What's up with kids (us) today? CHRIS KATTERJOHN Commentary:

November 14, 2005

News flash: Many kids today show little respect for or fear of authority, or anything else for that matter.

Did you catch Ruth Holladay's Nov. 8 column in The Indianapolis Star about the vandalized deer sculpture on the DePauw University campus?

A life-size sculpture of an eightpoint buck was created by New York artist Marc Swanson and donated to the school by the Butler Family Foundation at a cost of five figures. It was a beautiful piece of public art, with the deer in mid-leap and adorned with rhinestone crystals.

The "disco deer," as some students referred to it, was installed near East College at the Larabee Street circle along Burkhart Walk, the closed portion of College Avenue in Greencastle.

It may not have been everyone's idea of magnificent art, but did that justify anyone-possibly students at this highly respected, high-ticket institution-breaking off its antlers and legs less than two weeks after it was put out?

As if those acts alone weren't enough to demonstrate a disrespectful attitude, imagine the boldness and stupidity of some young people, who took digital photos of themselves with the defaced sculpture and posted them on the Internet for all to see.

The same sculpture, by the way, survived unscathed for two years on the mean streets of Brooklyn before arriving at DePauw.

Flash forward to a recent discussion involving a group of IBJ managers and Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Eugene White. One of the topics touched upon was the lack of respect many students have for teachers, schools and the value of education itself.

You can argue that my two examples, particularly the DePauw incident, highlight the activities of a relatively small group of young people and that the vast majority of that generation is different. You are probably right, but they-along with other incidents, like students shooting students and teachers at their own schools-reflect a disturbing trend.

In my days as a teen-ager and young adult, I tested the boundaries of authority on occasion, but I had a healthy respect for teachers, adults and public property. I knew my limits. I'm not sure where the limits are these days.

My fear is that the era of two-working-parent households has increasingly left fathers and mothers with less time and energy to parent their children effectively.

Equally disturbing is that this trend runs parallel to the mixed blessing of awesome technologies that have been created in the last 20 years. Yes, computers, e-mail and the Worldwide Web have become excellent tools for communication and expanding knowledge.

But these technologies and the diversions they have spawned-i.e. video games, Internet porn and the like-have also done a great deal to desensitize, dehumanize and isolate many of us, particularly the kids who have grown up with them.

I spoke to a teacher the other day who was both appreciative of the technological tools at her disposal and disturbed by the emphasis on their use and by how they are beginning to displace person-to-person interaction.

I also spoke with a male friend who was dating a woman with three boys. The boys were difficult to get to know because in their free time their heads were always buried in Nintendo GameBoys and computer screens.

And of course, what do we make of the Paris Hilton Syndrome, i.e. the phenomenon that makes celebrities of people with little to no talent and a penchant for making fools of themselves in public?

Evolution takes a long time, but I think we're on the verge of creating a race of emotion-less, conscience-less human beings. We'd better start paying closer attention.

Katterjohn is publisher of IBJ.To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to ckatterjohn@ibj.com.
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