Thursday, July 28, 2011

There's no "i" in Teen

I'm really swamped with teaching the Stairway to Stardom program that I've been involved with since 1991. It's interesting to me on several levels. I connect with teenagers really well. Being a teenager is really difficult, and us adults miss the point of it, not despite the fact that we lived through it, but because we lived through it.

Essentially, it boils down to fear. To give an example, this was many years ago, but while driving down the twisty Highway 1 over the cliffs of the Pacific coastline with my girlfriend at the time, I thought it would be funny to drive a little faster than I should be going. The car skid on a turn, fish tailing right towards a cliff with the ocean directly below us. She screamed and I laughed. I've driven that car for years. I knew exactly how to make it fish tail, exactly how fast it could break, accelerate, and turn. *I* knew we were completely safe. Now, I wasn't actually trying to make it fish tail and scare her, but I did think it was funny that it did. It was immature that I was driving fast and that I laughed--not one of the high points in my life. But my point being, I wasn't scared because I was in control and I knew I was safe.

But teenagers don't know that. Teenagers have lots of pressure on them to be what their parents, friends, and society wants them to be. They have no idea if they actually want to be any of those things. As we get older, we figure out what of those things actually ended up being important. Pay more attention in class... that one turned out to be true. Follow clothing trends so you fit in... not important in the least. Kids don't have hindsight / live experiences to fall back on. They have to make decisions on what activities and pursuits to invest in or not. They know that they can seriously screw up their life if they choose badly. But they're making these decisions blindly which makes it a lot more stressful. I'm still amazed at kids that go to expensive trade schools right out of high school. What are you thinking? How the hell do you have any idea if you want to be doing that when you get out of school?

Parents often make this worse. We know that getting invited to Sarah's party is not going to have any real impact on our lives. We can tell teenagers not to stress out about those sorts of things. But they're surrounded by peers that do stress out. Clearly, parents taking it lightly demonstrating they don't understand--making it all the more ironic. A worse thing adults can do, tell a kid that working hard and taking responsibility is important, while not following their own advice, thus clearly demonstrating that working hard isn't important, and worse still, that the adults word and opinions are not entirely accurate or important--and worse still--that their word need not be accurate.

I find it interesting how efficiently culture replicates itself. Remember, the function of culture is to give us tools to know how to survive our environment. Hanging out with teenagers, I see how they shape each other to duplicate society around them. This is the concept of hegemony. Through hegemony, we learn which way we're supposed to face on an elevator, how we greet a new person, what political party we should align ourselves with, which God to worship or not worship, and how to grieve when we lose someone we care about. Our culture evolves over time, but it's always there to tell us how to act and behave.

I don't have a problem with it. And I know I'm not above it, even though I understand the forces shaping me to do otherwise arbitrary things such as brush my hair before I go out in public or dress a certain way.

In either case, instead of ignoring the concerns of teenagers when they worry about things that my life experiences tell me are irrelevant, I try and listen. If nothing else, it reminds me of when I was a teenager and worried about the things that stressed me out

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