Thursday, November 03, 2005 | Children – that is, any person age 25 or younger – live in a world so different from the adult world that it could almost be described as a parallel universe.

This is nothing new. It was as true of my generation, in the 1940s, 1950s and into the 1960s, as it is today, except in the matter of degree. I am now 62. When I was 25 and younger, it was popular to say, “Never trust anybody over 30.” Yet we had to live with, and live like, the old fogies. It set up the sort of angst that began to show up in movies like “Blackboard Jungle,” and “Rebel Without a Cause.”

Here is a passage from my book “Warbirds,” which is about Texas high school football, but also about America in the 1950s: “American post-war mainstream culture, and the companies that marketed to it, was still adult-oriented, and in goods and services, movies and entertainment, the kids wore and watched and listened to the same things as their parents because that’s all there was. It was very much a youth culture that convened at the movies and in the hamburger joint parking lots, but the movie was ‘Three Coins in the Fountain,’ and Perry Como, Doris Day, Rosemary Clooney, Eddie Fisher and Patti Page sang practically all of the music coming out of the car radios.”

That all started to change after 1954, with the arrival in the youth awareness of Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry, and with the spread of television. But compared to 2005, the 1950s in America might as well have occurred on another planet. Last week, in the comic strip “Zits,” Jeremy’s mom has asked him to take out the trash. Jeremy, not moving from the couch, says, “Ages 14-25, $94 billion in discretionary spending.” His mom counters by offering to freeze his allowance. In the last panel, Jeremy, dumping the trash in the can, says, “The retail industry respects me more than my parents do.”

That’s not generally true, but it is true in most cases that the retail industry pays at least as much (and frequently more) attention to children than their parents do. The kids are spending the $94 billion on things they want and have been manufactured, created or organized for them. If parents researched their kids one-tenth as much as the retail industry does, millions of parent-child relationships would change. In 1954, parents didn’t have to pay attention to what was out there; it was all the same. In 2005, parents can’t keep up with what’s out there, even the ones who try. When my kids were teenagers, I watched MTV regularly, because it was the best way to find out what was going on in my kids’ world. I also tried to watch “The Simpsons.” But I failed. Bart didn’t interest me as entertainment. Neither did MTV, though it was fun to mute the sound and play old Patti Page LPs while Madonna and Aerosmith tore up the screen.

Kids today have terrific power. They have the retail industry wrapped around their little finger, and the media furiously develops products that shows children in control of their, if not the, world. In their world, the 2005 kids find it popular to say to anyone outside that world, that is, anyone over 30, “Don’t speak unless you’re spoken to.”

I have heard chatter coming from that world lately. In our college newspaper staff meeting a couple of weeks ago, a female student-reporter said female students in her classes have adopted anti-intellectualism as a tool of popularity. Apparently they are expending quite a bit of energy at their desks, affecting and maintaining an air of indifference. My student-reporter said when she raises a hand to contribute to the class discussion, the girls behind her roll their eyes at each other and say, “There she goes again.”

Then in the local media, a story has developed about a high school girl posing for artsy photos in a student-produced “literary” magazine. The girl is also a professional (though very much still at the portfolio-building stage) model. The story developed when her parents, who knew about her professional activities, became angry when the “lit mag” was published without their knowledge. Apparently the girl never told them about the project.

The parents are suing the school district, but that’s another story. The story here is about two recent examples of activity in the parallel-universe youth world that give us fogies useful information about that world. It is possible that kids in their youth world believe in their power, and that their power is greater than ours. They no longer are obligated to check with us, or to participate with us, and don’t expect us, or want us, to speak unless we are spoken to.

Troubling. It reminds me of “Lord of the Flies.” The little beasts, murderous in their power lust, become little boys again the instant an adult appears. In this story, 2005 may be the instant for adults to appear.

Journalist, author and educator Michael Grant has been putting his spin on San Diego, and the city putting its spin on him, since 1972. His Web site is at www.michaelgrant.com.

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