I’m working at my former high school for four months. I’m teaching all of these humans in the same desks I once sat in, fifteen years earlier. Doing so ruffles up bits of memory not visited in years. Walking those halls in a different role conjures up endless thought.
First, a list.
Things I did as a teenager:
- Role play Lord of the Rings in the woods of Palmer Park
- Wear hand-made signs on my back to NSYNC CD releases
- Use a wet finger to leave messages such as ‘Alana + JC 4ever’ in the dust on strangers’ cars
- Hover outside the movie theater asking adults to buy rated R tickets for me
- Buy pheromone wipes from The Icing and walk the mall hoping to attract boys
- Play Barbie with my friend’s little sister’s amazing collection
- Skip lunch to redo my hair and makeup in the school bathroom
- Use public library computers to AIM with strangers
- Ask my parents to drop me at Media Play for 3 hours so I could browse EVERYTHING
- Drive aimlessly through town with friends to listen to CDs and ‘cruise Nevada’
- Pass notes in class using code names and funky folding techniques
- Stay up all night talking just to say we did and walk to breakfast in the morning
I’m not, well, proud of some of these things, and the list could get a lot less G-rated if I dared, but it’s a snapshot of a space and time. My space and time.
Things I see teenagers doing today: ( Now, this is just at school and in front of ‘teachers’, so it’s not entirely comparable)
- Plugging their phones in during class to charge
- Sneaking looks at their phones when they think our backs our turned
- Keeping their headphones on as accessories (simply off their ears during class)
- Texting, snapchatting, taking selfies, hiding in bathroom stalls on their phones, etc.
But other than the obvious smartphone difference, which I’m writing about off the bat to get it out of the way, the students remind me of the kid I was and the peers I went to school with. I don’t think fifteen years has changed the fundamentals of adolescence…much like my late 90s/early 2000s youth didn’t make 1980s teen movies any less poignant to me.
Every day, I see friends huddled at the same locker I used to use. They don’t hang up photos and redo their lip gloss there, however. In between class chatter doesn’t seem as necessary, the socializing doesn’t seem as condensed, and the personalization of posessions doesn’t seem as common (decorated books and binders, anyone?) This nuanced change is also probably because of technology – within our online worlds, we have our photos, our snippets of conversation, our personalized pages.
The athletes still wear their jersey on game days. But the pep rallies have gone…and in this, I think, lies a clue to what I’ve found to be the biggest difference between when I was a teenager and ‘kids these days’:
The primary difference is acceptance of a shitty world and uncertain future.
I’m not insinuating our early 2000s pep rallies meant we were full of vigor and spirit…but in a trite sense, that’s how I remember us. Maybe we moaned about assemblies or tried to skip out them, but as a rule, they existed, and within them, we existed a cohesive group of peers. An us.
An us with a bright future, and little to fear.
Today, I taught a lesson about 9/11/2001. The students I taught were toddlers when it all happened. They accept it as the way the world was. When I told them about MY day on September 11th, 2001, I had their rapt attention. They gaped at me with some of things I said.
Fifteen years ago on September 11th, I sat in my high school’s computer lab, hearing bit by bit about the second plane hitting the Twin Towers. As the bell rang, students spoke about it in the halls as we rushed to our next classes. My next teacher had a television, and we all watched with horror. By the end of the day, some of the boys were talking about enlisting in the military as soon as they turned 18. By the end of the week, half of the cars in the school parking lot sported American flags and United We Stand was written everywhere.
For those of us in high school on 9/11/2001, we recognize the feeling of the Before and the After. For those of us at school in April of 1999 when the Columbine shootings happened, we also felt the change of the Before and the After.
Today’s youth only know the After. And I feel bad for them.
Fundamentally, they are the same jumble of hormones and energy we all were, even if they don’t communicate the same old-fashioned way my friends and I did.
But their world-view is very altered from where I stood in my pre-2001 bubble. And in my pre-Columbine cocoon of safety at school, where nothing bad would ever, could ever, happen.
Now, it’s early September of 2016 and we’ve had to do a lock-down drill and a shelter in place drill at the high school I’m teaching in. These types of drills simply did not exist for me when I was there. The students roll their eyes at them, and huddle in the corner with the lights off, pretending there’s a shooter, and just….accepting the drill. Whatever. It’s part of life. And has been since they were babies.
So when I think about the fifteen years since I jaunted around my high school thinking I was hot shit, and I think about the students I see every day in 2016, I do notice the phones. I notice the changes in fashion, the changes in slang. That’s Teenage 101. That’s normal.
But when I see them faced with the world we now live in, and their quiet acceptance that accompanies it….I see the biggest change of all.
And I think it’s a damn shame this is the world we’re giving them.