RAVE: I can't stand anyone between the ages of 13-19 (and some 20-22 year olds can squeeze into that column as well). I say this having a almost fourteen-year-old son and a daughter who will be in them dreaded teens sooner than I will lose that 15 extra pounds I am always lugging around. And the truth of the matter is that I quite like my kids (which, as any parent knows, is much harder than loving them). I even like their friends. It’s teens as a collective that make me shudder. They are like a plague, taking up all the oxygen and elbow room wherever they happen to be lounging (because they ALWAYS lounge — even when they walk).
Yet this is the group we will be relying on to drive the country’s future, develop new businesses and choose — and be — our future leaders. Looking at the ganglion of teens sitting at the table next to me at Hill Top, it’s hard to believe they have what it takes. They are loud, obnoxious, wearing headphones and texting — probably each other. Every other word for the girls is “like” and [rhymes with duck] for the boys. They are completely unaware of the nails on blackboard reaction they are creating. This, folks, is the next generation of thinkers, artists, scientists, social activists and entrepreneurs.
Yet the fact of the matter is that they truly are all that and more. Earlier this week, I attended a program on bullying presented by a group of middle and high school students who participate in a variety of local groups like Youth-to-Youth, Student Training Leadership Program, F.A.C.E.S. and CoLeader. These are amazing programs and — dare I say it? — amazing teens who are dreaming of new possibilities and putting their ground-breaking ideas into action by working with and inspiring their peers through example. The kids took to stage and told their stories with wisdom, feeling and even a touch of humor.
Frankly, we don’t hear enough about positive programs like these that help kids understand and implement the power of connection. Indeed, one of the mothers in the audience said she accidentally stumbled on an introductory meeting at the middle school and went home determined to have her teenaged kids become involved. Instead, we get to read about the teen parties that get out of control, the teens knocking down mailboxes or caught making mischief at Academy Field in the wee hours of the night or the teens who write threatening notes and essays.
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t pay attention to these stories. But we also need more reportage on these programs and the amazing things these kids are doing.
RANT: My rant is an extension of what we call in my house TTP — The Teen Problem.
This does not refer to the fact that teens exist — we accept that they are an inevitable fact of life. Instead, we are referring to the stark reality that there is very little for these kids to do on a weekend night other than hang out and potentially get into trouble.
It seems that very little has changed since the dark ages when I was a teen and had nothing to do on a Saturday night. My friends and I would get together and basically wander around until curfew time. We were like a herd of wildebeests migrating from the neighborhood playground to the next neighborhood’s playground, over to the local pizza store where we were tolerated for about an hour before the owner kicked us out, back to the playground and so on. Occasionally, we would head to The O’s house because Mrs. O baked us cookies and Mr. O would teach us how to punch if we were ever caught in a street fight. But after we ate all the cookies and Mr. O banished us so he could catch up on the Mets/Jets/Nets, we would head back to another playground.
Back in the even oldener days of my parents, there were soda shops to hang out in where the newly minted teen generation — the boomers — would mingle for hours, drinking malteds and listening to music on the juke box. In the generation before that, there were no teens — you went to school and then you went to work or war.
But back to today, I know that our local town Pied Piper (albeit a Disney-esque version in that he is beloved by kids and parents everywhere) Bob Houghtaling runs an (I’m quoting here) “awesome” teen center. But it’s not enough. Nor are the myriad of after school sports, drama and other programs the schools run. These kids need a place they can regularly call their own. Maybe businesses like Main Street Coffee, Felicia’s, Symposeum Books, Main Street Music, Clayground, Nancy Stephen Gallery and School of Art, Figgy’s Art Studio, Sundance Yoga, Showcase, Focus Yoga, Absolute Fitness, Gold’s, Starbucks and Panera’s and so on could have a rotating monthly teen night so that once a week, the kids would have a concrete event destination somewhere. They could have Poetry Slams, concerts, film screenings, art evenings and open-mike events.
We seem to have a lot of worthy priorities in our town — sports fields we can play on, jump-starting the local theater, getting the science center at Academy up and running. It seems a teen center could be among our town’s most important institutions, helping reweave the social fabric, and not only for kids from specific neighborhoods. Every kid — no matter what part of town they live in — needs these centers. They offer a sense of purpose and connection. A Children and Youth Services Review study showed that teen centers help to keep kids out of trouble and ultimately boost self confidence, potentially leading to a reduction in crime, bullying and even teen suicide.
The thing is that behind every teen center is a group of committed adults keeping the thing going. Does our town have more Bobs?