Sometimes I have to take inventory of what our two teenage sons can — and cannot — do.

The list of things that they CAN do is long, and includes: hanging a ceiling fan, starting a business, tearing down an engine, running a sub-6-minute mile and building furniture.

One of the great advantages of the digital age is that YouTube provides step-by-step instructions to do just about anything under the sun.

However, some skills — like running a fast mile — are more about willpower. Still other skills are about humbling yourself to be an apprentice. Our younger son, for example, has learned to build furniture at the knee of his master-craftsman grandfather.

Still, with every generation there are skill sets that get shelved altogether; either they become obsolete or simply fall out of fashion.

For example, I don't know if either of our boys, ages 14 and 19, would know what to do with a yo-yo or a Hula-Hoop. Maybe throw the Hula-Hoop and use the yo-yo as a martial-arts weapon.

I've tried to make a list of skills that I would call, simply, "lost arts." These are things that are as common as breathing for my generation, that my sons cannot, or will not, do.

* Read a map. Because GPS has replaced map-reading, the boys would be useless as navigators. I know this because they have no directional awareness. They say things like, "Let's go over to Florida." Or "Let's go down to Canada."

I start to correct them, but then check myself. What's the point?

* Eating a balanced diet. When I was young, every kid had a short list of untouchable foods, things that made them gag. For me it was green peas and slaw.

Our sons, to the contrary, have only a short list of foods that they WILL eat. The remaining universe of food is off-limits. For example, our young son subsists on frozen pizza, yeast rolls and chicken nuggets. Oh, and chocolate milk. At least it makes grocery shopping easy.

For dessert: Mamba fruit chews.

* Making conversation. It is a sad fact that the art of conversation is losing currency among young people. I have students in a college class I teach who would much rather interview someone by email than by phone.

Younger people, in general, seem to have lost confidence in their ability to talk. I get that texting can be more efficient, and you can think through your responses. But, heck, sooner or later you're gonna have to speak up, guys.

* Listen to the radio. I literally have never seen either of my sons tune in a radio. Spotify, yes. Broadcast radio, no. They barely even watch TV.

My younger son makes fun of me for listening to cool jazz. He tries to get under my skin by telling me that everything on jazz radio is just a different version of the same song.

* Be anonymous. There was a time before social media when it was more or less possible to hide in plain sight.

Now, just about everyone has a digital footprint, for good or bad. People are just beginning to realize that oversharing on social media is a thing. Some are discovering — too late — that anonymity is underrated.

* Playing informal sports. Wiffle ball. Kickball. Dodgeball. Freeze tag. Those were the pastimes of my youth.

Nowadays, kids expect uniforms, trophies, tournaments, private lessons and paid staff in all of their sports.

I'm trying to envision a freeze-tag travel team.

Don't laugh; it could happen.

Email Mark Kennedy at

some text
Mark Kennedy / Staff file photo