June 02, 2004
The cool parents

Something for me to strive for as I enter fatherhood (real soon now).

It is not always a rosy path through adolescence for these mothers and daughters, but there is an upbeat teen spirit wafting through their lives that smells nothing like Generation X disaffection.

And unlike the chasm that separated baby-boom parents from their parents, these teenagers' tastes in clothes and music, and many of their political and social beliefs, dovetail with those of their parents. They are part of a generation from 9 to 19 that looks up to Mom and Dad as role models.

Studies have shown that teenagers' relationships with their parents have steadily improved since the early 1970s. In 1983, about 75 percent of teenagers said they had "no serious problems" with their parents, up from about 50 percent in 1974, according to the Mood of American Youth survey, conducted by the National Association of Secondary School Principals and the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans, an education group. By 1996, the survey found 94 percent of teenagers were "very happy" or "fairly happy" with their mothers, and 81 percent were happy with their fathers.

In 1997 the mood study became the State of Our Nation's Youth survey, conducted annually. The latest data suggest that children's admiration of parents, though measured differently, is still very high. When students ages 13 to 19 were asked last year to name their role model, the greatest share — 44 percent — chose a family member (overwhelmingly, their mother or father), up from 42 percent in 2002. The percentage of teenagers who most admired a friend or celebrity declined.

Teenagers "are looking for structure and safety — you can't trust government, religion, corporations — they want someone to get along with," said Jane Buckingham, president of Youth Intelligence, a market research and consulting company. "Whereas before, it was 'rebel against your parents' because everyone knew the rules and regulations, now it is 'hold on to your parents' because no one knows what the rules and regulations are."

Beyond the stock characters in teenage movies, pop culture has plenty of celebrity role models who have made it cool to admire one's parents. The Grammy Award-winning singer Beyoncé, who is 22, has turned to her mother, Tina Knowles, to design nouveau-Motown clothes for her group, Destiny's Child. Recently the two announced a deal with a New York company to collaborate on a clothing line.

Remember that story about how kids today like classic rock? Apparently, our everything-old-is-new-again pop culture has a role to play in the New Parental Coolness trend.

The canyon that opened between the generations in the 1950s and '60s over rock 'n' roll, Vietnam and the sexual revolution, and continued in some ways through the '80s, has reinforced the notion that teenagers are rebels by nature.

Today, much of what passes for hip taste is recycled from the past 30 years. Teenagers who fall for the garage rock of the Strokes are led back to their parents' collections of Blondie and Lou Reed records, and the hip-huggers they buy at the Gap could be unearthed from their parents' closets.

Standing outside Carnegie Hall before a Jewel concert last month, Sara Jacobson, 13, and her mother, Linda, 38, wore matching black leather jackets and crisp eyeliner. The concert was Sara's mother's idea, as was the AC/DC show they caught two years ago with Sara's father, but Sara likes the music, too.

I confess, I can't imagine catching an AC/DC show with my parents. In our defense, however, I should note that I did attend a Maynard Ferguson concert with them, and I was mostly responsible for wearing out my dad's Glenn Miller 8-track in the car. So there's hope that my kid will some day clamor to come along to the Mucky Duck with us.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on June 02, 2004 to Society and cultcha | TrackBack

Hmm. At 28 I'm a bit old, but I should note that I'm supposed to see Simon and Garfunkle with my parents...

Not quite the same? Damn.

We caught the Austin Lounge Lizards at the Mucky Duck...how about that?

Darnit! It's not my fault my mother likes crap rock, and my dad likes John Denver.

Posted by: Morat on June 2, 2004 2:25 PM


It's the reverse in my family - my mother is the John Denver fan.

As for me, well maybe I've gotten old (38 this month), but my tastes have expanded dramatically since I was young and foolish. Ironically, both my father and I are Norah Jones fans.

As for your kid Chuck, she may end up a Chingy fan after the Rice MOB's appearance at the MTV Rock and Jock Super Bowl special. ;-)

Posted by: William Hughes on June 2, 2004 2:53 PM

Could be worse. I remember my father taking me to a 5th Dimension concert. A year later, I snuck out and went to a Jefferson Airplane concert. I was only 10.

Posted by: Charles E on June 2, 2004 8:46 PM