COLUMN: Generation gap can be mended

Angela Oliver

There’s a war going on outside. And parents and their offspring are on the front lines.

The parents’ ammunition: their wisdom, unconditional love and desire to see their children reach their full potential.

The offspring’s ammunition: curiosity, opportunity and having little fear of taking chances.

Unfortunately, though, that often means we fight with our egos.

This age-old conflict is so prevalent that it has even infiltrated our music.

When Will Smith was still The Fresh Prince, a whimsical rapper donning neon shirts, acid-wash overalls and a high-top fade, he won the hearts of young people everywhere with his 1988 hit “Parents Just Don’t Understand.”

Though the song and accompanying video is as lighthearted and playful as he is, Smith rapped about parent-child situations that we’ve all likely experienced, such as being scolded after asking for designer school clothes or being punished for a speeding ticket.

Childish requests and archetypal adolescent mistakes aside, there is more to us than parents often see during our transitional college years.

And while they offer great insight about the things we do (or don’t do when we should), there remain some things they just don’t understand.

More specifically, my mother, who I love and admire tremendously, is very conservative. I am not. We’re very close, but naturally, we clash on a lot of things. And because I’ve been a writer since fourth grade, those things often relate to what I write and how I express myself.

I can remember a few racy poems and notes that sprang from my childhood that I shouldn’t have written. But I learned from them. And I appreciated my parents telling me why I was wrong; hey, I can take criticism.

And I put all parents patient enough to deal with my crazy generation on a pedestal. But I also see that since my peers and I have grown and have had opportunities and access not granted to many of our parents, we have to be daring and fearless in the way we express ourselves.

So, one of my columns had the a-word sprinkled in it. There were about 599 other words surrounding it; that’s a small matter compared to its larger message. Besides, it was speaking to an audience who uses that word in regular, laid-back conversation.

Sure, I may not always make the best choices. But part of coming of age is having the chance to make my own mistakes and grow from them.

Parents, you can’t protect your kids from everything. You can’t prevent them from doing everything, either. And as much as it might hurt for you to see your precious little sugar-muffin come into their own, that’s the natural course of things.

I admit, parents know best because they have a solid case of the been-there-done-thats. But if they think back to their teen and college years, I’m sure they have memories of messing up just as much as we do and feeling the same way about their parents’ warnings.

I should’ve listened when they told me bubble gum wasn’t a toy.

Instead, when my sister and I thought otherwise, my mother spent the night figuring out how to wash off the pink wad covering my right eye, eyelashes and eyebrow. (Don’t ask.)

I shouldn’t have run in flip-flops after they told me that was dangerous. Instead, the brick stairs below the front door sliced through my bare heel, and I spent the next few weeks dreading the sting of each step I took.

And I should’ve heeded their advice about the knucklehead I called my boyfriend in high school. Instead, I wasted that time; he didn’t amount to anything.

Parents, we aren’t the wisest. So we can submit to you and your I-told-you-sos when we slip up. We knew better because you taught us better.

We can take the hints on who to date, how to study and how much money we should save.

But when it comes to our artful self-expression, please, let us figure it out.

Many of us might be more liberal and free-spirited than you were at our age. But that’s OK. That doesn’t mean you did anything wrong. You just have to trust that you raised us well and that we’ll make successful decisions.

As we embrace your wisdom and your advice, embrace our personalities, no matter how different.

This way, we can both raise our white flags and end the battle.