I was over at Sandi's at the end of last year, doing laundry and watching MTV's top 10 topics of the year
as chosen by viewers. A commercial came on and all these scenes of teen lifestyles
flashed before me. One was a boy online looking at a porn site
as his father came home from work. Another was a girl stealing money out of her mother's wallet
as mom lay conked out on the bed with TV on. Yet another was of two kids playing Nintendo
. They all seemed like detestable scenarios from the parental point of view
. Then the product shows itself: MTV: the rhythm of being young
. Then the number one topic flashes on the screen: the tragedy in Colombine. I realized just then how desolate the future seems
to be for those who are doomed to grow up behind us as the Millennium Generation
I don't get to watch MTV at home since I don't have cable. When I went to college, I gave it up for the most part. So I have been a bit out of touch with the growing trends. I read instead. MTV also did a little stint about the erroneous Woodstock 99, the concert that I had already read about in Harper's Monthly. I was not surprised by its negative outcome nor any other mass-publicized activity of youth today. When the story of Colombine came out, I followed it very closely. I had several reasons why. I was going to be a high school teacher when I graduated. I was one of those rejected kids in high school. I was at that age where teens start looking up to you. I was terrified for them.
I work at a Ford Dealership and recently looked at a dealer's monthly publication. In it, they were advertising the new Focus, a hip new replacement to the current Escort, concocted to entice people who are labeled "Generation X." I have also read the book by Douglas Coupland by the same title, a man who had supposedly coined the phrase. Despite many negative claims by American society about this generation, I've found most assumptions to be fairly accurate. My goal in this rant, however, is not to draw attention to myself and my generation, but to focus on the one directly behind us, for it is these kids that I see being demonstrated on MTV and in malls across the country, the true target market.
Woodstock 99 could be viewed as a concise example of what young people are like today. Cheryl Crow, in a micro mini interview with Kurt Loder, summed it up for me when she said that the Abercrombie and Fitch, white, middle class males who have had everything given to them still exhibit anger, even if they don't understand why. They paid $150 to wade around in raw sewage and $4 for bottled water. They trashed and torched the place as an act of retribution for the conditions they were made to suffer with, or maybe because it was all they knew to do.
Sandi has a two year old son. I think of him and all the other children we Gen Xers will be raising as well as the teens already in the country today. Will they grow up with Internet in the home, digital cable, cell phones, pagers, microwave lunches, a dual-working parental unit? Will they know what it was like to not have these things? I am only 24, and when I was growing up, I didn't have any of those things and saw no need to have most of them as I grew up. The men I work with in the body shop are, on the average, old enough to be my father, and they are far more worried for the teens today than they ever were for Generation X. The more I see, the more I agree with them.
The social commentaries are telling us that something is going wrong. The actions that a teen chooses to take (even apathy is an act) tell far more about his condition than even he realizes. I don't know if the path that they are walking down can be re-routed, or if we must allow it to run its course. I don't have any quick fixes or simple solutions, since none can really be found for the evolving human condition. I only know what I can do as one person, should I ever choose to have children or to influence the children already in the world. For right now, I haven't decided to do either. It's the slacker in me, I suppose.
These are the things I know. Children have a right to childhood; so do teens.. They have a right to be raised and protected from the world for a while as they receive instructions from those who bore and nurture them. Even if they don't want those rights in the face of what society or peers say, they deserve to have them protected and upheld by people who know what's best for them. Children have a right to have people actively involved in their lives who know what's best for them. They have a right to learn ethics and how to earn what they want with hard work and discipline. They have right to go without a few things, if only to teach them innovation and creativity. They have a right to have dreams as well as to be educated in order to make their dreams come true. They have a right to a promising future as adults who can function reasonably in the world.
These rights are being compromised due to factors that seem too imposing and swiftly changing that parents are having a hard time finding solutions: economics, media marketing, overpopulation, technology, family structure changes, and education. In the face of an increasingly unstable foundation, it is no surprise to me how adolescence has drastically changed. What do we do to change this course, and how many of us really care?