Note: this essay first appeared in Paleo magazine
Back in my younger days, the rallying cry was “don’t trust anyone over 30.” At the time, I thought that there might be some merit to that advice. Adults do have a way of monopolizing the learning process and stomping on creativity. After watching what’s become of youth sports, I’ve come to the conclusion that kids might be better off organizing their own games. After all, it was kids that gave us skateboarding, snowboarding, surfing, rock climbing and parkour. Adults, in contrast, have given us treadmills, spreadsheets and biochemistry.
But now that I’ve aged, I’ve come to an altogether different conclusion. As I look at young people around me, I find myself shaking my head in despair. Today’s kids have no sense of physicality, no stamina and no strength. They’ve gone from the womb to stroller to car seat to cubicle to couch, all in the blink of an eye. Their sedentary bodies are so weak, I’ve taken to calling them the “D-generation,” aka “generation D.”
To begin, today’s youth are disembodied and out of touch with their inborn physicality. Living in a neck-up world of icons, menus, code and other abstractions, they are divorced from the very source of life itself. As a consequence, they are physically dumb. Growing up in digital isolation, they are physically uneducated and somatically incompetent. They are, as some trainers and physical therapists put it, sensory-motor morons.
Today’s kids are also domesticated, separated from the primal energies that normally inhabit the healthy human body. Trained for obedience, they follow whatever directions appear on the screen in front of them, passively and without protest.
Raised from birth on the mother’s milk of Coke, Pepsi and Red Bull, these young people are also diabetic. Most will have burned out their pancreas long before they are eligible to vote, setting themselves up for metabolic syndrome and neurological disorders, including dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Today's youth like to brag about how they're “the most connected generation in history” but, in fact, they are radically disconnected from one another and even worse, from the fabric of the natural world and life itself. With no outdoor experience to draw upon, they have no sense of plant and animal life, no sense of land or habitat.
Likewise, today’s youth are also the most dependent in history, unable to function without an electronic device in hand. Most functions of human sensation and intelligence have now been taken over by the absurdly named “smart phone.” As a consequence, modern kids are also disengaged. Living life with near-permanent earbud-implants, they are cut off from normal auditory stimuli and in the process, have become environmentally blind and deaf.
And of course, this generation is massively distracted. ADHD is epidemic and pure mono-tasking is unheard of. Full engagement in an activity, otherwise known as “flow,” is non-existent. Young people flit from one flashing light to the next, never lingering long enough for a genuine experience to take hold.
Not surprisingly, today’s kids are also depressed. Stress and sedentary living suck the exuberance from their bodies and lead them into a state of “learned helplessness.”
Finally, they are disempowered. Coddled by a hyperactive market economy that strives to satisfy every desire and fill every need, these kids have no need to struggle. With no physical experience or adversity to draw upon, they have no sense of their primal capability and no knowledge of what they are truly capable of.
Of course, it’s easy and entertaining to poke fun at the under-thirty crowd, with their pathetic, emaciated, dysfunctional bodies, their oversized eyeballs and their tragic, fragmented lives. But in the end, they are simply reflections of us. We are the ones who set the table for this public health catastrophe. We are the ones gave up on our bodies. We are the ones who replaced authentic physical education with professionalized youth sports. We are the ones who made standardized tests the exclusive measure of childhood education and competence. We are the ones who work around the clock, wasting our bodies in a relentless quest for more stuff, more status and more stimulation. We are the ones who are addicted to all things technological.
Young people don’t just make up their behavior out of thin air; they have become generation D by following our example.
So maybe we need to be better role models.
Once we start taking our bodies seriously, maybe young people will too.