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Back Talk: Talkin’ ’bout my generation

TribLocal and The Mash, the Chicago Tribune’s weekly newspaper and website serving teenagers in the city and suburbs, recently asked area high school students about the most pressing questions they have for members of their parents’ generation. As part of the regular Back Talk column, we’ll pose these questions to TribLocal’s parent bloggers, who are able to draw on their own experiences raising kids in the suburbs.

QUESTION OF THE MONTH: How is our generation different from your generation? Is this a good or a bad thing? Why?

 * * *

My teenage son regularly asks me if my high school experience was as stressful as his.

The short answer to that question is, “Not even close.”

But there’s a bigger answer out there. It’s an answer I’ve been noodling on since I’ve been the dad of teenagers for the last ten years or so. The truth is the teenage life I had – back in the seventies in a small midwestern town – was pretty simple. Sure, my world – like that of kids today – revolved around friends, school and socializing. But we also just goofed around. A lot. We didn’t have the internet, cable television or cell phones. We also didn’t live in a world of affluence, for the most part. Some kids got into trouble with bad choices they made with drinking or weed. But it wasn’t a huge issue. As far as college? Well, assuming you aspired to attend college, you pretty much just signed up and registered. We didn’t go through a “search” and we certainly didn’t lose sleep over the admission process.

I can honestly say I loved being a teenager.

A teen’s world today?

It’s done flip-flops and cartwheels compared to the one I knew. Obviously much of that is due to technology. The internet, cell phones, and now – smart phones – have put the world at our children’s fingertips. Information is only a few clicks away. That’s a good thing in many ways. But it’s also a complicated thing. Because when we have access to information, most of us get a compelling feeling that we need to act.

My son checks online about a college out east he’s curious about. He picks up a few facts and data. And suddenly he’s panicking about his class schedule. We see natural disasters occur – many times live on our televisions or computers – and we become overcome with a desire to help. Again, some of these things are extraordinarily good. But they illustrate the demands placed on our shoulders by having easy access to information.

Technology makes it nearly impossible for many kids to get a break. When I was a 16-year-old who had a bad day, I’d go home, put some headphones on and listen to my favorite album until my dad called me down for dinner. Today, that same 16-year-old might toss on headphones and listen to music on their iPhone. But they also are checking Facebook and texting at the same time. They still are getting sucked into the drama of their life and their friends.

Breaks are good. They’re a necessity.

Truth is, I marvel at teens today. They’re bright. They’re focused. They’re knowledgeable. They’re socially aware and conscious. A teenage me would be only a glimmer when compared to most kids today.

I think the real concern I have won’t be known for years. It will be when our kids look back and reflect on their own teen years.

I hope they, too, will be able to say they loved them.

* * *

According to AARP, this is a big year for me. Just as I was about to take out an order of protection against their multi-media membership onslaught, I learned that it would get me a discount at all sorts of stores and restaurants like I-Hop.


I can accept the fact that I have a milestone birthday to look forward to (I’d wink but my crow’s feet are resting right now). I can even accept the fact that I am probably one of the oldest moms on the playground when I pick up my youngest at school. It’s when I attend a function at my boys’ high school that I begin to feel downright rickety.

Physical differences aside, looking out over the crowd after a recent band concert, it was obvious – the only real difference between my generation and the one that’s coming up in the ranks is body language.

Many of my peers, I noticed, were huddled in groups, making eye contact, conversing, and laughing. I could tell they were enjoying each other’s company because they were saying things to one another like, “It’s so good to see you!”

Many of the students, on the other hand, stood alone, off to one side, heads down, still and silent. Their thumbs, however, were moving at lightening speed.

Yes, I’m generalizing and yes, I know that many adults enjoy texting and have the over-developed thumb muscles to prove it. I’ll carefully climb down from my soapbox (lest I break a hip) now, but I do worry that the younger generation would struggle far more with a wide-spread power outage than my generation would.

In fact, last summer, we lost power when a squirrel ran out of luck on a power line. About 30 seconds passed before my kids piled in the car and bolted into town, hoping to find a place to plug back in. My husband and I chose to light a candle and take advantage of the peace and quiet to indulge in the luxury of having an uninterrupted conversation.

And I know I’m not helping matters when, like my parents before me, I tap into the shock and awe value inherent in stories from my youth – especially the ones that shed a light on just how far technology has come since my pre-TV-remote childhood.

In my day (there I said it; you knew I would), I had to get up and change the channel if I wanted to see a different show. Being a material girl, I asked my parents for a typewriter, not a laptop, when I headed off to college. Music came on flat vinyl disks that I bought at a record store and I remember when MTV actually played videos, 24/7.

While my generation managed to survive in an Internet and app-free world, it’s hard to say if the younger generation is better off. I suppose they’ll have the answer by the time their kids ask them what it was like to grow up with old-fashioned things like an iTouch or a Wii.

Now, if you’ll excuse me. If I’m going to make the early bird special at I-Hop, I’d better scoot.

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