Experts tell us that life is tougher for kids these days than it was for their parents, and especially their grandparents.
Certainly life was simpler two generations ago, without the plethora of rules and regulations that govern us now. People were expected to display common sense, and if they didn't, they wore the consequences.
Life is much more complicated now, despite the processes that have been put in place with the aim of making it easier, and fairer. There is probably no better example of that than secondary education. Once, when School Certificate (NCEA Level 1) was a highly desirable, and valuable, qualification, and University Entrance (Level 2) the preserve of the elite, success and failure came down to exams.
Life is much more complicated now, despite the processes that have been put in place with the aim of making it easier, and fairer
Pass those exams and you were in, fail and you were out. And passing depended upon nothing more complex than scoring 50 per cent.
Now students are assessed relentlessly from year's beginning to end, and exam results, which still play a part in overall success, take quite some deciphering. Perhaps that's fairer on kids who work hard but don't have the best exam technique, although the unfairest element of all, scaling results to achieve a pre-determined pass rate, apparently survives.
Critics of NCEA argue that it can be and is manipulated to achieve success, more in the interests of the teacher and the school than the student, and that achieving the required standard doesn't actually mean much, at least as far as a prospective employer is concerned.
And it has long been known that some kids — the brighter ones, no doubt — calculate exactly how many credits they will need at the end of the year and how those credits might be acquired with the least possible effort, rendering the resulting piece of paper even less meaningful.
For many less academic students, however, the current system might well have extended the stress period from a few weeks of the year to the full 12 months.
We were told recently that the most common problem for children these days is anxiety, something that was unlikely to have featured in many young lives two generations ago, apart perhaps from brief bursts while waiting outside the principal's office, knowing what was coming when one was invited inside, and waiting for exam results to arrive by snail mail.
Perhaps this anxiety is linked with modern employment prospects, which 50 years ago were rarely a major issue. Kaitaia would not have been unique as a small town offering literally hundreds of jobs for those who had nothing tangible to show for their decade of compulsory education, and the ability to earn a living was not at all dependent upon academic success.
Those jobs disappeared long ago, to the point where this generation seemingly has few options unless they succeed at tertiary level or enter a trade.
Young people today also have to contend with social media, a scourge that their grandparents could not have dreamed of. At its best the internet in all its manifestations is a wonderful thing; at its worst it is a curse that can and does destroy young lives.
We are told, and can believe, that it is robbing children today of some of the skills that were once developed simply by interacting with others; that some young people today have difficulty reading others, for example, a skill that probably plays a greater part in success in life, at all levels, than anything a formal education can bestow.
Perhaps that is one source of the anxiety that is now seemingly so prevalent.
The perils of alcohol are nothing new, although the victims of illegal indulgence seem to be younger now than they once were, but drugs certainly are. Fifty years ago cannabis was just being invented, and the harder drugs that now destroy so many lives had not been thought of.
The one part of life that is probably less stressful now than it once was is unmarried parenthood. In the days before the domestic purposes benefit, unmarried women (and girls) who fell pregnant basically had two options — to marry the father, or give the child up for adoption.
If she was lucky her parents would adopt their grandchild, and life would continue as before, albeit not without a vague whiff of stigma.
But something else has changed. Once upon a time, not so long ago, some things were special. Birthdays and Christmas certainly were, not least perhaps because celebrating those special occasions featured treats that were otherwise unaffordable.
Not only in terms of gifts, which were often modest in comparison with what is common these days, but were keenly anticipated and genuinely appreciated nevertheless, but food.
Many household budgets were nurtured carefully throughout the year to allow for a Christmas dinner splurge, one very special meal at a very special time of the year.
An old friend of the writer said the best thing he ever found at the bottom of his childhood Christmas stocking was an orange. It was the only time of the year when he was given one, and he had never forgotten how wonderful it was.
In those days a feast really was a feast. Now it seems to be more about simply eating more of what arrives on the table every day. Chicken, as opposed to a faithful old chook that has finally stopped laying, confectionary, icecream, bought fruit, ham, have all but become staples rather than indulgences to be salivated over weeks and months in advance.
That has robbed today's children of something that many of their grandparents will have no trouble remembering, thanks to a degree of prosperity that was uncommon 50 years ago — 'poverty' is not a modern phenomenon by any means — and rampant commercialism. If someone can make a buck out of tempting people to spend, whether they can afford to or not, they will.
So, with the 2017 Boxing Day sales barely consigned to history, we have supermarkets and The Warehouse stocking their shelves with hot cross buns and Easter eggs. Anyone who wishes to indulge their taste for spiced buns and chocolate is free to do so at any time of the year, but these particular delicacies were once reserved for a week or two, in celebration of the most important event on the Christian calendar.
These days we are urged to gorge on food, entertainment, every pleasure that money can buy, non-stop. We don't look forward to anything any more, because the things that made those occasions special are within our reach every day. The era of instant gratification has well and truly arrived, and that is a shame.
And this is about more than nostalgia. It's about teaching our children the pleasure of anticipation, about waiting and working for rewards, values that will stand them in good stead throughout their lives. That, perhaps, is the greatest loss of all, the knowledge that if they want it they can have it, now. If they can't, they are deprived.
Today it might just be Easter eggs — hot cross buns are probably aimed more at their parents — but the attitude that has been so successfully sown filters down, or up, to everything. The good things in life do not need to be earned, they are ours by right.
And we can have them now. Gone is the delight of anticipation, the pleasure to be taken from a well-earned reward. We are all the poorer for that.