I think it's safe to say that there are few among us who, given the chance, would return to their teenage years. However, I'd much rather relive my coming of age years when they actually took place--the 80s--then today. Unless you go back to ancient or medievel times or the Great Depression, I don't think there's been a period of history when things have looked more bleak to be a teen than today. At the risk of sounding like a cranky old lady, here are some of the reasons why:
Awful Job Outlook
I'm really fortunate to have been working since I was 15 years old, except for one 18 month period after I was laid off during the dotcom crash. My first job was in a supermarket; while I attended a local college I worked at a hotel, and then I was able to make the transition into the 9-5 office world. Today's teens not only face a job crisis once they graduate from college, but summer jobs are very hard to find. Fewer than 3 out of 10 American teens have a summer job this year, and the ones that do aren't getting as many hours as they would like. On the positive side, the Portland Tribute reported that the lack of work has turned some teens into entrepreneurs. However, not everyone can be the next Steve Jobs. I should also point out how crazy expensive college tuition has become compared to my college years during the early 90s, when scholarships, loans and my hotel job helped push me through. Today's college grads are left with astronomical loan debt and a very competitive job market. If I had to do it all over again today, I'd skip the four year bachelor's degree for training for an industry that has foreseeable demand for the coming years.
I was teased and bullied many times through elementary and junior high school, but I think what I went through was small potatoes compared to what some of today's kids must endure. I can remember a mean girl from one of my classes crank calling my best friend and I separately and saying terrible things about us; today, because of social media, that same message would be instantly broadcast to 100 or so classmates. It's a sad situation that has led some kids to kill themselves. I guess one good thing to come out of it has been the rise of anti-bullying organizations, which weren't around when I was going to school.
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On that note, today's teens have never known a world without the Internet, smartphones, iPads, iPods, etc. When I was in elementary school, the closest we got to seeing a piece of portable technology in the classroom was when someone brought in an electronic game such as Simon or Merlin. I won't deny that the Internet is a marvelous invention--I may not be employed right now if it weren't for it, and certainly wouldn't be enjoying the virtues of my blog. However, kids are becoming addicted to technology and constantly having a device in their hands. It's breaking down social, communication, and writing skills among the younger generations. According to a New York Times article from 2009, texting interferes with everything from sleep time to learning in the classroom. But nothing irks me more than to see people walking down the street, not paying attention to their surroundings or anyone around them while they text. Time to shut it off, already?
The Lack of Good Role Models
Maybe I'm just really out of the loop with this one, but I'm hard pressed to think of anyone who's a good role model for kids, teens and young adults these days. Certainly not Miley Cyrus. Maybe Will.i.am with his charity work? Maybe there's an athlete I don't know about? Today's fixation on being famous for the sake of being famous has catapulted people into the spotlight who don't deserve it and infested the networks with crappy reality shows. The Kardashians and Snooki should not be role models.
Sexed Up Society
I personally don't know if there's more pressure among teens to have sex today then during the 80s, but what I know is this: today's pop culture seems to be saturated with tons more sexual imagery then ever before. Yes, we had George Michael singing that he wanted our sex, and Cyndi Lauper singing about masturbation (She Bop) but at least they kept their clothes on where today, dressing slutty on stage in the norm. There was an emphasis on safe sex during the 80s because of the AIDS crisis; I can remember Madonna and other celebs in public service announcements urging people to be safe and use condoms. I don't remember the last time I heard about the same message being aimed at today's teens, even though it's been reported that oral and anal sex are among the rise in teens, despite the fact that it's not 100% safe. Teens are also dealing with "sexting" and sending racy photos of themselves via their phones.
Well, I hope I didn't come across as too crotchety with this post, but I'm grateful just the same to have been a teen of the 80s, when it seemed the most of us had to worry about was having enough Aqua Net to keep our hairstyle up all day. Such simpler times, indeed.