Thursday, April 26, 2012


I love reading the news, but I can't stand it. Every week it seems as if there's another story about child brides in India, child abuse in California, teen prostitution in Georgia, child labor in Pakistan, rape in England, child soldiers in Uganda, student suicide in South Korea, and don't even get me started on the young people dying in Syria. Basically, we do everything except vote. I think it's great that the stories are out there-we need to raise awareness. What infuriates me is every story is accompanied by shocked comments.
"How can that still be happening today?"
"Those people should be in jail."
"These practices should be outlawed."
"It's all Obama's fault somehow."
"No child should have to go through that."
"Horrible...just horrible."
These can't be the first shocker stories anybody else has seen, but the reactions is always the same. We know this stuff is happening, somewhere in the distant corners of the world, somewhere in the distant corners of our brains. But we treat each one as a searing new revealation and then turn around to bemoan teenagers these days, media these days, politicians these days. We have to give somebody all the blame and glory-otherwise we might actually force ourselves to stand up and do something positive. Not likely, but possible.
Why doesn't anybody acknowledge the stupidity and brutality of this world? Why do we convince ourselves youth are the acception, that problems belong to grown-ups?
I can only thing of two answers: We live euphamism and we're lazy.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Instruction Manual

I've heard lots of adults say they're disappointed that kids don't come with an instruction manual. Maybe not, but you can pick one up at Barnes and Noble for $14.99. There are books to help out parents from the moment the kid is conceived to the time that kid moves out and has kids of their own. Funnily enough, I haven't seen very many books on how to deal with parents. Yes, it is just as hard on this end of the spectrum. Scratch that, it's harder, because we can't end an argument with "Because I said so and you shall obey".
A few months ago, I was searching the internet more or less aimlessly when I found a page for a book called How To Raise Your Parents: A Teen Girl's Survival Guide. Today I finally got around to picking it up from the library. I was hoping this book would explain how to win an argument with my parents or, better yet, how to prevent arguments in the first place. Seriously, those things can last up to two hours and I have homework to do.
I was very disappointed. Like most of the world, the book seems to think a "teenager" is a person between the age of sixteen and eighteen who has a car, a tattoo, and several piercings. The book was published in 2008, so it also believes we use myspace. Oh how times have changed.
There's a whole chapter on The Essentials of Declaring Independence-Hair Dye, Piercings, and Tattoos.  Four pages are devoted to What If Boys Aren't the Issue? aka how to tell your parents you're gay. Which the majority of the population isn't.
Here's teenage life in a nutshell:
Grades, grades, grades. Your existence depends on getting into a good college. Your friends are stupid and melodramatic but you still find yourself having a good time. You live in a universe of homework, friends, soccer games, dance lessons, guitar practice, and the internet. Oh, the joys of the internet. Mindnumbing online games, amazing multimedia youtube videos, and hilarious facebook quotes. Above all, you wish you could get in maybe twenty-two extra hours of sleep a day.
And by the way, not all teenagers spend weekends drunk. It irritates me when adults-especially the ones in charge of media-base their perceptions of teenagehood on cloudy, outdated memories influenced by other media presentation. An grown man gets drunk at a Friday night party and crashes an SUV into a stop sign. Sucks to be him. A teenager does the exact same thing and it makes the papers. "Oh, young people these days. They're all so bratty and irresponsible, we were never that reckless as teenagers. Just watch, they will be the doom of our society."
Yeah, it's already here. Has been for a couple millenia. History moves in cycles, people.
Being a teenager is tricky. Adults have a plethora of parenting books at their fingertips, but I've only ever seen one useful "teenagering" book.
See previous post "This Guy is Awesome."

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Too Busy

A few days ago, a classmate of mine asked our teacher, "Wouldn't it be great if we all lived in the  time of 'The Sandlot?'"

The man is forty. The movie is set in the summer of 1962.
I have three brothers who play baseball. And by play, I mean live. This is the third consecutive year we've set up a batting cage with a picthing machine in our backyard. To them, baseball is lugging around bag full of bats and mits and water bottles. It's being on time to hour long practices several days a week. It's spending Saturdays at the baseball park.
It's normal.
They've played outside the city sponsored diamonds. Bats aren't allowed in school, but they've played a few times. They've always played in our backyard, whether the batting cage is up or not. They played in the living room and kitchen until they got too big, using pillows as bases and a foam sword or lightsaber for a bat.
But to my knowledge, they've never played in a vacant lot.

It looks fun.
Yesterday my mom was bringing me home from gymnastics when I saw three of my friends lying around on the sidewalk. We pulled over to talk to them. They asked if they could ride on the back of our car. My mom wouldn't let them. But she did let me run out and play with them, so long as I did my two hours or so of homework and piano afterwards.
I don't usually hang out with friends beyond school and church. I'm not that busy. I'm enrolled in gymnastics and piano, work parttime, and I'm taking all honors classes plus AP geography. Not an overload, but factor in school, random orthodontist appointments, my blogs, reading for my other blog, sleeping, and the novel I write for about an hour and a half everyday (usually somewhere between midnight and one), I don't have the time. So of course I jumped at this chance and procrastinated a few assignments I'm still procrastinating now.
We armed ourselves with four swords, (two nerf, one plastic, one wooden), two shields, and a foam battleax, and ran through acid. Otherwise known as lawn sprinklers. But it was acid.
We also jumped off my one story deck, a fall of about ten feet. Unless you subtract the railing, which we stepped over. And our height, around five feet for each of us. And the porch, which is about as thick as my hand. And the trampoline underneath.

Most people-parents especially-don't see fun like this as beneficial. There are only 86,400 seconds in a day, and we must invest them wisely if we want to get into a good university.
I saw this article on I didn't change a word.

Keep teenagers busy - find out why...

The most basic reason it is vital to keep our children busy is not to use the teenage years to introduce them to the wonders of the arts, great literature, or even for them to become sporting stars. It is simply to make them so exhausted that they don’t have the energy to get into trouble. The very last thing the testing teenager needs is a six-week school holiday where he is at home alone, with no idea what to do on day one, never mind day thirty-one. The same is true of evenings and weekends.
With the bold letters, you almost wonder if they're being sarcastic. Sadly, no. And by the way, not all "testing teenagers" are boys. At least, not in America. This is British writing, but I'm fairly sure England is one of those newfangled nations where boys and girls can go to school. In the same building, even. 
The kids in Sandlot got in their fair share of trouble. They do chew tobacco and go on a carnival ride immediately after, which the narrator describes as "the stupidest thing we ever did". 
This about the same group of kids who hit a Babe Ruth baseball over the fence, got themselves chased around the entire town by a killer dog, faked drowning to get a kiss from the lifeguard, and were banned from the swimming pool because of it.
And you know what? They learned from their mistakes. Did you see the kids chewing once after that?
Back to the article. Why "testing" teenager? Isn't there more to life than bringing home a good report card to Momma?
Aw, a gold star. Precious. 
Say this girl-let's call her Eulalia-stays inside for most of her childhood, watching educational television and playing educational video games. She learns to read impressively fat books and test well. She's a member of the National Honor Society, chess club, cheer squad, and cleans up highways in her spare time. Eulalia goes to a good university, then to a good grad school, then to a good post grad school, and eventually tries to hold down a job. She has no experience making her own choices, so she blows it all partying and racks up some impressive credit card debt.
Now Eulalia's parents have their adorable daughter living inside their house. At age twenty-eight.
sleeping on couch

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Childhood Lost

My friends and I have always liked movies about old fashioned kids, like Goonies and Huckleberry Finn. To me it seems like some kind of brilliant paradise. If only I could live like that-drop my backpack by the door, summarize my school day for my mom, and take off who knows where until dinnertime.
I've heard stories-real stories-about people living like that. My dad's first home was located on an orchard. Whenever I ask him what he liked to do as a kid, the answer is always, "Looking for frogs and toads."
Frog under Water
When my mom was a kid, a bunch of older kids gave her and her friends custody of a secret underground fort they had built. They played in it until some adults built a church on top of it. When the machines were clawing up dirt and dumping it into their hideout, they found an old wooden box sticking out of the dirt heap. There was nothing inside, but that didn't stop them from passing it around until somebody eventually stole it from my mom's house.
I talked to Brandon Mull, author of the Fablehaven series, a few weeks ago. He shared a story about a group of friends whose stated purpose was to find treasure. They dressed up in camoflauge and crawled across grass fields to infiltrate their neighbor's barn. They discovered old cars and radios, but never any pirate gold.
Did people really get to live like that once? We can't just play outside anymore. Outside is where the ax murderers are. Also speeding cars. And large bugs. When we go out, we take our cell phones with the parental GPS installed.
Wait a second. Large bugs existed back in the dinosaur days (1970's) while cell phones did not. How is it some of you old people survived?
Out of curiosity, were you allowed to keep them as pets?
We play indoors, where it's safe. And boring. Have you ever realized how little entertainment is created directly for teenagers? The only 'teenage shows' are on Disney Channel and Nickelodeon, and nobody really likes those. We're left watching Psych and The Office like everybody else. For music, we have Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift, and the grown up Disney stars. They're alright, but that leaves a lot of Adele and Bruno Mars. Nearly all teenage movies are based off YA books. Think about it. Hunger Games, Twilight (ugh), Harry Potter, Percy Jackson (sigh). The remainder are either cheesy feel good movies or Project X. Adults really have a screwed perspective on what teenagers actually do in their spare time, especially the ones in charge of the entertainment industry.
Video games. What's between Mario and Call of Duty? Exactly. Games rated T for teen. That's all you give us, and then you complain we sit around and do nothing else.
I don't live on a farm or small town. I live in a dinky suburb big enough to have its own high school and small enough that nobody sixty miles away has heard of it. Fortunately, there's this stretch of wilderness between my dinky suburb and next dinky suburb. This space contains a river, a pond, four bridges, two walkways, one ending a gazebo, two parks, trees, substantial undergrowth, a jogging trail, foxes, deer, evil cats, the random cougar, and a well drilling site. My dad said it will eventually be a thousand feet deep and they've been drilling for almost a year. I haven't been able to check. They have this wall around it covered with a tarp that's always tied down. What's the point of having a thousand foot hole practically in your backyard is you can't throw stuff down it?
I know six people have who have played out there in the last fifteen years: me, my friend, and my four brothers. I've climbed a few trees, built some makeshift forts, invented a game using only a tree and something that might have have been a softball in a former life, figured out the combinations on the park bathroom doors (they shut them off after four. It's quite inconvenient), and renacted the Hunger Games with real bows. And sometimes real arrows if we can get away with it. Otherwise we use sticks, which don't fly nearly as well and wouldn't be any help if and when the friendly neighborhood kidnapper took a stroll down the trail.
I've been able to eek out something of a traditional childhood, but what about the next generation? What happens when the new crop of parents have no experience with nature, no reason to shout at the kids, "Turn off that dadblamed digital device and go hit a tree with a stick or something."
Is outdoor play going to vanish forever?
Yeah, probably.