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Penkava: Once upon a time when father knew best …

Published: Tuesday, April 2, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

I don’t know how it happened, but, according to some things I am seeing on television, children have become a lot smarter and wiser than their parents. It’s as if our roles have become reversed, with clueless adults receiving much-needed counsel and direction from their perceptive and prudent progenies.

Take, for example, the Net10 Wireless commercials. Billed as a “Next Generation” phone plan, the kids (the “Next and Patently Smarter Generation”) offer mom and dad (the “Previous and Obviously Stupider Generation”) loving but firm advice about the need to change their current family phone arrangement.

In a series of these commercials, the children offer such proverbial gems as, “Be positive, yet firm,” “Break the news gently,” “Use positive reinforcement,” “Talk with them, not at them,” and “Don’t worry, confusion is normal” as they coach the viewing youth in strategies on how to reason with and correct their parents.

The parents in the commercial, on the other hand, display embarrassing naivety and credulity as they stutter “But, I …” and stammer “But what if?” as their children abruptly cut them off to share their wisdom-beyond-their-years.

Fortunately, in the end, the children offer their parents sympathetic reassurance with such consoling affirmations as, “You aren’t bad parents, you just fell in with the wrong wireless plan” and “I don’t love our family plan … it doesn’t mean I don’t love you,” as parents grudgingly accept the folly of their ways.

Sure, I know that these commercials are tongue-in-cheek, but there seems to be a movement to portray adults as buffoons and children as masterminds who do very well without their parents, thank you very much. Researchers in their TV test marketing have found that children overwhelmingly prefer to watch programs that feature smart kids with stupid parents. Duh.

My, how things have changed over the years. Back in the ‘50s and ‘60s fathers knew best, a single dad and his three sons managed things quite admirably, and if it was left to the Beaver, he’d be really messin’ up without his parents.

Ozzie and his wife, Harriet, seemed to have things under control and Sheriff Andy Taylor and Aunt Bee successfully navigated Opie through life in bustling Mayberry. In the ‘80s Bill Cosby’s Dr. Huxtable was as smart as he was funny, and even Mr. Belvedere was often jolly spot on with his wisdom.

Nowadays Mr. Simpson’s daughter Lisa is the brains of the family. Everybody seems to love Raymond because of his spousal and parental incompetence. On “iCarly,” the parents never make an appearance as the kids solve their own problems without the need of any adult interference. And Hannah Montana’s fun dad, Robbie Ray, is just a young Jed Clampett with earrings. Wheee doggies!

So, I’m wondering, just when did parents get so dumb? Somewhere between “Son, your mother and I can help you with this” and “D’oh!,” something changed. It’s as if the air of wisdom slowly leaked out of parenthood and was sucked up by the next generation.

But I think I have a way to reason with our children about this parent/child role reversal. If, indeed, we adults have become stupid, then it would appear that a similar fate awaits our children when they grow up and become parents. I can imagine a conversation with a 13-year-old on this subject …

“Son, I was wondering … when do you think you will become an idiot?”

“What? What are you talking about, Dad?”

“Well, since you kids pretty much know everything and we parents know nothing, I was wondering at what age do you think you will become an idiot like me?”

I’d be interested in their response. Since all of my kids are grown up and have become idiots like the rest of us parents, it would be fruitless to talk to them. But maybe the grandkids would have something interesting to say …

• Michael Penkava is a retired teacher who taught for 35 years at West Elementary School in Crystal Lake. He talked with his grandchildren and has confirmed that their parents have indeed reached the age of stupidity. He can be reached at mikepenkava@comcast.net.

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