Thursday, June 11, 2015

(Better) words for teenagers

Anyone who reads this blog, or talks to me on an intermittent basis, knows that I am not big on curmudgeonly generational condescension, aka "kids these days" talk. Older people only think younger generations suck because 1) older people romanticize the past and 2) they forget that their elders thought they, too, sucked. The generation gap is as old as humanity itself, because it's human nature to lack perspective.

I, for one, try to be cognizant of this, and wish more people tried too. You'll never hear me say music sucks now, even though I'm 35 and that's my birthright. Because, let's face it, many songs I love from the 1990s are considered dreck by those who didn't come of age with them as a soundtrack. If I was 15 today, flooded with endorphins from being able to ride with my best friend (who could DRIVE!) to the mall or skating rink to flirt with girls, I'm pretty sure today's hits would be the best ever to me. Because that's what a lot of music taste is, frankly. Nostalgia. "Man, this takes me back!"

The same is true with generations in general. Two days ago, I was swimming at my complex pool when a group of rowdy, barely teenage boys came in. They were jumping around, hooting and generally being balls of hormonal energy. My first instinct was to be annoyed, but then I thought, I was also an obnoxious shit at 14, a time I remember incredibly fondly. So I let it go. And then they and all the other teens and preteens got thrown out due to lack of parental supervision. They quietly grumbled, but obeyed. It happened shortly again thereafter, with the manager explaining liabilities and how everyone would have to vacate the pool if the teens didn't comply. One of them nodded at such reasoning and said, "True dat," and they politely left.

So, no, I don't worry about teenagers. They're not intrinsically worse than anyone else. Indeed, I'd worry just as much about a teen who wasn't naturally exuberant, or who didn't blink at being told they weren't mature enough to be on their own, as I would about one who was criminally defiant. Teens aren't getting stupider; it's just that we, as adults, have grown smarter. In theory, at least.

Another old-grump attitude I don't care for is the idea that every teenager is an irredeemable felon. I could always tell when a teacher or other authority figure had come up working with troubled teens, because they would often treat all of us that way. The worst ones would take pride in it, reminding us that they were doing us a favor by going hard on us. Which no doubt served its purpose with the problem cases, but was radically out of place in any class I was ever in.

Given all that, I bristle every time something goes around the Internet that's cruel in tone, but has thousands of people saying, "This should be given to every teen in America." Like this:

Like most pieces of its ilk, it has a kernel of truth: Handle your business. Whatever you're a part of, be it a household, a workplace or school, take your share of responsibility. Build a solid work ethic. Never stop learning. You'll feel better as a person for it.

But it's presented in such a nasty, snarling, condescending way that it practically guarantees that teens will bolt from it. (As it is, I cleaned my kitchen the day before yesterday and now I'm ready to trash it.) That's the risk you run when you quote a judge who regularly deals with (problem) youth as if it's good advice for all teenagers.

And what's the deal with "Your town does not owe you recreation facilities?" That's as weirdly specific as it is stupid. All towns need such things. And not just for teens, but for everyone. Which gets to the real meat of why I find this passage disgusting.

Any teenagers who read this, take note: Work is important. Work is necessary. Handle your business with diligence and pride. But you deserve time and a safe place to play too. Everyone does. Because here's a secret: Adults play too. It's called work-life balance. Even those who mock the concept exercise it in their lives. Why? Because you have to. No one can do nothing but work. I work very hard, but still I find time to go cycling and swimming. I read books. I explore. Sometimes I do nothing at all. Just like I did as a teen and just like you do now. Others find solace in different ways — sometimes in destructive ones — but it's all done to set something apart from the grind. As any trainer will tell you, an important part of working out is rest time. Without it, your muscles have no time to heal.

"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" - Someone with a poor work-life balance.

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