Having missed out on involved grandparents, the author urges older folks to seize their chance to positively impact their grandchild's life.
Adapting to Change
No matter how often you color your hair, get Botox injections, and eat avocado toast, you seem old and outdated if you don't keep up with the latest language and cultural shifts happening around you. If you still refer to Asians as Orientals, objectify co-workers by complimenting their hotness, and think gender fluid involves drinking lots of water, you need to stop rocking the Lycra leggings and undertake a cultural makeover. Don't resist by saying you're not into political correctness. That's just a cop-out, arrogance, or sheer laziness.
As a 54-year-old mother of two teenage sons, I know firsthand the challenges of keeping up-to-date in our rapidly changing world. When I was a kid, everything was black and white: boys were boys, girls were girls, and everyone was either gay or straight (if you called yourself bisexual, you were considered truly radical). Today, we have new terms. Non-binary is for those who identify as neither male nor female. Cisgender is for someone like me who was born biologically a female and comfortably identifies as a women (or a biological male who comfortably identifies as a man). Transgender is for someone who was born biologically male or female but identifies as the opposite gender.
For our mental and emotional well-being, we older folks should make an effort to adapt and stay connected to younger generations instead of isolating within our own like-minded peer group. After all, it keep us vital members of society rather than being put out to pasture before our time. Here are six things we should stop saying and doing because they make us seem old and outdated.
1. Using Obsolete Labels
To stay current, we must accept that words matter and language is always changing. We must remain flexible and not resist new labels. Fortunately, the internet is a wonderful tool to keep us up-to-date on terms—many of which are actually old ones that have recently been reclaimed. Today, for example, young gay people prefer queer while some older ones still find it offensive. Both young and old dislike homosexual, saying it's used as a pejorative by conservative pundits who stretch out the five syllables in an exaggerated fashion.
While still frequently spoken, the once politically-correct term African American is now rejected by many who prefer to be called Black. Those we now call little people were once deemed midgets and dwarfs while those with intellectual disabilities were once labeled retarded. When in doubt, it's always an act of compassion to ask what term the person prefers. Purposefully using an outdated label is bigoted and unkind.
2. Dismissing Kids' Food Allergies
When we older folks were in school, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were a staple in lunch boxes across the country. We gobbled down cupcakes at birthday parties and drank whole milk with every meal. Today, however, many youngsters have serious (and even life-threatening) allergies to common foods such as nuts, shellfish, eggs, milk, and wheat. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of children with food allergies rose 18 percent from 1997 to 2007.
My father-in-law refuses to acknowledge his grandson's serious food allergies, thinking it's just a bunch of nonsense. His daughter and her husband can no longer trust their son in his care because he refuses to educate himself on the issue. Now their relationship with him is strained and grandpa and grandson are missing out on many fun times together. While scientists struggle to understand the cause of this dramatic increase in childhood allergies, we older people should realize they're a real thing and not “all in the head” like my father-in-law insists.
3. Glorifying the Past
When you're stuck in a narrative that everything was better “in the good old days,” you seem ignorant of how women and minorities were treated in history. The past wasn't better for blacks during slavery, Jim Crow, and before civil rights legislation. The past wasn't better for women when they didn't have access to contraceptives, were considered old maids if they didn't marry, and were discouraged from pursuing higher education and high-paying careers. The past wasn't better for gays when they had to hide their sexuality, couldn't marry, and faced discrimination at school, in the workplace, and while trying to find housing. Listening to someone glorify the past and ignore all the progress we've made is a bore and makes younger people tune out in disgust.
4. Not Caring About the Environment
When older folks brush off climate change and continue to live a life of over-consumption, they're being insensitive to what young people face today. The warming of our planet concerns them greatly, leading many to adopt dramatic lifestyle changes. To decrease their carbon footprint, they walk, ride bikes, or use public transportation rather than drive. Some refuse to buy a car. They're adopting restrictive diets, becoming vegetarians or vegans, so more trees aren't cut down for grazing cattle (scientists say 18% of all greenhouse emissions are associated with meat consumption worldwide).
Perhaps the biggest burden placed on young adults is the new pressure not to have children. Scientists say the most effective way to reduce emissions is for humans to have fewer offspring. Unlike previous generations who were told to go forth and populate the earth, today's young people are receiving the opposite message. Some of them believe having kids is now an act of selfishness and may have dire consequences for our planet. So it's not enough for us older folks to think we're doing our fair share by using cloth grocery bags and buying low energy light bulbs. We need to be sensitive to what younger people face during this critical time and accept some blame for being poor stewards of the earth.
5. Rejecting Popular Culture
Rap is not everyone's cup of tea nor are the current crop of superhero movies showing on movie screens across the nation. But when we turn up our noses at everything in popular culture, it makes us seem like old fogies. To connect with younger people and make ourselves feel a part of society, it's important to appreciate some aspects of contemporary culture. Whether it's listening to a pop music station, watching trendy television shows, or taking an interest in the latest fashions, we must keep current to connect with younger people. Otherwise, we isolate with our own kind and become close-minded.
My 67-year-old neighbor, Joan, has three teenage granddaughters who love everything about the Kardashians. Joan would listen to them chatter about Kim, Khloe, Kendall, and Kylie and felt left out of the conversation. She decided to start watching the weekly Kardashian reality show to help her understand. Soon she got hooked and now connects with her granddaughters in a fun and frivolous way but also imparts important lessons about the superficiality of fame and fortune and the pitfalls of the selfie generation.
There are many stereotypes of the past that are now seen as bigoted: the gay hairdresser with the pronounced lisp, the lazy Mexican who naps all day, the hippy-dippy vegetarian who smokes weed and meditates, and the stupid, racist Southerner who drives a truck and guzzles beer. Many of us older folks, who grew up in a less diverse society, got our impressions of various groups from television. I grew up in Oakland, California where I never came in contact with Southerners. I only knew them from shows I watched: Hee-Haw, Gomer Pyle, and Beverly Hillbillies. It's no wonder I developed the notion they were all dumb and gullible but with hearts of gold.
Unlike us older folks, young people today have grown up having daily contact with a diverse group of individuals at school, at work, on sports teams, and at the mall. They rely on their personal experiences with gays, Latinos, Southerners, Muslims, and blacks, not stereotypical depictions from television. They understand much better than we do that humans are more alike than different.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2017 McKenna Meyers
McKenna Meyers (author) on February 15, 2018:
Thanks, Thelma, for your kind words. One of my teenage sons asked me recently how I distinguish someone who is 40 from someone who is sixty! To him, everyone from 30-100 looks the same -- old!
Today, after yet another school shooting in the U.S., I can't help but think of all of the teens and children here traumatized by the every day activity of going to school.There have been 18 school shootings in 2018 already! There was a threat today at my sons' high school so I told them they didn't need to go, but they both went.
Social media, in all its superficiality, is making kids anxious and depressed. I'm so glad I didn't have it as a child. Kids are spending hours and hours on their phones each day, including lots of time on them at school when they should be interacting with others (and learning)!
Perhaps, your younger relatives know you did have a happier, more carefree existence as a kid and they envy that. I just think kids have it hard today. They don't have a lot of reason to trust the adults in charge.
Thelma Alberts from Germany on February 15, 2018:
Very well said. I am older than you are and I can relate to some of what you have written here. I have noticed that when I talked about good old days to my younger relatives, they said annoyingly, "yep, those old f..k..g days." Thanks for sharing your wonderful and interesting hub.
McKenna Meyers (author) on November 30, 2017:
So true, Dora. I try not to glorify the past with my sons, try to keep it real. I point out things that are much better now. For example, their high school socials are a big improvement. Kids can go alone, in groups, or in pairs. There are activities, games, and refreshments, not just dancing. Mine were horrible--boys on one side of the gym and girls on the other, everybody just standing around, desperate and miserable.
Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on November 30, 2017:
Your article is so important. Some younger people turn up their noses when older people being to talk about their good old days. I started down that path of doubt about food allergies; I know better now. You made great points and offered helpful perspectives.
McKenna Meyers (author) on November 30, 2017:
That's a terrific point, Venkatachari. When we stay open-minded to a changing world, our kids respect us more. They can relate to us. This, in turn, makes them more receptive to what we want to impart to them--our values, traditions, and beliefs.
Venkatachari M from Hyderabad, India on November 29, 2017:
Very interesting article. It's very informative and educative to inspire the people.
I am learning many things both from my own sons and from the internet always to keep up with the changing world. But, I also try to keep them informed about some traditional aspects also so that our culture and traditions are not entirely forgotten.
McKenna Meyers (author) on November 29, 2017:
Thanks for your comments, Peg. When I was a kid, "groovy" was the cool word to use. "On fleek" is used today.
When I started teaching kindergarten 20 years ago, I did weekly cooking projects with the kids. I stopped doing that five years ago because they were too many food allergies, too many kids who were vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, and lactose intolerant. Plus, because of childhood obesity, parents are super sensitive and on high alert about any food issues.
Did you experience lots of sexual harassment when you worked for the airlines? What's happening today in the workplace is a huge cultural change and I'm wondering how it will all get sorted out!
Peg Cole from North Dallas, Texas on November 29, 2017:
Interesting to see what it takes to be considered "hip" these days. That's probably an outdated term as well which tells you a lot about me. I don't remember things being black and white or easy in my younger days. I do remember a world of civil unrest and lots of discrimination in the workplace.
I found your story interesting about the grandpa who doesn't understand the food allergies that have exponentially grown over the past few years. In fact, I remember passing out peanuts all day long to airplane passengers without incident. It makes me wonder what has happened to the food to cause all this. The great thing about cultural shifts is that they keep shifting.
McKenna Meyers (author) on November 28, 2017:
I'm sure, Bill, you read a lot, have younger friends, and pay attention to current events. Those all keep you young at heart. The world is constantly moving and we need to keep up with changing attitudes. The whole sexual harassment in Hollywood thing had me confused at first. I thought: "What's the big fuss? The casting couch has been around for decades." But, then I realized it was a turning point in our culture and what was acceptable in the past is no longer okay. I just hope it results in women getting more opportunities, not less.
Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on November 28, 2017:
When I read the title I instantly thought "too late, I am old and outdated." But then I read the article with its wonderful insights and message, and realized that I'm not even close to outdated, and for that I am thankful.