I was recently speaking at a public event, when a lovely 17-year-old girl stood up in the audience to ask me a question. She said, “What advice do you have for my generation? And where do you think we are going wrong?”
I looked at her sternly and said, “You know what’s wrong with your generation?”
She braced herself bravely and said, “Tell me.”
I replied, “Nothing. Absolutely nothing. I love your generation. You guys are wonderful. And don’t listen to anybody who says otherwise.”
The relief on her face was instant and immeasurable. It was clear she had never yet heard a good thing said about her generation.
But I meant it.
Today’s American teenagers are the most sensitive, least violent, least bullying, least racist, least homophobic, most globally-minded, most compassionate, most environmentally-conscious, least dogmatic, and overall kindest group of young people this country has ever known.
They were raised to be nice to each other. They have always been encouraged to be tolerant with each other. They weren’t allowed to hit each other in the sandbox while adults looked the other way and let them “work it out on their own”. They don’t smoke as much as my generation did, they don’t drink (or drink and drive) as much as my generation did, they don’t beat each other up as much as my generation did, and they aren’t as mean to each other as my generation was. They don’t even have as much sex as my generation did.
Are they a little bit coddled, a little bit “soft”?
You bet. And I love then for that. This world could use more a bit more softness, and a lot less toughness.
They’re gentler than we were at their age, truly.
So let’s be gentle with them, in return.
Let’s give them a break, and stop complaining about them.
Are they perfect? Of course not — they’re teenagers. Do they live on their cellphones, and say “like” too much? Do they have short attention spans? Sure, but was there ever a teenager who had a long attention span? Do they listen to music that offends and even scares you? Whatever. (In fact: whatevs. When I was a teenager, adults were terrified that Satanic music was going to destroy the souls of our entire generation, and that Madonna’s midriff would make us all grow up to be strippers —and is anybody worried now about the threat of Satanic music or Madonna’s midriff ? Trust me, Miley’s sexual provocations will someday seem just as quaint and harmless, in retrospect.)
Are some kids today jerks? Sure, but show me a generation without jerks. I submit, in fact, that this is the least jerky generation yet.
Do today’s teenagers seem somewhat less motivated and ambitious than generations in the past? Could that possibly be because they have watched their elders drive themselves into a frenzy of debt and depression through constant consumer striving? Could it be that maybe they are questioning the whole rat race?
And are there perhaps better virtues to cultivate than mere ambition?
I think so.
Like consider this, for instance: I know a 17 year-old straight boy who recently took his gay 17 year-old neighbor (his childhood best friend) to the prom. The straight boy wanted his gay friend to enjoy the experience of prom, and the gay boy didn’t have a date, so the straight boy gallantly invited him. They rented tuxedos, a limo, took photos, danced, and had a ball. Nobody in their school batted an eye. And the real miracle is — the straight kid couldn’t even understand why i thought this was such a big deal. To his mind, it was simple: He loved his buddy, and saw no reason why they couldn’t go to the prom together as friends. Nothing about the situation made him feel threatened in the least. Nor did their classmates see it as strange.
Such a scenario would have been unthinkable in my high school back in 1987, where kids who even seemed gay were routinely bullied — not only by their fellow students, but sometimes even by their teachers. And I went to school in the liberal Northeast. We considered ourselves PROGRESSIVE!
Do we still have farther to go? Of course, but my hopes are that this generation will keep showing us the way to greater kindness.
If you have a teenager in your life, then, do try to appreciate him or her. I know they can be maddening, but they are also something quite special. (And as my 102 year-old grandmother once said to a room full of her descendants, who were complaining about KIDS THESE DAYS, “Hey! I knew ALL of you when you were 14, and you were all difficult. But you all turned out pretty good. These kids will turn out good, too.”)
In fact, I think they will turn out great.
And if you ARE a teenager (which I know is unlikely, because this is Facebook, not Instagram, or Snapchat) just know that I think you’re terrific. I admire your generation immensely. Don’t let anyone try to tell you that we were better than you were, back when we were your age. Trust me: we were not better. I was there. I remember.
I can’t wait to see what this generation is going to make of the world, with such decency and such compassion bred into their bones.
It’s an exciting time in history, and a good time. Believe me.
Personal comment: I actually agree on most of the part but I don’t agree with the sex part though.