Sunday, December 06, 2009

Too Much Information

Most kids in the throes of puberty will tell you that adolescence is hell, but more importantly, their personal hell is much worse than any other in the history of the world.  I come from a generation whose parents walked 5 miles up hill in a snowstorm to school everyday and heard the words, "you have it so easy" almost every day of my teen years.  Yes, and my grandfather had to work to support his family when he was 14 years old while at that age I was only babysitting for pocket money.  I hate to burst my parents' bubble of martyrdom, but the stories of the modern teen experience I could share from my teaching days would easily curl even their hair, no doubt—kids with addict parents, abused kids, kids with no parents or guardians to advocate for, love, or support them.  There is plenty of hardship to go around.

But what about the average kid's experience?  To sum it up, too much information.  Texting, sexting, Facebook, LiveJournal, IM.  No longer is the honor of torturing a kid at school reserved for the odd note passed in study hall or taunts in the hallway or bullying at the bus stop.  Now they have 20 techno ways to exploit even the tiniest error in judgement wrought by raging hormones.  We've heard the stories of distraught teens hurting themselves because of something that is going around on FB about them or an incriminating photo snapped with a cell phone and launched into cyberspace by some petty kid to grace a thousand LED screens and invite even more denigration.

For most of us, the hardest and most haunting remnant of adolescence is also the most eternal lesson:  we are the choices we make, for good or ill.  But we don't really get the until we are old farts.  So teenagers should be allowed to screw up and face humiliation as we all did.  BUT, it's just not that simple these days.  Every mistake a kid makes could be broadcasted to the entire school with the touch of a button.  And it often is.  That's a lot to take when you are still just trying to figure out who you are.  Why do you need 30 text messages to remind you about the dumb remark you make in front of the hottest guy in school.  A mild example, but a blow to self-esteem nonetheless.  Let's try another.  Back in the day, if you succumbed to pressure and took off you clothes for your boyfriend, people may have heard about it, but now they can see it in living color if you were naive enough to believe the cell phone photo you snapped really was for his eyes only.

And if cliques aren't bad enough in the hallway, let's just take it online and compete for the highest number of friends on Facebook.  Or better yet, start fan clubs for people who hate Courtney or whoever is lucky enough to wear the crown of most-hated loser that week.

I love Facebook, and I've been able to reconnect with some dear friends who fell out of touch over the years.  And when we moved away from PA, my 12-year-old son started an account so he could keep up with his buddies so far away.  As for the cell phone, I rarely text, but my smartphone is indispensable with its address book and calendar and instant emergency contact no matter where I am.  My 7th-grader, however, does not need one of his own.  He'll be just fine sitting in class without the aid of technological subterfuge and textual harassment.

I'm not saying we should ban social media or cell phones, but as a parent and a former high school teacher and now a writer for young adults, I think a lot about the impact this constant hook up to information has on our kids.  Every generation has its cross to bear.  Every generation changes what it means to be a kid.  Adolescence is about making choices, screwing up, and making new choices.  It's about learning how to be human, the good, the bad, and the ugly of it.

Laurel Snyder made a fabulous observation when we were talking about YA vs MG characters at a recent SCBWI event:  "The middle grade kid is looking out at the world and trying to understand it all, while the YA kid is looking inside, trying to figure himself out."  I think that is exactly right.  Add a barrage of information, a large portion of which can petty and destructive, and where does it all go?  Deep inside.

1 comment:

  1. "The middle grade kid is looking out at the world and trying to understand it all, while the YA kid is looking inside, trying to figure himself out."

    Exactly. I think we see that both in real life and in literature.


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