Quite aware of what they’re going through

I was a good kid. By good kid, I mean I was an honor student and member of the student council. I babysat a lot and worked a long-term, regular job in the evening, on weekends and during the summer. I looked out for my younger brothers, for the most part, and participated in a peer counseling group. I didn’t really engage in some of the rebellious behaviors of my peers. 

In typical teenager fashion, I was also a bit clueless. I had no idea how to properly do laundry or cook a real meal. I drove too fast. Sometimes I was just downright dumb. I could list examples of the really stupid and reckless things I did, but I really don’t want my own kids — or my parents, for that matter — knowing about my blatant stupidity. 

I don’t think I was atypical. Listening to my own parents, aunts and uncles, and just those older than me in general, I think most of us pulled some really boneheaded stunts when we were teenagers. Racing cars, games of chicken, sneaking out of bedroom windows late at night, staging battles with fireworks, and any number of other hijinks brought on through friendly dares are not at all uncommon. 

My point is that most people I know did at least one completely foolish and reckless thing when they were young. 

We seem to forget this really easily. Every generation seems to think that the generation on their heels is going to be the downfall of our county or even humanity in general. Lately I’ve been seeing a lot of social media posts about how the so-called Millennials and the current generation of young people are unbelievably stupid and how we should all be scared for the future. 

I have to say I completely disagree. 

Yes, the completely stupid and dangerous “Tide Pod Challenge,” which basically dares people to put Tide detergent pods in their mouths, has been making the rounds and receiving a lot of media attention. You’ll get no argument from me that eating a Tide pod is just flat-out dumb.

However, from what I’ve been able to determine from a little online research, intentional exposure to laundry capsules by teenagers is incredibly rare, with somewhere around 50 incidents reported in 2017. Fifty incidents among the approximately 25 million teens living in the U.S. 

Yes, kids on Facebook or other social media, or even through text messaging, say some absolutely horrific things to one another. But, in all honesty, the worst things I’ve ever seen on Facebook haven’t been posted by kids. 

I’ve heard complaints about how young people don’t know how to write in cursive or address an envelope. I myself have probably said something similar, but do they really need to know these things in our modern era? And if the answer is in the affirmative that they do need to know these things, then whose fault is it if they don’t? 

And is a lack of life skills from a teenager really any different from where many of us were when we were that age? 

Do a few foolish kids eating detergent and young people lacking some basic common sense really warrant writing off an entire generation and making exaggerated claims about how we’re all doomed? 

I would argue the answer is no. 

In fact, I would say that I am quite regularly filled with a sense of optimism when viewing the actions of America’s youth.

As a mom, of course I tend to think my own children are brilliant. They are. They’re not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. They test my patience regularly. They’re also funny, kind and caring. My 13-year-old son is one of the most courageous people I’ve ever known, and I don’t mean in a macho, tough guy way. I mean he performs and speaks in public without really breaking a sweat. More importantly, he speaks his mind and stands up for other people, even when that means confronting his own friends. The kid has more guts than I’ve ever had. 

In speaking with my kids’ friends, my friends’ kids, and the other young people I work with regularly, I am often blown away by their level of insight, imagination and heart. I don’t see in these kids the downfall of America. I see our shared future. 

Never has that been more accurate than this week, watching the response of young people around the country getting involved in the political process and making their voices heard following the murders of 17 people in yet another school shooting. 

The students who lived through the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, have the misfortune of knowing what it’s like to survive this nightmare scenario that has become all too common in our country. 

Judging by recent rallies, news items and the CNN Town Hall event held on Wednesday, Feb. 21, these kids are anything but stereotypical teens. They’re passionate, composed and articulate — at a time when nobody could blame them if they weren’t any of those things. 

Not only did these students live through something nobody should ever have to live through, they’re now being attacked by some who are accusing them of being paid actors or pawns of the liberal left. Yet they continue to maintain their composure and stay focused on their goals. 

It’s inspiring. It may be naïve to think that anything will change in terms of the epidemic of gun violence in our country, but these young people make me feel something I haven’t felt in a long time when it comes to this issue — hope. 

When you stop to think about it, young people have been heavily involved in some of the most important social movements in our country, including the Civil Rights era. Young people are the ones who have repeatedly been asked to make sacrifices in military service and defending our country. Young people have been full of innovative and groundbreaking ideas that change the world. Young people have both more to lose and more to gain than the rest of us; it’s their future. 

This morning my other young son shared with me some song lyrics. “And these children that you spit on as they try to change their worlds, are immune to your consultations. They’re quite aware of what they’re going through.” These words were written by David Bowie, long before my son was even born. In fact, the song “Changes” was released the year I myself was born. 

Apparently, it’s nothing new for us “old folks” to discount the younger generations. Doing so is as misguided now as it ever was. 


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