My son’s in middle school and I’m scared to death. Overall, the group of people I fear the most is teenagers. Well, teenagers and young adult men. And mean middle-aged women. And, crabby old people. I guess I’m afraid of just about everyone in one way or another. But, still, I’m ranking teenagers at the TOP of the list. I mean, they manage to act cruelly and stupidly and yet still be condescending; who else do you know who does that besides Mitt Romney? (JK, conservative friends. Jay Kay.)
They experiment with all kinds of crazy things: alcohol, sex, chewing tobacco- you name it. The girls hardly wear any clothes and the boys live within a toxic cloud of Axe body spray. They’re not that nice to each other and yet, they rove in packs. They have secret languages that no one can understand and they find ways to make drug paraphernalia out of seemingly innocuous household items like plastic bottles and apples. (Or, so I’ve heard.)
Of course, it’s possible that the real reason I fear teenagers is because I was a terrible teenager myself. I went from honor roll to skipping school in the time it took to get a fake ID. (Read: no time at all.) My poor mother! All that time, I thought she was overreacting and trying to control me with her grounding and her curfews. Now I realize she was just hoping I’d make it out alive and, hopefully, unscathed.
I did, ultimately, become a (relatively) well-adjusted adult. But, so many of the mistakes I made as an adolescent were costly: my grades fell; I didn’t go directly on to college. And some of my mistakes could have been deadly: I drank too much; drove too fast; took candy from strangers, etc. Even my mildly reckless tanning behavior could have been lethal. I really do look back and think how lucky I am to be alive.
Like every parent, I don’t want my kids to make the same mistakes I did. I want them to thrive during their adolescence and achieve independence; I want them to be happy and healthy. And, I want them to realize that they’re not invincible. I heard that a lot, when I was young: “you teenagers think you’re invincible”. I thought it was such a stupid thing for someone to say; of course, I knew I wasn’t invincible. But, now I understand that I didn’t really get it- not at a gut level. Young people might know, intellectually, that their actions have consequences, or that they’re faced with the same mortality as every other human being, but I don’t think they can really internalize that until they’ve lived longer. It’s sort of a paradox: the longer you live, the more you see how fragile we can be..
But, I think there are some young people learning these hard lessons this week and my heart aches for them. I was mostly kidding about fearing teenagers. But, I do fear for them. So, please, kids: Don’t do drugs, don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t have sex until you’re emotionally ready and then, get permission from your parents, wait another ten years, and use a condom.
And, please, be careful driving and always, always wear your seatbelts. We love you.