Holy generation gap!
Did you ever notice that kids — teens in particular — roll their eyes at us a lot (Andy Rooney? Is that you)? They’re young, cool, invincible, and we’re old, square (the use of which proves I’m old, certainly) and generally kind of clueless. We think we’re making rules to keep them safe and to ensure things run smoothly; they think we make rules — many of them stupid and/or arbitrary — to ensure that they never have fun.
But, after listening to a replay of a 2011 This American Life, I realize that the kids are probably closer to right than we are. In one particular story, the TAL crew talked with middle-school kids about going to a middle-school dance. Now, I’ve witnessed the trials and tribulations of the middle-school dance, and TAL really nailed it. With the exception of a few kids, middle-school dances are not all that fun, at best, or completely traumatic…fraught with self-doubt, uncertainty and awkwardness all the way around. Face it, it’s a bad age, especially for social experimentation. It’s akin to asking a clown to juggle while riding a bike before she’s even mastered the bike. In a dance setting, it’s social experimentation, self-doubt and gawkiness writ large.
Add to the mix a bunch of rules created by adults who really have no idea. I mean, there’s a reason for rules about where students can go in school during an evening event and what they can and cannot do — some of which we might not have even imagined when we were middle-school aged. So, okay, that’s our job; and it’s the kids job to squawk about how dumb the rules are and how we really should trust them more (um…yeah, sure). But, throw in one, imho (see, I’m not old or completely uncool), bone-headed rule, and maybe the kids have a point.
When we’re talking about a dance that most of the kids are dreading, but still probably wouldn’t miss for the world (I think it’s one of those rites of passage that’s hard-wired into us at that age). They don’t want to talk with each other; they certainly don’t want to dance with members of the opposite sex; and, their parents probably made them wear the least cool piece of clothing they owned. In short, they’re doomed. So, the list of rules that the kids think are dumb or convey a lack of trust does nothing to improve expectations.
One of the rules in the TAL piece, though, was rightfully a target. “No petting.” This one plain baffled the kids: “do people really just sit there and pet each other?”. C’mon, my parents and grandparents used the word “petting” in a dating/sexual context. That was in the 70s. The kids in the piece wondered a) what the heck “petting” is and b) what the heck is wrong with the adults who made the rules? I have to agree. I wondered the same thing. It’s a really dumb way to put it.
But, then again, it could be a stroke of genius. Reverse psychology at its best? Confuse the kids and create a common — and kinda dumb — enemy for them to roll their eyes at. Together.
Perhaps it is really brilliant after all.