Gregory K. Moffatt, Ph.D.
The first time I heard rap music on the radio in my truck I didn’t know what it was. It was sometime in the 1980s and I kept waiting on the music to start. I remember going home and telling my wife about the strange thing I heard on the radio that “never had any music.” I didn’t understand it.
That was many years ago and while it isn’t my favorite genre, I like some rap music. I just can’t produce it. I can sing and play musical instruments, but I can’t rap. When my kids were younger, I’d occasionally pretend to rap. It was funny because I looked so goofy.
I am what I am. I’m middle-aged, white, male, and a child of the 60s. I’m smart about some things and surprisingly na´ve about others. I can’t match clothes so I wear the same boring outfits for years. If I try to be something besides me, I just look goofy.
In a way, that makes my life easier. I don’t have to keep up withcultural changes in language, fads, or crazes. If I need to know something, I ask. Otherwise, I’m just me – a parent, teacher, spouse.
It is quite common for parents to feel the need to keep up with their children and the generational differences. That isn’t a bad thing, necessarily. Being aware is important, but you don’t have to be your child’s friend. In fact you shouldn’t be your child’s friend.
Your child needs you to be you – steady and predictable. If you try to be something that you aren’t, like me trying to rap, you just look goofy and you lose your credibility.
In the 1960s there was a lot of talk about the generation gap, especially as the close of that decade brought with it a huge chasm between establishment (adults) and younger people. “Don’t trust anyone over 30,” was a famous line by free speech movement activist Jack Weinberg.
Since then the “gap” has become less of a chasm, but I still see a cultural impetus for adults to relate with their teens – to bridge the gap – by becoming like them. It just isn’t necessary.
I’ve worked as a therapist with children for three decades. For some of the children who have come through my practice, if not most of them, they perceive me as just a larger version of themselves. I’m a big kid. That is why they talk to me.
I accomplish this goal not be being child-like, but by being approachable as a peer might be. Those are two very different things. I might use smaller words, but I don’t talk in childish language. I usually sit on the floor with them, but I don’t have to physically move like them.
My most powerful tool for bridging the age gap is that I listen – a LOT. Children teach me what I need to know about them, their culture, their hurts, and their struggles. They give me the language I need to understand them.
I use the same tools with my college students. I don’t have to know what Pinterest is, how Twitter works, or how to use Snapchat. “Interesting,” I tell them. “Explain to me about that.” Now they are my teachers and my nerdiness or cluelessness – the generation gap – is bridged by them.
I can't rap, but the very good news for all of us is that I don't have to. You don't have to dress like your kids, talk like thme, cut your hair like them, or use their vocabulary. "Teach me" is the primary tool you need to relate with them.