Friday, December 5, 2008

The Best Years of Your Life!

Why are adults always saying things to teenagers like, "These are the best years of your life! Be sure to enjoy them!" No wonder the teenage suicide rate is so high! Have these people completely forgotten what it's like to be a teenager?? In case you have forgotten, let me remind you: Acne. Peer pressure. Hormones out of control. Everyone really IS watching what you do. Too old for kiddie discounts, too young for R-rated movies. Too young to drive, too old to play with your favorite toys without your friends laughing at you. Minimum-wage jobs. Being dumped by a significant other or shunned by the popular group is the END OF THE WORLD.

Now I really like teenagers, they are much more interesting than children, but I see no need to lie to them. I always say don't believe the hype, it only gets better and better from now on. Once you leave adolescence, you can do fun things like have slumber parties without any adults there - because you ARE the adults! - and instead of making shakes in the blender, you can make grasshoppers or daquairis. If you feel like driving to Tennessee for the weekend, hey, be my guest. Instead of saving up for stupid designer jeans that you only want because everyone else is wearing them, you can save your money for trips to the tropics or the furniture you REALLY want. Tell teenagers something like this, and their eyes light up. Remind them that adolescence is a temporary state of insanity and not the zenith of their existence, and they practically weep with relief. And they know you are telling the truth, because teens can spot BS three miles away.

I remember one example of propaganda that backfired when I was a teen: for some reason one day in our civics class we had two cute, bouncy Israeli teens just a couple of years older than ourselves show up to talk to us. Since they were children themselves and had no particular accomplishments to boast of, they just mentioned some things about their families (I remember they were both the oldest child) and their schools. One boy and one girl, they were not particularly Semitic-looking, and we were puzzled about why they were there. When the boy asked us if we knew where Israel was, pulling down the world map, a guy in our class asked them if they resented the fact that Orthodox Jews were the most hard-core about holding onto the Occupied Territories and yet they were the only ones who didn't have mandatory military service because of their religious beliefs. The two kids blanched, and the boy weakly said, "Oh... so you know something about the problems in our country." At that moment I suddenly realized that they were there to sell us on the idea that Israel is Our Friend and Palestinians are Bad. Of course, the Palestinians did not have the money to send perky, photogenic teens all over the US to tell us what great friends they were with us. And since that day I have been extremely sympathetic to the Palestinians, the Basques, the Catholics in Northern Ireland, and other suppressed peoples. (Although I do NOT support terrorism. Suppression is no reason to kill innocent people.)

In some ways, teenagers are very clear-sighted, perhaps because they tend not to see shades of gray. When I was in high school in the 80's, everyone was terrified of the Soviet Union, but I wrote a paper for that same civics class in 1988 (before the fall of the Berlin Wall) about how the Soviet Union was not the greatest threat, Islamic terrorism was. Now if a stupid little 16-year-old teenybopper could see that, it must have been in plain view for everyone to see, but the adults were too blinded by their fear of Communism to see the ensuing threat on the horizon. I'm not saying teenagers could have prevented September 11, but they may have things to tell us and we shouldn't disregard their often keen insights.

Famous Hat

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