I’ve always been a fan of Saturday Night Live. One of my favorite SNL eras was the late ’80s and early ’90s. Dana Carvey had so many memorable characters and catchphrases. One of his characters, called Grumpy Old Man, complained about progress and lamented how easy things are today. He’d spout off, “Today, everyone’s spoiled rotten. When I was a boy, we didn’t have these video games. We made up our own games, like ‘Chew the Bark Off the Tree.’ You and your friends would find a nice oak tree and you’d start chewing the skin off of it. And there were no winners. Everyone was a loser. It rotted your teeth and left your intestines scarred and knotted. And that’s the way that it was and we liked it. We loved it!”
It’s easy to look at today’s generation of teenagers and say they’re babied, oversensitive, and have a sense of entitlement. In some ways, that criticism is accurate. But when I see a viral video of a Jeff Daniels character calling late adolescents “The worst period. Generation period. Ever period,” it’s time to take a reality check. If I were given the choice between being a teenager now or 30 years ago, I’d take 30 years ago any day of the week. Young people growing up today have challenges more difficult to navigate. These challenges would be more difficult for anyone, let alone for teenagers, who haven’t figured out who they are yet. They’re living in a world completely different from the one we grew up in and we can’t rely on our own teenage experience to guide them effectively. Understanding their world will give us greater influence. Here are 3 reasons being a teenager is harder today than it was in our day.
1. Under the Microscope and Forever Documented
Imagine having a film crew document your teen years and then post it all online. Think about every dumb or immature thing you did or said in high school or college. The internet has provided a permanent and public place for all of that to be exposed and mercilessly judged. Privacy is nonexistent. There’s always someone, mainly peers, documenting teens’ every move and word. It’s a pressure we were fortunate to live without.
2. Never-Ending Exposure
The internet is their world and the stream of information is constant. Sure, they can decide not to go on, but that’s like telling a teen to stay in his or her room for all of high school. It’s not realistic. Teens are online and they’re going to encounter everything offered, positive and negative. Unfortunately, the negative can do major damage. A kid being bullied at school could, at least, find a safe haven at home. But there is no safe haven from cyberbullying.
Teenagers are exposed to violence and pornography at an early age without the ability to process what they are seeing. Most teenage boys in particular end up with an addiction to pornography as a result. Innocence and childhood are cut short while adulthood is still many years away.
3. Unhealthy ExpectationsWe are asking teenagers to do too much with not enough time.
I’m all for setting a high standard. The problem is we are asking teenagers to do too much with not enough time. Today’s teenagers play sports all year with the commitment level of a professional athlete. Most are forced into taking advanced placement courses, giving them a workload they are ill-equipped to manage. They must complete service hours, be stage performers, do activities outside of school, and sometimes have jobs. They don’t have time to do it all at a high level. It’s exhausting. When I suggested that one teen go to a summer camp several years ago, he asked if he would get service hours. When I told him no, he asked why he should go. When I said “to have fun,” he said, “I don’t have time for that.” What a sad statement.
Sound off: What else makes being a teenager harder today than when we were teens?
Huddle Up Question
Huddle up with your kids and ask, “What’s hardest about being a kid?”