Growing Up Fast

Childhood seems to be getting shorter. I was speaking with a neighbor of mine – who both works and lives in the same buildings as I do, no small coincidence for NYC – and we were wondering if it’s an evolutionary turn or if we are missing the point.

Children being turned into adults on television and dealing with adult themes is nothing new. I remember Arnold and Willis dealing with some seriously difficult themes on Diff’rent Strokes, not to mention Jo and Blair’s hardships on The Facts of Life. With Toddlers and Tiaras we’ve crossed the line into positively Roman, though, and what’s next, the real life Hunger Games?

Speaking of, I just finished the series and was debating the age group it was written for with my wife. I assumed that Young Adult was 15+ but she asserted that it encompassed a younger age group. I looked it up and I’m sort of confused. That series was way too violent for a ten year-old. I wouldn’t recommend it to even a particularly precocious 13 year-old either, but that seems to be the age most websites agree kids can start reading the books.

Maybe I’ve gotten a little too far from the teen years but I remember how truly awful they were, socially. As a former middle school teacher (more recently) I know that this period of time is really hard when there are even more gadgets to want and fashion to acquire. At least when I was in junior high the only thing to want was a pair of Jordache jeans. Maybe fitting in is really that much harder now – I can’t assume things don’t change even if I think there’s some sensationalism going on that makes it unclear how much.

Real, dark, scary do need to be on the surface if we are to be able to acknowledge the depth of fantasy, beautiful, secure. It seems a rather tenuous balance. So maybe it’s a true progression for us to have the transparency and be able to acknowledge that real life is multi-faceted at earlier ages. Perhaps the ideal vs. real construct that my parents handed down (battered and drawn as they were from their fight against it but still in their veins) during the 1970s from their childhoods in the 1950s is finally sunsetting in our culture. The new struggle is perhaps finding identity and a place to fit in when the world is sometimes uncomprehensibly boundaried. An argument for this concept would be the increased instances of bullying and outcast violence. If it is also a real increase and not a symptom of the 24-hour news cycle.

If this is indeed what the new teens are struggling against, then maybe the books aren’t nearly complex or dark enough.

Working in groups with unknown parameters seems to be the challenges of most workplaces today, and these adults are only averaging a D+ when it comes to being able to cope and be agile in the face of changes. We’re still acting as if we’re on the playground at work. If we’re lucky, we get the opportunity to grow and become more self-aware and transcend these behaviors by either being in the right place at the right time or having a strong mentor or leader.

If fitting into the the world is a transcendant challenge that goes beyond age, does it also go beyond race, religion, gender, sexuality, socio-economic origin? If integrating our complex inner pubescent selves is our Sisyphean task, what are the tools we are using to make everything work out? There are so many small answers but I’m not sure if I see an integrated whole solution being offered.


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