with cake but we don’t have to worry about young people today. They’ll be just fine. Photo Mitch Traphagen


Young people have been in the news lately, and most of that news hasn’t been particularly favorable. If you have read any such articles you could be left with the impression that young people today are unmotivated, have an unrealistic sense of entitlement, are still living with their parents (who still drive them around) and, generally, are unemployed.

The latter two speak, perhaps, more of the current economic climate than they do about young people but the prevailing sense is that young people are lazy and seem to believe that iPhones and other luxuries are considered necessities of life — and are absolute expectations without the recognition that such things must be paid for with money and work.

I have learned that the news is wrong. It seems every generation believes that the following generation is filled with slackers, a mindset that almost certainly began long before, but was likely heightened by, the generation clash of the late 1960s. Yet the mindset continues on today, it’s the same but different, reflecting a far different world.

The past weekend was filled with the kind of young people the news seems to be overlooking. Michelle and I flew up north to see my nephew marry a beautiful and smart young woman. To leave for even an overnight trip, we hire a dog sitter to stay at our house with our pets. For this four-day trip, two young women joined forces to handle the spoiled quadrupeds. Alexa and Sammie were wonderful. They put up with our many text messages and, through a security camera mounted at the front door that points down to a cat dish set out in the hopes we’ll see our still-lost cat, we noticed that they even took off their shoes before going into the house, which made them far more conscientious than me, despite that I have blue jeans that are older than the two of them.

For most of my life I’ve lived away from home, making the journey back to Minnesota once or twice a year, and in my mind my brother’s three boys are frozen as children excited about opening wrapped toys at Christmastime. But the reality is that all three already have their own lives, one was married a few months ago and now the second of three was getting married.

This weekend, in the span of a mere instant, time and reality caught up with me. Those three kids tearing open presents at Christmas were grown men, speaking eloquently in public as they offered up toasts to their brother and his new wife during the wedding reception. All three of them have college degrees and have their own careers, most notably careers that serve and help others. 

Zach, the nephew who was the reason for the trip, got married on Saturday and on Monday was coaching football practice at the school at which he teaches in rural Minnesota. So much for unmotivated young people.

At the wedding reception, I reconnected with teachers I had in school, all of whom have since retired and yet they all looked much the same as they did three decades ago. If kids are really getting worse by the day, it certainly wasn’t apparent on their faces. They clearly enjoyed educating and, the truth be told, taking care of our kids through a few generations. Coming from a family of teachers, I know all too well that their jobs are not easy — but that generally isn’t due to the kids.

The reception was over and before long the dance started and some differences between kids of old and kids today became clear in the music that erupted from the speakers. Suffice to say that I recognized very little of it and Michelle and I decided that tired old folks like us could easily slip out unnoticed to get ready for bed.

The next day as we boarded our flight home to Tampa, Michelle sent a text message to Alexa and Sammie asking if they could let the dogs out one last time during the early evening hours. “Yes, Ma’am,” came the immediate reply, along with a little smiley face. On the plane we speculated about the condition of the house. With three shedding dogs, cleaning at our place is an industrial operation involving a vacuum cleaner that costs roughly that of an older used car. They’re just kids, we thought, so we probably should be prepared to clean up, despite the late night arrival of our flight. We’ve had a number of wonderful pet-sitters over the years and we know very well that a person really has to be motivated to manage the daily deluge of fur.

Exhausted after a long day of travel, we unlocked the door and were greeted by a bunch of overly happy dogs. On the table was a note that began, “Dear Mr. and Mrs. Traphagen….”. It went on to say that they cleaned up a little and they hoped everything was okay.

The house was immaculate.

And with that, I was struck that I had some growing up of my own to do. Alexa and Sammie aren’t kids, any more than my grown nephews are kids. They are all just young people trying to make their way in life, with jobs and responsibilities and dreams that are all their own. Like those of us who came before them, and those who came before us, they are decent, caring, people motivated to doing something good.

What I learned this weekend was that we don’t have to worry about kids today. Sure they like their iPhones and other expensive toys — so do I — but they’ll be just fine. These kids today are something else. In fact, they might even be something better than their parents (and uncles) could ever hope to be.