If I could have the quick attention of all teenagers out there. This will only take a few seconds, I promise. I just wanted to take a moment of your very precious time to let you know, that your parents are not idiots. I know, I know, the sheer fact that these words are coming from an adult mean nothing. What can I possibly know about being a teen in today’s world? Things are different today!
So let’s start there. Yes, things are different today. They are better. Cars are safer, technology has put information at your finger tips, there are a gazillion television stations, schools let you re-take tests if you do poorly, and society as a whole is much more tolerant of different races and sexual orientations. Those are just a few things I could come up with off the top of my head. Given time I am sure I could come up with a whole lot more. But all that aside, let’s look at the basic flaw in the whole “things are different today” argument. How the hell do you know that? Were you around when I was a teenager? Do you think you invented the whole concept of the anguished teen whose parents just can’t understand them? Rebel Without a Cause came out in 1955. Patrick Swayze, Tom Cruise, and Ralph Macchio were The Outsiders in 1983, based on the 1965 S.E. Hinton novel that is still taught and relevant in many high schools today. Just like you, your parents dealt with cliques, peer pressure, drugs and alcohol, school work, and parents. And they rolled their eyes at their parents just like you are doing right now while reading this. So really, what is so different?
This is usually where the more astute teen will bring up Columbine. It is sort of the Holy Grail of the “things are different today” philosophy. Don’t get me wrong, I am not making light of what happened there in 1999, but it is certainly not the starting point of school shootings or tragedy. One of the more infamous school shootings happened in 1979, the year I started high school, when 16-year-old Brenda Ann Spencer opened fire on a San Diego elementary school playground, killing two and injuring nine. When finally captured, Brenda’s only explanation was that she didn’t like Mondays, and that the shootings livened up her day. Bob Geldof later used the incident as inspiration for the Boomtown Rats song, “I Don’t Like Mondays.”
Closer to home in Winnetka, Illinois, there was also the strange case of the former babysitter Laurie Dann, who entered a second grade classroom in 1988 with three hand guns, killing two and injuring nine before she took her own life in a police stand off. Prior to that event, in 1974, a 14 year-old student entered Clara Barton Elementary School in Chicago with two guns, killing the principal and injuring three others before a teacher managed to disarm the child.
Then there was an incident that affected my own school, Wheaton Central High School. It happened in 1985, two years after I had graduated, but my younger sister was attending the school at that time. It didn’t happen inside the school, but it does give light to the sort of teenaged problems that existed then, that are really no different from what kids are dealing with today. It involved a young couple named Larry Brock and Amy Boyle. Larry was 16, and Amy was 15, and Amy’s family was preparing to move out east to where her father had been transferred for work. Rather than face separation, the young couple decided to run away and get married. Their trip would take them to Colorado, and they ended up bring along with them an unexpected guest, 15 year-old Patrick Beach. In a remote camp sight in the mountains of Southern Colorado, for reasons that only Pat Beach could possible understand, Larry and Amy were both shot to death with a .22 caliber hunting rifle.
Pat Beach pled guilty to the two murders and was sentenced to twenty years, but as part of a plea agreement he was sent to a state mental hospital where he was to stay indefinitely, until a judge could be convinced he was no longer a danger to himself or to others. Dr. John Macdonald of the Forensic Psychiatry Department at the University of Colorado, testified at the time that Beach showed no remorse for what he had done, and that he admitted that he would do it again if given the chance. Dr. Macdonald told the court about a socially isolated young man with a high IQ of 134, but a low self-esteem. He talked about a child whose parents were divorced, and who had conflicts with his mother and step father. There were problems with neighborhood bullies, and a conflicted sexual obsession with Amy Boyle. There was also an intense involvement with the role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons, but Dr. Macdonald downplayed the games importance in the actual killings, saying it was just another adverse factor in what was an overall unhealthy childhood.
So what really has changed so much over the past twenty-five years. Replace Dungeons & Dragons with any number of on-line interactive video games, and take the bully out of the neighborhood and put him in cyber space, but other than that the basics are still the same. The thing you young adults don’t seem to get is that your parents are not the enemy. They are tough on you because they want you to succeed. They get mad when homework is not done, because they know how important an education is to your future. They get upset when you take things that don’t belong to you, because they want you to learn respect for others, and for yourself. When your parents had children, they took on the responsibility of raising and guiding you to adulthood. Raising you is their job, and most parents take that job very seriously. It shouldn’t take a tragedy to convince you that your parents are there for you, and that they love you.
If you really took the time, and put yourself in your parents position, would you honestly do anything different? If your child lied to you, would you just let it go, or would you let them know that you are not dumb and that you realized they just lied to you? If you asked them to do something and then got home and they didn’t do it, would you be fine with that? If they trashed the house or apartment that you worked so hard to afford for them, would that be ok with you?
I know all your eyes are rolling again, but you may want to stop for a few seconds and think about these things. Because twenty some years ago I was right where you are now. A smart ass teen who knew better than either of my parents, and there was nothing anyone could say to convince me otherwise. What I didn’t know at that time was that it was not them who didn’t understand life, but it was me. And it took having children of my own to show me just how wrong I had been all those years.
In closing, I am going to leave you with a little bit of wisdom that was passed on to me from my own father many years ago.
Before you can be a smart ass, you first have to be smart. Otherwise you are just an ass.