We took our annual sojourn to Idaho in June. This year we also helped to host a family reunion while there, so we took No. 7 Grand-daughter with us — the 14-year-old. She met a lot of relatives on both sides of the family and because our family is in one of those age cycles families go through, I got to observe LOTS of young teenagers in action. Can’t wait until they are of the age to host the family reunion!
I was a 14-year-old girl one summer and looking at it from nearly 60 years’ distance, it wasn’t too bad. Of course that was in the 50s, that benign time between World War II — that’s “the Big One” — and the 60s, the decade when Satan got loose and ran rampant on Earth.
As I remember it, that summer was much like every other summer I’d ever spent. I was a “country kid,” so didn’t get to see my friends a lot. I could meet them at the movies or the swimming pool. And we could get together in groups (gangs belonged in the paperback books that we weren’t allowed to read) at someone’s house but no riding in cars unless a parent was driving. The rules were the same for all my friends, but we all wailed “Everybody else gets to ...”
“I’m bored” was never my lament, as being a country kid automatically dispelled that. One didn’t dare utter those words, or somebody would find something to keep idle hands and minds busy. My favorite adolescent woe was “Can’t we go to town?” followed by a big sigh.
So, I am a little at a loss trying to empathize with teenagers today. I really can’t relate. All I pierced was my ears, and only one hole, in the lobes. Or maybe I can relate too well. Take away the black eye-liner and substitute blood red lipstick; ditch the instant messenger but leave the phone; and forget the late night social media stuff in favor of the aforementioned paperback novels. The mantra is the same: “You just don’t understand!”
What I don’t understand these days is the constant need to thwart authority. Or, more precisely, adults who allow it to be thwarted. I yelled at my mom; I pouted in my room; I stamped out of the house slamming doors and my parents let me vent. But before I ran away from home I knew that I had to finish my chores and I’d darn well better be back by 9 p.m. At the end of the day, I knew who the adult was in the relationship, and it wasn’t me, thank heaven!
This is not to say I didn’t give them grief. We 1950s teenagers were the vanguard of teenage rebellion. Remember? We spawned the Beatniks and James Dean in his blue jeans not to mention Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis and Bill Haley. And our parents were all determined to get through it. To abdicate the responsibility of parenthood would have been worse than anything the kids could have done to embarrass the family in that Depression-era spawned social conscience.
I don’t recall any teenaged psyches being damaged beyond redemption by a firm “no” and a stern look. And I don’t remember parents throwing away their kids as unmanageable or incorrigible. Oh, it probably happened. I knew some runaways and a couple of boys told by the judge to join the Army or go to reform school. Guess what! They are productive adults today who raised good kids.
I wouldn’t want to be raising a teenager these days. It has become the norm to let the inmates run the asylum — no accident the choice of phrase here; teenagers are slightly nuts for about eight or nine years, it’s part of the job description.
More to the point, I wouldn’t want to BE a teenager these days. I can see all kinds of trouble to get into. We certainly didn’t live in the TV Utopia of the 50s. We had our share of under-aged drinking, teen-aged pregnancy, parties in the woods busted by the state police, and once in my memory, a suicide. But we knew there would be consequences: Putting up hay in 100-degree heat is hell with a hangover and more than one of my schoolmates has celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary with a party hosted by a 49.5-year-old offspring. The world didn’t end. We regrouped and we carried on. But today’s teen doesn’t feel the social pressure to persevere or more likely, doesn’t know how.
All that said, I have to confess that after the shock of pink hair, pierced lips, tattoos peeking from cleavage (and beyond) and some electronic device permanently attached at the fingertips, the grand-nieces and -nephews were great kids, helpful, respectful, resourceful and fun to talk with. Could it be that I may be the one in need of an attitude adjustment? I know a 14-year-old who can probably do it.
Virginia Walters lives in Kenai.