The older I get, the more I seem to contemplate life--where I am, where I've been, how fast the weeks are flying by! I'm sure you've heard me mention before that I am currently the mother of three teenagers, which, of course, has gotten me to thinking about my own teenage years back in the 70's and 80's. I can hear you now: "Teens these days!" It's an expression we hear a lot lately, usually followed by an exhausted sigh (if it's me at 11:30 pm on a school night) or a verbal tirade (if it's an adult putting their teenage self on a pedestal) or an excited cheer (if it's someone with hope for the future). At least that's how I see it.
And this is, after all, my BLOG. (There I am on the right)
I don't have to remind you how much Generation Z has been in the news these days; love 'em or hate 'em, have some or not, there's no escaping this outspoken generation. I know; I spend most every day with teens, hundreds of them. I work at four different high schools as a substitute teacher for any subject. Really, ANY subject . . . A.P. Physics? yup. P.E.? yup Chinese? you bet. So between that and the three I have at home, I have a pretty good handle on what's going on with the 13-19 year old crowd.
Let's face it, since the dawn of time, teenagers have been behaving, overall, the exact same way they always have: they eat a lot--and often, they seek their independence yet still require the support of adults, they are discovering who they are and what they want to do in life, they dress their own way, use their own slang, go to bed far too late, and have been known to exasperate their parents endlessly. I will concede, I was this very teen described.
Depending how you grew up--i.e.: what type of parents/influences you had, you were taught things like respect, honesty, loyalty, morality, stewardship, patience, perseverance, justice, humility, kindness, love. The list goes on. Sadly, some of you were taught to shut up, to give up, to give in, to take, to submit, to control, to brag, to cut in front of, to yell, and to "fudge." But as a parent, you can make a change; you have the opportunity to lead in any direction you wish. If you are between the ages of 38 and 63 and have children then YOU have raised this current generation. Ask yourself, How have I done? I am fairly sure you'll tell me that you're doing your best. I'm also sure I'll hear you say that it's an extremely difficult job. This raising children gig is not for the faint of heart. Funny thing, these kids, they seem to have a mind of their own.
SPOILED. LAZY. ENTITLED. DISRESPECTFUL. You've said it. I've said it. My parents said it to me. My grandparents said it to them. Hello. Each generation creates these qualities in the next. Societal circumstances create these qualities. (This is not an excuse, just the simple facts, ma'am). Why do you think our children are "spoiled?" A highly-educated society, two income households, access to birth control, less children and therefore, more expendable income than households of previous generations. Mom and Dad aren't wrapping your sandwich in wax paper, saving aluminum foil or covering your school books with grocery bags anymore these days..... Why do you think children these days are "lazy?" Hello, do you have a cleaning service? Do you use a lawn service? Do you rake leaves or do you blow them? Do you cook food from scratch or pull things out of the freezer or a take-out bag? Don't even get me started on the Roomba.......
"Entitled?" Weren't you the one who demanded to have a wedding that cost thousands of dollars and upgrade your phone every time a new model comes out? And let me guess, you wouldn't be caught dead driving a rusty car that's more than 10 years old?...... "Disrespectful?" They hear you. Your children hear you. That mother fucker who cut you off on the on-ramp, that politician who's running a smear campaign on TV, that public servant who just got nailed for inappropriate use of government funds. Hmmm.
I'll tell you what this generation of teenagers IS, though. What they are is intelligent; more intelligent than you or I ever were at 16 years old (okay, maybe not you). I was top in my high school class--9th out of 300 to be exact--but these kids nowadays, they have been reading since the age of three.
Hell, I was watching Romper Room and finger-painting at three years old. They are offered college courses at 14 years old, and they know that they are not going anywhere without a college education. No, excuse me, make that a Masters Degree. Both of which will leave them with crippling debt. And seventeen year olds don't take the ACT/SAT once or twice like we did, they take it several times, studying techniques to constantly improve their scores. They don't apply to a just couple of colleges either, they apply to a handful, from the sure-thing to the moderately selective to their reach school; they know the competition to succeed is fierce.
Let's face it, competition for summer jobs or internships is just as cut- throat. Their studies take up hours of their time most evenings. And if they're in a sport or Key Club or Senior Mentors or Newspaper Club or National Honor Society, forget it, they won't get to bed until 11 pm at the earliest. Do they waste time playing video games and laying on their beds binge-watching shows on Netflix? Most definitely. For me, it was Saturday morning cartoons and after school TV shows like Bewitched and I Dream of Genie and Gilligan's Island. Or that darn Mattel electronic football game that drove my mom nuts with it's incessant bleep bleep-ing.
The kids these days are more politically aware than I was at 40 years old, much less at 15. Who was the president during my high school years? Uh . . . . . . ? What was going on in the world in the late 70's, early 80's - - something about inflation and fuel and some hostages somewhere? These teens are engaged in our political process.
They know what an electoral college is. They know the names of their legislators. They have opinions about our Constitution. I mean, come on, you and I learned the Preamble by singing along to Schoolhouse Rock! I had opinions about NOTHING except that my mother was off her rocker if she thought I wasn't going to wear jeans as a high school freshman at my first public school. Not only are today's teens knowledgeable about the process, they are ENGAGED in the process, speaking out for their future, calling out the older generation who have been negligent and self-serving. Hello, aren't we the ones who told them to "speak up, child, advocate for yourself, stand firm for justice!"
And ironically, they are TOLERANT. If you haven't stepped into a high school in 35+ years, then you have no idea what you're talking about in regards to bullying. Does bullying still
go on? Sure (more so in middle school I'd say). Teenagers on a whole are amazingly inclusive. You're gay, lesbian, bi, pan, trans? Whatever, no problem. Like anime? Hey, who am I to say. Wear a hijab? Tell me more about it. Live and breathe football or dance or auto shop? That's okay with most teens. We were MUCH more conformist and sheep-like than today's youth.
As if that were not enough, I can tell you that today's teens, thankfully, are concerned for our environment. They talk of sustainability, being green. They recycle without having to be told. They carry water around to hydrate themselves. They eat healthy; my older teens beg us not to buy desserts, and they have stocked our refrigerator with Kombucha, hummus, spinach, and Larabars. They are expert smoothie makers (no sugar added), they are flabbergasted when they see someone litter, and they can't understand why we don't compost.
Teens are connected globally and, thanks to technology, carry on a daily world discourse via face-time, text, xbox, YouTube, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram (or Finstagram if they prefer). My teens understand that they can ask me something or show me anything at any time of the day, and I will respond within a reasonable amount of time. This is how we connect. This creates familiarity (sometimes TOO much familiarity--but again, we are the facilitators.) Back in the day, once we left our homes, we spoke with our parents what, once a week--on Sundays--or after 9 pm--and quickly if someone else wanted to use the phone! No wonder we have a closer relationship with our children than our parents did and their parents before them.
I have no doubt this generation is going to change the world. I am encouraged by the future they hold in their hands. They don't have to lay down on the living room floor to watch TV under a layer of their parents' cigarette smoke. They actually buckle themselves into cars and don't have to embarrassingly ask their friends to do the same because they do it automatically. They don't drink 12 beers at the backyard party of someone they don't know and drive home drunk. They don't play Quarters, Thumper, or do beer bongs. (At a recent high school graduation party, my daughter's friend--sober--made a boatload of money driving home all of her parent's inebriated friends.)
They are savvy enough to know that they are not ready to enter a committed relationship now nor immediately upon exiting their teenage years (nor have children before the age of 30), aware that they'd risk the unhappy marriages, multiple affairs, and ridiculous divorce rates today's adults are so infamous for. They want to right the wrongs they've so keenly observed, not drink codeine cough syrup to get a buzz or take their clothes off and streak across a football field. They don't lie to their parents about where they're going, and believe it or not, they check in via text quite often.
Of course there are always those teens who don't fit this scenario, but let's face it, there are always a few bad apples in the basket. I for one applaud today's teenagers, as did Pope Francis in his Palm Sunday homily: “The temptation to silence young people has always existed,” Francis said. “There are many ways to silence young people and make them invisible. … There are many ways to sedate them, to keep them from getting involved, to make their dreams flat and dreary, petty and plaintive. .... you have it in you to shout,” even if “we older people and leaders, very often corrupt, keep quiet.” It's not the teenagers who are the problem these days; if anything, WE are the ones to blame. Or, as a lapsed-Catholic friend of mine once said, "WE are the people our parents warned us about," not this powerful new generation!