Bridging the Generation Gap Has Gone Too Far

It turns out that the generation gap separating my children from me is not the size of the Grand Canyon but a mere sidewalk crack. Unlike a generation ago, no chasm divides those for whom tattoos are cool and those of us who know that one day someone will pay good money to have them removed.

A Pew Research Center study earlier this summer found that while two-thirds of Americans 16 and older saw an age divide, respondents didn't believe it caused a lot of problems in their families or society. The generational squabble, the report states, "is a much more subdued affair than the one that raged in the 1960s."

The survey also found that today's parents are having fewer serious arguments with their kids in their late teens and early 20s than they had with their own mothers and fathers. In other words, we have mellowed out and opened up. We're not fighting over blaring music -- probably thanks to ear buds and iPods -- nor stressing about work ethic and moral values, at least not publicly.

"This survey," one of the researchers told USA Today, "suggests the generations have discovered they can disagree without being disagreeable."

This is good news for families, of course, and yet a wary peace has its consequences. I can't help but wonder if the separation that existed in the households of our youth didn't made it easier for adults to be parents.

Mothers were mothers; they were not friends or confidantes. They didn't trade clothes with their teenage daughters or share stories about love interests. Roles were separate and defined, softening only when we children joined our parents in adulthood.

"I have to give you something to rebel against," my mother once told me, and believe me, there was plenty that invited revolt back then, from curfews to dress codes.

Now curfews are "so" middle school and 40-somethings dress as if they were stuck in adolescence. Now, too, our children rebel less against us -- no need to -- and more against a world that has proven to be a hundred times harsher than a father's reprimand. Ah, yes, the generational insurgency has relegated us to a second front.

It's not that I'm nostalgic for rigid filial relationships, but there can be such a thing as too much closeness and too few boundaries. For me, maintaining distance is a child-rearing philosophy that evolved over time: The more kids I had, the more I recognized the necessity of clear divisions, of parents being parents and children children.

As I grew more confident, I also drew on my parents' example. Growing up, for instance, I knew that, no matter how rebellious the times or justified the causes, there was a line I could not cross. Ultimately, being part of the family was the most important thing. Now that belief seems quaint.

Don't misunderstand. I'm all for bridging the generations. Chasms create rancor, but some friction, stoked gently, can also go a long way toward instilling respect.