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posted: 8/1/2013 10:51 AM

For each generation, changing the world is tougher than it looks

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We were going to change the world, for the better, of course.

The "baby boomers" -- the biggest, perhaps most privileged, and certainly most vocal, generation ever to move through adolescence and young adulthood -- took on the ills of society with passion, energy and dogmatic certainty.

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Poverty, war, civil rights, greed; we would overcome.

Oh, and on the way, we'd free the world from its unenlightened restrictions on the use of mind-altering substances.

Flash forward 30 or so years. A family sits in my office. A teenager complains vehemently about his parents' conservatism, lack of social conscious, fear of change.

As this teen looks at the world around him, he sees some of the same problems his parents' identified 30 years ago. And, from his perspective, problems they seem to have done little to solve.

If anything, the world seems to him to be more complex, and more troubled with each passing year.

Later, in private, the parents -- both middle-aged boomers -- share with me their weariness, their fear, their anxiety. They are worn down by the demand that they cope with changes that seem to come more rapidly with each passing year. Things happen on the job or in their communities that dramatically impact their lives and they seem to have little control.

And they sometimes feel clueless as to how to prepare their children to be adults in this world we live in. Rather than trying to change the world, these boomer parents now hope their world will just stop changing so fast.

I suspect parents throughout history have felt this way. Though the pace of change seems to have increased dramatically in the past few decades, the reality of change is something all parents have had to cope with. And, all parents have had to cope with adolescent children who stand back and judge their parents' generation's failings.

Sometimes in their youthful idealism, these teens decide they will change the world for the better. Sometimes they retreat into premature cynicism, overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude and complexity of the world's problems.

What seems to me to be important here is for both generations, parents and teenagers, to recognize they are more similar than different in their needs, hopes, wants and fears.

Though the society in which we live changes regularly, our humanity does not. We all still want to feel safe and secure, to have food on the table and a roof over our head, to love and be loved, to find work that is worth doing, to find meaning to our existence.

We all grow up, grow old and die. No matter what generation we belong to, no matter what changes we would like to make in the world, we still share this basic humanity.

Recognizing this can make a big difference in our family relationships. Sometimes it doesn't take much more than helping family members to hear and understand each other. Parents talk to their children about what it was like when they were teens and really listen when their teens describe how it is different today.

Teens are asked to think about what it might be like to be parents themselves. Parents explain why they do the things they do, how they are trying to prepare their teenagers for adulthood.

As these memories, thoughts, and feelings -- especially feelings -- are shared, families often get "unstuck" and are able to start to working through their issues. Both sides seem to have a bit more room to maneuver and can be a little more flexible when they understand each other a bit better.

The changes we experience in the society in which we live, as well as the basic rhythms of life, impact all of us, no matter what generation we claim. We generations, then, need to practice being a bit more patient with each other.

Whether we are teenagers or parents, when it comes to dealing with the realities of life, we all have been, or will be, there.

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