Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Kids These Days

Whoa, 90s fashion was bad.
I’d be lying if I said that phrase hadn’t crossed my lips at some point in recent memory. And every time I even think it, I’m plagued with the realization that I’m becoming that person—the crotchety old-timer who regularly compares today to the “good ole days” when I was a teen in the 90s. Okay, I’m being facetious, but the fact still remains: I am no longer a teenager. *Gasp*

While I can honestly say that’s a huge relief (seriously, my teen years SUCKED), it has an impact on how I approach the books I read and the stories I write. How do I know what teens are into today, how they communicate?  Are they still using Twitter, Facebook, email, fill-in-the-social-media-platform? And then there are the labels…* What do you call someone who dresses in head to toe black? Are they goth, emo, fill-in-the-blank? Is something great considered cool, rad, fetch, whatever? I’m kind of at a loss.

When I was teaching junior high and high school, it was as simple as eavesdropping during class time (I know, I’m a terrible person), but now? I have to do a little more digging. And by digging, I don’t mean mining the CW for material. Because let’s face it, most of the so-called teens on their shows are closer in age to me in my thirties than anybody stressing over getting their driver’s license**, studying for the SATs, or kicking butt one equation at a time as a Mathlete.

So I guess you could say last Sunday's MTV VMAs were a bit like "research". After watching that train wreck of a performance by Miley Cyrus, I was left with a raging case of the olds. Like, “Am I just too damn ancient for this trash?”*** Do kids these days actually enjoy watching Hannah Montana twerk around some Beetlejuice wannabe in her nude-toned bikini doing questionable things with a foam finger? I’m guessing (hoping) not. To be perfectly honest, Teen Me would have been WAY more horrified by that spectacle than Thirty-Something Me. (Then again, Teen Me was a major prude, so…) Basically, I have no idea who their target demographic was, especially when you consider the two-second appearance by ‘N Sync. “’N Who?” you might be asking if you were a teen sometime in this millennium. My point exactly.

There aren't enough facepalms.
And I’m off on some weird tangent… 

What I often find myself wondering is: How much have teens changed since I was one myself? I’d like to think the answer to that question is “Not really all that much” and continue on my merry way, but it’s impossible to disregard the impact of such things as social media, the ever-present cell phone, and the world we live in today. When I was a teen, I never had to worry about cyber-bullying, people being able to reach me everywhere I went via cellphone, keeping up with the latest technology, and so on. Sure I might occasionally pine for the trappings of my youth—hand-written letters FTW (!) and rotary phones (not)—but I can’t ignore what makes today’s teens tick, whatever that might be. (Is it twerking? Please tell me it’s not twerking.)

But then I have to ask myself how much it matters whether I nail the expressions, the labels, what’s in, what’s out. By the time my story is written, these will no doubt be obsolete.**** As surely as yesterday’s Running Man has become today’s Twerking, times change, but at their very core, teens really don’t. Whenever I feel like I’m getting a bit out of touch, I just have to remind myself: Teens have many of the same all-consuming worries, crippling insecurities, and big, bold dreams that I had (and still do). And that’s where the story is. The rest is really just details.

* For the purposes of writing. Not suggesting labels are a good thing.
** Oh wait, that’s still me in my thirties…
*** PSA: Yes. Yes, I am.
**** Not to say that it isn’t important to be in the know.


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