Me at 11. Note McD's t-shirt (Also check out the nifty satin jacket behind me.)
Me at 11. Note McD’s t-shirt.*
(Also check out the nifty satin jacket behind me.)

“When I was your age…” is the start of a sentence that will almost certainly bring an eye roll from the intended audience. And, I must admit, as I get older, I hear myself say it more and more often. I mean…there have been leaps and bounds in day to day life from the time I was a kid till today, and they are amazing to note.

Indulge me for a minute or two, will you? Because while I will begin by pointing out some things that readers around my age will nod at with perhaps an “Amen, Sister,” I do have a little bit of a soapbox point I want to get to.

When I was a kid

I didn’t ask my mom or dad to “play on their phone.” (Though I did play on the phone, technically, if you count prank calls), and I’m pretty sure we all knew the length of the kitchen phone cord for our “safe zone” when Mom was on the phone.

We had Pong and thought we were pretty cutting edge until the neighbors got an Atari. Living large, they were.

At the start of my schooling, if I had to type an assignment, I had to use a line paper gauge…remember those? And God forbid there were footnotes involved. Then you had to calculate how many notes would be on the page and how many lines you’d need left at the bottom. And if you were wrong? Holy cry. Do it all over again. It was totally exciting when the “element” typewriter came along where you could just backspace and type over your error without having to use the little white-out strip. And word processing? Well, the heavens opened up on that one.

We remember, yes? Now to get to a question I feel worth asking…

I remember when it was big news that we got a McDonald’s in our town. It was a BIG DEAL. And if my mom and dad said we could eat there, we were drunk with excitement. A burger and fries! Woohoo! Life is good!

So…how did the need arise to give kids TOYS to eat junk food? At what point was the food itself not enough? I mean, it’s not like you’re taking your kids to McBrusselSprouts or McLiver. Why the bribe? Why the reward for eating something that the average kid would be happy to eat all by itself? Wasn’t it a “happy meal” already?

What did it sound like around the conference table when that corporate decision was made? “Well, Ronald, I think that in order to convince the kids to eat the French fries, we should give them toys. This way, they can get something for getting something! And then they’ll scream and whine for their parents to get them a Happy Meal for the latest toy, and the parents will cave in in order to get them to shut up and then they will come to McDonald’s more often! Make sense? Let’s vote!”

Oh, joy...another piece of crap.  Exactly what we needed!
Oh, joy…another piece of crap.
Exactly what we needed!

I look at the toys they give today (YES, I have purchased many a Happy Meal for my kid), and I think of all the plastic waste generated from these ridiculous payoffs for eating what should already be a treat in and of itself. (And NO, I’m not looking for an argument on whether or not a child should even eat fast food. I live in the real world. My kid eats fast food here and there. If yours doesn’t, that’s great, but I don’t really want to hear about it.)

After about 30 seconds, the average meal toy has used up its entertainment value. I’m sure that landfills are stuffed with these unnecessary prizes, as well as many a kid’s bedroom. All of this just adds to the sense of exaggerated entitlement that “these kids today” are being raised with.

But along with their über sense of entitlement…is the flip of this issue our lowered expectations? Maybe we should start expecting more of our kids so that we don’t continue to foster the belief that the world owes them something. Because you and I both know it doesn’t. It doesn’t owe anyone a damn thing. In fact, we owe it. We owe each other. And that can be a challenging principle to uphold in a world where a treat deserves a treat.

Whew. Okay. I have dismounted my soapbox. If you’re still here, thank you for listening. Now let’s go through the drive-thru…

*The McDonald’s shirt was something I received for participating in a basketball tournament. At least I had to sweat for it.

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