Millennial Hitler quotes aren’t necessarily about Nazi views

When I saw a headline about a Hitler quote in the Bangor High School yearbook, I had to read the article. This very issue, millennials’ dark satirical references to that time in history, is oft discussed in my world — I’ve even mentioned it in a post before. I have an older millennial, a 1991 baby, and I have a younger millennial born in 1999; so when I read the article and a few of the comments, I wondered if anyone is talking/listening to kids anymore.

Forgive me for copping an immature attitude, but in this case, grown-ups can be so stupid. While there are differences to the ways my two boys have articulated it over the years, they and many of their friends suffer from what I call Hitler Fatigue.

Please hear me out before any reader starts freaking out, which is my first point. There are times when grown-ups need to step in and assert the authority of experience over youth in their care. Then there are times when grown-ups should shut up and listen to the thinking behind whatever is going on.

Decades of parenting and mentoring and teaching have taught me that — decades of doing my best not to screw things up while sometimes screwing things up and occasionally getting things close to right.

Personally, when parents are ready to hurl their morning tea over all the T&A on display as teens try to extricate themselves from their parents’ vehicles at school, I think it’s okay for grown-ups to step in and assert authority. When kids start speaking casually about someone whose actions were utterly repugnant, it’s time to listen. It’s time to ask:  why?

That’s what I did when I first started hearing what I thought were inappropriate references to Hitler. I told my kids that no one knows more about the atrocities of WWII than their generation, excepting maybe the generation directly involved, so I didn’t understand the cavalier attitude. They told me that the extensive knowledge to which I referred was the problem.

They learned too much, too soon, and for too long. Looking back, they’re right.

Both my boys started learning about Hitler in elementary school and had at least one extended curriculum period on the subject almost every year afterward. My boys know more about WWII, Hitler, and the Holocaust than about any other time in history. This statement is not to minimize the importance of teaching the horrors of that era, but it is an observation that the human race has millennia of history to try to highlight during the years children are in school.

Further, my kids learned about millions of people dying through techniques like gas coming through shower nozzles before they knew that gas could be something other than a fuel that grown-ups put in cars to make them go. It wasn’t developmentally appropriate, and I remember comforting them back then. History shouldn’t be about vicariously traumatizing young children with developmentally inappropriate information.

When you overexpose children to developmentally inappropriate information, you are asking for disconnect.

In my experience, their disconnect does not equate to them agreeing with Hitler or his views at all — quite the contrary. I’ve found my boys and their peers to be the most accepting generation to date. Gay, straight, trans, bi, Muslim, Jew, Christian, white, black, brown or otherwise — they don’t care. Especially if you’re good at the video or sports game at hand at any given moment.

My youngest and I have reached a compromise regarding his Hitler usage. I try to ignore and not judge the occasional conversational reference between his peers, and he avoids committing them to printed form on gaming platforms, etc. I have acknowledged that asking him to limit himself is a limitation of speech, but I’ve asked him to think of it as a courtesy to all us old fogeys who can’t go there.

I don’t know anything about the young man who used the Hitler quote, but I do feel bad for him. Given the way the issue has been discussed in my family, I highly doubt this had anything to do with agreeing or disagreeing with Hitler at all. I’m guessing, like my boys, he may be suffering from Hitler Fatigue.

Patricia Callahan

About Patricia Callahan

Trish is a writer who lives in Augusta. She has worked professionally in education and social services.