This I Believe

Dan - Westport, Connecticut
Entered on February 20, 2007
Age Group: 50 - 65
Themes: children
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Many listeners may cringe when I say this – or shake their heads in disbelief – but I believe … in teenagers.

I have spent over 30 years working with teenagers, as a high school soccer coach, a writing tutor and a youth group advisor. The older I get – and the further removed from my own teenage years – the more I appreciate today’s adolescents.

Teenagers today face enormous pressures. They are expected to take a mind-boggling variety of academic courses, pass spectacularly banal standardized tests, then ace equally ridiculous college admissions tests. They are expected to join after-school clubs and play sports. They are expected to perform hours of meaningful community service, resist never-ending sexual pressures, and not experiment with drugs and alcohol the way their own parents did. They are expected to know what they want to do with the rest of their life, even if their own parents still have no clue what they want to do with theirs. They are expected to stop playing video games, stop spending so much time with friends online – they’re even supposed to stop eating junk food, one of teenagers’ most inalienable rights.

Incredibly, many of the teens I know do just that. Even more remarkably, they do it with a smile.

The adolescents I know are a wonderful bunch. Despite everything we adults ask of them, they like us. They enjoy – even admire – their parents, and they are quite capable of holding actual conversations with teachers, coaches, and random people waiting in line for junk food.

Today’s teenagers truly are our future. They conduct research, chat with friends, download music, even cook dinner, simultaneously. Some grown-ups believe such multi-tasking is bad. I – a man who can barely talk on his cell phone and blink at the same time – think it is wonderful. Today’s teenagers’ brains are wired differently than mine, and that will enable them to live, work and play in the world they will soon inherit. I sure couldn’t do it, but then again, I won’t have to.

And through all the demands, despite all the pressures, the adolescents I know are still kids. They retain an awe about the planet that is truly refreshing. Like teenagers through the centuries, they are trying to figure out their place in the universe. They ask just as many questions – and demonstrate just as much innocence, leavened with just as much irony and spiced with just as much goofy humor – as my friends and I did back in the day. And as, I am sure, my parents did, and their parents too.

I believe whole-heartedly in today’s teenagers – well, almost so. I don’t believe that what they listen to can be called “music.” But that’s an essay for another day.