Twice in the last 48 hours on my Facebook feed I’ve seen posts that start with “Kids these days…” or some equivalent. Whenever I hear that, especially coming from someone my age or within shooting distance of my age (I was born in 1977), my immediate response is, “Fuck you.” I can’t help it. I don’t actually say that, but I think it. Usually I just bite my tongue and let them have their say. There’s no use arguing with an old person.
I turned 38 just over a month ago. I could easily look at kids (which seem to be getting older and older every year–when did people in their early-20s start being “kids” to me?!) and think that they’re all self-involved, entitled, clueless little twerps who don’t remember anything because of their super-computer-phones. I could say that when I was a kid, things were better. We had only a few channels on TV (depending on which part of my childhood, either five or 57) and had to use our imagination to play. I could say all that and I’d be right about some of those things, but most of it would be bullshit painted pink by the rose colored glasses of being an adult.
I’m a teacher. I work with 14-15-year-olds, and occasionally the 16-18-year-olds, too, and I can tell you first hand: these kids rock. First off, they’re dealing with a world that’s completely different. Born at the tail-end of Generation X, we grew up with the remnants of the Cold War and the fear that Gorbachev (remember him?) and Reagan would push The Button at any minute, annihilating everything we knew and loved forever. No more Star Wars, Masters of the Universe, Strawberry Shortcake, or the Shirt Tails. Kids these days live in a world where there are school shootings at least once a month and in a world where no one cares if you’re a Communist because they’re too busy fearing you’re a terrorist. Even my oldest students, the seniors, have little-to-no memory of the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks. My teenage daughter was 3 when it happened. The freshmen were born the year it happened. These kids have been raised under the PTSD that the entire nation (world?) suffered as a result of that horrific event and its aftermath.
Next, when I was a kid I was bullied. From around 5th grade to my sophomore year of high school, things were pretty rough. I was chased home, ostracized at school, jumped on at least three-to-five occasions, threatened innumerable times, belittled, and basically treated less-than-human by many. I was smart, the teachers loved me, and I was horrible at sports. Oh, and I was quirky, which was the worst. Naturally, being home was my favorite place to be. I could play with my action figures, or role-play, and let my imagination fly. Even after most kids my age had put away their toys, I continued to sneak my action figures. I had to. The stories in my head were too much. I was safe at home.
Kids these days have the internet. Shut off their computers, you say. They have their phones. Take away their phones. Sure. Go for it. Go ahead. While you’re at it, give me yours. Some of you can. Some of you can’t. When kids are bullied these days, it doesn’t stop when they go home, but continues online. Cyberbullying sounds like a bad idea in 1980s science fiction stories written by William Gibson or Bruce Sterling, yet we’ve been hearing about it for almost a decade. Teenage suicides are on a rise and it ain’t satanic-themed heavy metal albums that are contributing, or Dungeons & Dragons, no matter what Tipper Gore says. It’s the ease in which the tormentors can go after their prey.
Where are the parents? you ask. Did your parents know everything you did? I don’t think so.
Another thing I hear: Kids these days are spoiled and entitled. Oh? And you weren’t? Tell me again about how much you enjoyed your Atari 2600. Or your Nintendo. What? You had a Commodore 64? Wow! You must’ve been rich. And remind me about the joys of MTV, Nickelodeon, and HBO. I had some of these things, some I didn’t. Coming from a lower-middle-class family, we didn’t necessarily have all the toys and gadgets, but my kid sister and I were pretty spoiled just the same. Just because the toys are different now doesn’t mean that we were that different.
Yeah, well, kids these days have no respect for adults. I know a kid who was playing in his backyard and began climbing a post that was in a neighbor’s yard. When one of the people in the apartment house saw him on the post, he was told to get down. The person was a nice guy that the kid had known his entire life. For some reason that day, maybe it was because the kid’s friend was there, maybe it was because the kid was an asshole, the kid started saying the neighbor had halitosis. He even sang a song, “Haaaalitosis! Haaaaalitosis! Halitosis! Halitosis! Ha-AA-aa-lito-o-o-sissss!” (To be sung like “Halleluiah”). Yeah, you know who the kid was. This would’ve been around 1990. Kids haven’t had respect for adults since around the 1950s when teenagers began being an economic force. Please don’t tell me that things are worse now in the regard. They’re different, sure, but not that much worse.
How are they different?! Well, for one thing, parents aren’t on anyone’s side except their kids’. Do you know how difficult it is to give a student a failing grade? They have to have a progress report signed by a parent. A phone call home or a parent-teacher conference has to be set up. Everything has to be documented. Why? Because of you, you helicopter! Why don’t the kids respect adults? Because you don’t.
Look, man, I’m a fucked-up guy. I have anger issues, touches of depression, I’m a wise-ass, and I’m a bit egotistical. If my daughters skip any of these problems, I’ll be happy. If either of them grow up well-adjusted, I’m happy. Honestly, your kids see the best of me! Why can’t the same be said of you?
I could go on and on, but I’m not going to. I’m tired, and I have to teach your kids in the morning, but I want to say one more thing before I go….
Working with teenagers has been a high-point of my life. Kids these days a sharp as knives, ask tons of important questions, understand things you and I would’ve run screaming from, have somehow managed to stay children in some ways while having to grow up real fast in others. Kids these days are seeing injustice and are pissed off. They’re seeing that the same ol’ same ol’ isn’t working, and while you’re sitting on your ass bitching about why they’re inferior, they’ve already processed what’s broken and what needs to be fixed. And they’ll fix it. Because kids these days, they’re growing up, and they’ll be able to look at the little old man and woman on the lawn, shaking their fist, and continue walking by, listening to music on their phones, and understanding that they’ll be the ones to do what none of us could: fix society.
This year marked 10 years since my first wife and I split. I think we’re both happier now, which is great, but I wonder how my 16-year-old daughter deals with it. Having had parents that stayed together, I don’t know what it’s like to have to schlep between houses, between rules, between parenting styles. And I know I feel as guilty now as I did the first night in my new apartment in March 2004, the first night in many that I did not read a book to C, or sing to her (usually Billy Joel’s “Piano Man”). The choice I made back then, I’m still convinced, was the right choice. Unfortunately, the collateral damage is sometimes more than I can handle.
This is all the more on my mind now that I’m a married father again. G turned 21 months yesterday. She recognizes the letter G (or Geeeeeeee!, as she says), loves to draw and color, and loves music. She sings better than I do. There’s a huge difference between her at 21 months and C at 21 months, namely, me. I’m 36 (very soon-to-be 37) instead of 21 (soon-to-be 22). I have a career. Two. Teaching and writing. Back then, I had dreams. I’d sold one story to a small press zine, price: one contributor copy.
My 16-year-old has spent her 3rd summer in a row with my sister in Florida. She comes back this weekend. I’ll be tracking her flight. If I know when it’s overhead, and if it’s during the day, maybe I’ll take the 21-month-old outside to look up in the sky and try to see the plane. Unless she’s landing in Rhode Island instead of Boston. I’ll know soon enough. Anyway, I’ve missed her. She’s spent less time at my house this year than the previous 8. I see her every day since we go to the same school. Hell, I was one of her teachers during her freshman year, and will be again during her junior year. Still, I miss her. Her stepmother misses her. And her sister misses her.
She has another sibling on the other side who is older. She’s missed by this one, too, I’m sure. To her younger siblings, C’s like Wonder Woman, Beyoncé, and Oprah mixed together.
I hope I’ve taught her everything she needs to know. And while I’ve made mistakes, I hope I’ve set a good example. But I guess that’s what every parent hopes, married or divorced. You lead them, then you guide them, and then you let them go. It’s an odd dichotomy to be on both ends of the spectrum, leading one and letting go of the other (she turns 18 in less than two years…egads!).
I love my girls. They’re both insanely intelligent, talented, and beautiful. Sometimes I wish I was a better father, but I know that I give everything I can.
And I always will.
It sucks being a teenager. It really does. By teenager, I mean from about 12 until about 20 (though things don’t get much better in your early twenties). But yeah, they suck. There are feelings and emotions coursing through you, making you feel unlike anything known to humankind. You’re parents don’t get you, your teachers don’t get you, and most other teenagers don’t really get you, either. And while the logical part of your mind knows this isn’t true, your heart feels that it is, and that just fucks you up. You’re not alone in feeling this way, yet, you are alone in being able to overcome it.
That’s depressing, isn’t it? Yeah, we’re here, we adults. I’m a father and a teacher to teenagers. I was a teenager once, too, and not a very good teenager. I mean that most teenagers get up to shenanigans and do stupid shit. I didn’t. I stayed home and wrote. I was too shy to talk to girls, didn’t really get along with guys, and preferred reading and watching movies to more social activities. And I was depressed for a large part of my teenage years. Partly, the bullying I endured from the time I was 10 until around 15 contributed to these feelings. But I got through, became a father at 20, and pulled myself through many things. The year I turned 30, things began to change. Still, that lost, helpless (and somewhat hopeless) teenager still resides within. The way I got through was accepting the love of those whom I trusted (parents, a teacher who acted as a second mother) and by eventually changing myself.
I was around 19 when I decided to change the way I was. It wasn’t instantaneous, nor did it happen easily, but the beginnings began at that point. I knew that even with the love I had of those around me, I could get myself out of those funky years. And that’s what I want to tell you. You should accept help from those who mean to do well by you. Parents, teachers, guidance counselors (most of guidance counselors aren’t worth their weight in anything, but every now and then I meet one who is excellent), coaches, etc., are often willing to help. They cannot fix everything, but they can listen and maybe give advice. You won’t take much of their advice, but you’ll wish you had. Someday. And it’s okay that you didn’t heed their advice because you need to fall down. You need to have your heart broken. But you also need to get up again and try again, even when everything in you says you don’t want to.
Kid, you’re given one life. One. Yeah, some of you believe in an afterlife or reincarnation or somesuch, and if you really want to wait for that time, that’s your call, but the way I see it, even if you do believe in that stuff, you cannot deny that this is what you have right now, and this is where you need to focus. In this one life, you must live. You must take chances and experience the pains of failure. And it will suck to fail. And you’ll cry. Man will you cry. And that’s good. You have to push yourself to get over that pain of failure, whether it’s a relationship or a goal or something else entirely, and then try again in a new way.
It won’t be easy. I can’t do it for you, but I can help you. And even if I could do it for you, I wouldn’t. You need to be able to take responsibility for yourself. But I promise that if you keep trying, if you keep making those attempts at whatever it is you wish to achieve, sooner or later, something will happen. It may not be exactly what you’d wanted; your dream girl/guy may never love you, your dream career may never be anything more than a dream, but you will find happiness with someone, doing something. But you have to make it happen. All those sad people in the world who tell you it will never happen have given up, or haven’t realized that their happiness is within them.
Look, I don’t have all the answers, but I promise that even though you have to face your personal fears alone, you are not alone in this world. We can, and will, support you.
I hope this message finds you, whoever you are. I know being a teenager sucks, but it’s the only thing you’ve got right now, and someday these struggles will prove to be inspirational. You’re doing a great job. Now don’t shut yourself off, just live.