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Dear Gen X: Expert Lessons in How to Be Cringe—Lovingly From Gen Z

Lately, I feel a need to impart life lessons to my two tweens. The problem is, they’re not very interested in listening to stories about my youth. They label my stories “extra” and “cringe.”

Their mocking won’t deter me, though. I’m contemplating how to lean into it. Instead of stifling nostalgia for my ’70s/80s/90s childhood, I might just go full-throttle by reclaiming “cringe” when I share these stories.

If you’re like me, a proud Gen Xer, and you want to prove that “extra” may be x-actly what the X in Generation X stands for, here’s a list of ways to share with your tweens and teens the important lessons we learned growing up.

Winning the Generation War

Always tell kids how much better your childhood was than theirs, because you spent so much time playing outside.

Don’t admit that you had no choice, because your mom kept using the ashtray you made her.

Copy the Boomers. Put “the” in front of anything modern.

Remember how ridiculous it was when your parents said, “The rock and roll” and “The MTV?” Now, ensure that your own kids think you’re out of touch. When they make a smartass comment, stare at them blankly, then ask, “Did you get that from the TikTok?”

Start calling middle school “junior high” again.

Refer to middle school as “junior high” in every conversation, particularly in discussions about getting a phone: “Why would you need a phone in junior high? When I was in junior high, if I wanted to talk to my junior high friends, I had to walk down a flight of stairs, get on my bike, find a payphone, and ask them to meet at the junior high.”

Tell them the music was better back then.

Insist that the hit songs of your youth were much more melodious and meaningful than today’s nonsense. Don’t let them find out about “C^m On, Feel The Noize.”

Make them believe anything is (im)possible.

When your tween asks “When can I have a phone?” answer with, “The same day you get a pony” and then laugh.

Express empathy.

Tell them how bad you feel that their generation has to grow up dealing with COVID-19, school shootings, fentanyl, cyberbullying, climate change, and the 24-hour news cycle, when all you had to worry about was nuclear annihilation, radon, Skylab, angel dust, AIDS, getting knocked up, divorce, kidnapping, tainted Tylenol, and razor blade-infused apples.

Go to school board meetings and insist on proper sex education.

For goodness’ sake, your children should learn about sex the way you did: from Judy Blume books, General Hospital, Dirty Dancing, Porky’s, and Truly Tasteless Jokes VIII.

Use correct drug lingo.

Always refer to marijuana as “pot” rather than “weed,” and if they’re still not paying attention, go full cringe and exclusively use “smokin’ dope.”

Now’s your turn to mimic Weird Al.

Support your children at sports matches by singing parodies of their favorite TikTok songs. At soccer, croon this version of Bo Burnham’s “Jeff Bezos” song: “Chris and Jake and Kai and Mason / Kick that ball, then kick their face in / Steal their lunch / Drink their blood / Come on, Cayden, do it!”

Honor the generation before you.

When your kids are rewatching the “Little Rascals” movie, walk by and say, “Oh, that’s ‘Our Gang!’,” just to invoke nostalgic memories of your own parents being cringy and nostalgic.

Sit them down and have “The Talk.”

“The Talk” goes like this: “Sweetheart, one day, after you graduate from college, you’ll be driving and you’ll hear a Billie Eilish song on the radio. Turn the dial before you realize it’s on the oldies station.”

In conclusion, you’ll probably never become nearly as cringy and out-of-touch as your parents, so don’t worry about being a little “extra” now and then. The older generation began watching movies about the 1960s starting in 1969! We can honor our own “good ol’ days” while simultaneously helping the kids appreciate how great they have it now. Remember, the thing they’re most lucky to have is you—their super-cringy but totally awesome parent.

Caren Lissner

Caren Lissner’s coming-of-age novel “Carrie Pilby” was turned into a comedy film that’s available for streaming. Her writing has appeared in various media outlets including the New York Times, the Washington Post, The Atlantic, McSweeney’s, and the Rumpus. She’s currently working on a new novel. Find her at carenlissner.com.

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