Armchair Mayor column, The Kamloops Daily News, Sept. 25, 2009
“They don’t look happy,” I observed as we drove towards town.
I was watching students on their morning trek to high school, shuffling along as if they were on the way to the dentist. A number of them were texting as they went.
“Note the lack of cheerful countenance, the downcast looks, the reluctant gait,” I continued. “It’s as if they don’t want to be in school.”
Jacob finally bit.
“You mean, as if the education system is a conspiracy by adults to crush the life out of them, to remove any semblance of independent thinking?” he asked.
“Indeed,” I said. “It’s because we, the adult conspiracy, need a way to control them, to pound them into dust so we can reconstitute them into unthinking sheep who do our bidding.”
Jacob, now 19 and in his second year at TRU, which was where we were heading on this fine morning, corrected me.
“You are not part of the conspiracy,” he pointed out. “You are merely a cog.”
“Damn,” I said. “Here I’ve been thinking I’m on the inside, being that I’m in the media, and all. Who is the conspiracy, then, the industrial-military complex?”
“The Ministry of Education,” he said.
“Really? And how do they accomplish this?
“Have you ever noticed how polling stations are always at schools?” he asked. Without waiting for an answer, he added, “That’s so the Ministry of Education can rig the elections.”
“I think I understand,” I said. ”Polling stations are located in schools so the Ministry of Education can rig the voting to elect people who will set up the school system so the youth of our country are stripped of dignity and subjugated like slaves to do what adults want.”
“You’re finally catching on,” Jacob said.
The average parent listening in on that conversation might wonder just what they’re teaching in all those political science courses up at TRU, but Jacob and I have been having these philosophical discussions since he was about three years old.
I’m pretty sure he enjoys flummoxing the old man rather than that he believes his own stuff, but the fact remains there are a bunch of unhappy teenagers out there. Angry, even.
I don’t remember being anywhere close to that level of depression when I was that age. Of course, those were the golden years of teenagedom, of Elvis and Buddy Holly and Jerry Lee Lewis and later the Beatles. We wore the cuffs of our jeans rolled up, with white socks, a skinny white belt, suede penny loafers and a pack of ciggies snared in the sleeve of our t-shirt.
We drove old beaters, drank bootlegged beer and sometimes vodka, and spent Saturday nights tooling up and down the main drag looking for action.
And we managed to survive with the most fundamental of electronics — a console radio in the living room and a snowy black and white picture on our one-channel TV. The calculator wasn’t invented until I was out of high school.
“But things are so much more complicated now; kids have so much more to deal with!” they say.
I’m not so sure. We agonized over acne, insisted on being able to buy the right clothing, sulked if we weren’t given the total freedom we craved, cried over lost loves and longed to be popular.
As near as I can tell, that’s pretty close to the way it is nowadays, too.
Yet psychologists tell us 75 per cent of teenagers today are unhappy, and as many as 25 percent are clinically depressed.
Teenage depression manifests itself in withdrawal, eating disorders, drug abuse, self-injury, Internet addictions, even violence and suicide.
We must remember, of course, the many kids who truly have it all together and who give us real confidence in the future. And that most of those grumpy looking high schoolers we saw trudging to school the other day will turn out just fine as they work through issues of self-esteem and anxieties about the future.
Some, of course, won’t.
Jacob’s offbeat analysis is actually a very insightful abstract of how teens view the world, but I don’t think the fundamentals have changed much from one generation to another.
I stay in loose contact with a couple of friends from high school. Bill, Richard and I went very separate ways and haven’t seen each other more than a handful of times in the last 45 years. One lives in Vancouver, the other in Seattle.
We keep talking about a reunion among the three of us. We’ll golf, hoist a few (though not nearly as many as when we were young), and talk about the old days.
This was going to be the summer; it didn’t happen, as it hasn’t happened so many other summers.
Maybe some day it will, and then we’ll reminisce and tell funny stories about those wonderful days of our youth. We probably won’t talk about the nuclear-bomb-attack drills they put us through regularly in school. We won’t mention our two friends who were buried alive when a sand tunnel they were playing in collapsed. Or living with the fear of polio. Or even the debilitating loneliness when there was no one to talk to.
For no matter what it seemed like then, those times seem near idyllic now. And, of course, we had it so easy compared to young people today.