Social problem No. 1: Children are growing up too fast. Elementary school children are routinely exposed to sex and drugs, and not just in the television shows they see and the video games they play. Ten-year-olds are dressing like world-weary tramps and thugs. The young are extremely touchy about being treated with respect. At tender ages, they start rebelling against authority.
Social problem No. 2: Adults are refusing to grow up. Middle-aged people are watching animated shows, playing games at work, collecting stuffed animals and paying high prices at restaurants for comfort food. Businessmen protest against wearing business clothes to work, and partygoers protest against wearing party clothes to parties, all with the claim that they only feel comfortable in their simple and sturdy play-clothes. They are insulted at being treated with respect. At advanced ages, they are still rebelling against taking responsibility.
It has thus become possible, Miss Manners notes, to go through one's entire life dissatisfied with one's own age and pretending to be another.
It strikes her that there might be possibilities here of arranging a swap. Children would be in charge of running things, keeping their sins private and their tastes privileged, while adults would forfeit respect but gain respite from responsibility.
Or has that already taken place?
In the manners realm, it would certainly seem so. It is a favorite complaint of adults that children don't know how to behave toward them, but it seems to Miss Manners that the little ones are learning the manners that the big ones are teaching them.
These stem from the great modern prudery, which is not about sex (as you may have noticed), but about age. Adults have taught children that it is rude to notice that they are much older than the children themselves:
"Don't call me 'sir' -- that makes me feel old."
"I'm not Mrs. Wiggleston; that's my mother-in-law. Everyone calls me Muffin."
"Why are you getting up? Do I look as if I'm too old to stand?"
"How dare you offer me a senior citizen rate?"
Adults who are busy assuring one another that they look implausibly young, taking drastic measures to sustain the illusion, and condemning aging and death as the result of improper health care and attitudes, are not going to take this sort of thing from the young. What they are teaching is that any violation of the elaborate hoax that nobody ever ages is an insult.
Having defined the teen years and 20s as the only desirable ages to be, they can hardly be surprised that children share their pretensions. As each age group ridicules or deplores the other's falsifications, an idea of how their own look might arise.
Each has its excuses, Miss Manners understands. Children can't remain in the artificial comfort of childhood when they are so blatantly exposed to the harshness of the real world. And adults who are beleaguered by the harshness of the real world naturally want to retreat to the comforting artificial one.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: My daughter is having Thanksgiving dinner at her home this year. She is planning on no TV football games during dinner and, when the football game is on, the volume will be on mute. Is this correct? She also plans on having games. Help!
GENTLE READER: Your daughter wants to have live conversation at the family holiday table, and afterward she expects people to play games with one another rather than slump around separately watching strangers play games?
Has she no sense of tradition?
As your daughter is the hostess, you must go along with her outrageous wishes. You may actually find yourself feeling thankful for this sociable treat. The only help an unsympathetic Miss Manners offers you is to suggest that the dinner be scheduled after the games -- or before or after a particular game in which this crowd is most interested -- and that the other guests be warned.