April 2002
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"Talkin' ‘Bout My Generation"
By Erika Hansford, St. John's, NF

Today I am the fly on the wall in the middle of a conversation of teenagers – seven of them – all aged seventeen and eighteen years. They sit at the kitchen table belonging to Matthew, one of the boys, all of them looking at each other through the greasy-looking, unwashed locks of hair that falls in front of their eyes. The reality soon hits: these are the leaders of the future.

Now, one of an older generation might be worried; I know most are. It seems to be an age-old fear – every generation of parents has concerns that their children's generation will turn out worse than their own did. Many believe that teens are too wrapped up in the "sex, drugs and rock-and-roll" of life to be concerned with anything of relative importance. "They've got us all wrong," Mark, seventeen, states. And it's true. There is much more to these unkempt, baggy jeaned, messy-haired kids than meets the eye.

The parents of today's generation seem to worry an awful lot. I'm sure any teenager can attest to that. Many parents feel that the world today is a lot scarier than the world they once lived in, and that the kids are frankly, in too much of a rush to grow up. One could easily blame these notions on the subject matter of certain popular television shows, and the sexy, drug infested state of the popular culture we are all submerged in.

While parents fret and constantly assume the worst of their children, the same children insist that they really are not up to all that much trouble. "We're a lot more responsible than people give us credit for," says Kate, seventeen, a girl at the table, outnumbered by the boys. For the most part, this statement is true. The majority of teenagers of today are very aware of the consequences of their actions, and tend to make decisions keeping these consequences in mind.

One of the first things inquisitive adult minds want to know, without a doubt, is the sexual behavior of teenagers today. Today, where regular television programming consists of shows such as Sex in the City, and Queer As Folk, and where education about sex and birth control are highly accessible (more than ever before), there seems to be an almost understood assumption that all teens are "doing it". But this is not so, according to the table of young gents and dames.

"The funniest time was when my mom found a chip bag in my underwear drawer," says Mark with a bit of a chuckle, "She thought it was condoms and nearly had a heart attack. I was only fourteen! What did she think I was going to do with it?!"

"Just because we're young doesn't mean we don't hold importance to anything. Sex is meaningful – no one does it just for the sake of doing it," Julie, another seventeen year old girl at the table notably expresses.

As a matter of fact, of the seven teens at the table, only one admits to engaging in sexual intercourse, but states that he is not presently sexually active. Statistics show that while the sexual activity level of teenagers jumped drastically during the free-loving "Sexual Revolution" of the 60's and 70's, they have remained rather stable since, showing that the teenagers of today are having the same amount of sex as their baby-boomer parents had. They are however, apparently "smarter" than those of the 60's and 70's were when engaging in such activities.

"Sex doesn't happen without protection. There's just too much to risk," one adds, taking a sip of his Diet Pepsi.

With the whole subject of sex, the topic of conversation amongst the crew slowly shifts to that of religion and morality. As it stands, many adults severely underestimate the interest and importance many teenagers hold for religion. For instance, all seven of the teenagers in Matthew's kitchen attest to the fact that he or she believes that some sort of spirituality is important to living a healthy life. Moreover, six of the seven believe that God exists (the other can be quoted as being "unsure") and the same number believe in some sort of life after death. One thing, however, is for certain: "No matter what you believe in, religion and spirituality are really personal subjects… they're your own special, solitary thoughts," affirms Rob, the oldest in the kitchen. The rest unanimously agree.

There are, however, great doubts amongst present day teenagers involving the clashes of modern society and religious ideals. Matthew, a Catholic who attends church regularly, states "My religion tells me that homosexuality is a sin, and that sex before marriage is a sin – even when it is with someone you love and care about… I don't understand why something so inoffensive and personal could be considered so wrong." Naturally, as the world matures and modernizes, the young minds and voices will change with it. "If you're gay, you're gay… case closed. Who cares," Rob chimes in again, "I don't see why God would find anything wrong with it... He's the one who made us this way."

Evidently, one thing is obvious: a vast difference lies between the acceptance level of present day teens and that of their parents. Not one sole at this kitchen table admits to being homophobic, racist, or to harassing anyone on the basis of his or her differences. Today's generation for the most part seem to be much more accepting and tolerant than the last.

Travis, 17, and one of the more quiet of the group, admits to the fact that his father "is a little on the homophobic side" and often cracks jokes about the "gothic kids" that hang around the school entrance in the morning. "Dad's always making jokes about them when he drops me off… and then wonders why I don't laugh at them," Travis goes on, "But I talk to some of those guys at school… they're really cool and pretty smart once you get to know them."

As for homophobia, for the most part, teenagers are fine with homosexuality and in some cases it can be considered "cool" to know someone or be affiliated with someone who is gay. When told that Matthew had a gay brother, Kate immediately exclaimed "Oh, that's really cool", with what seems to be a complete one-eighty from her own parents generation's way of thinking. It seems that the willingness to accept other people's choices of teens is much more prominent today than of any other generation.

Along with morality and acceptance, the work ethic of teenagers is also very different than what many would gather. Contrary to nasty present day rumors, many of the teens of today are extremely concentrated on personal success. That's correct! Today's generation of teenagers are not as lazy and as irresponsible as many adults would like to believe. If anything, many teens of today are pushing themselves too hard.

At the kitchen table, all seven attest to the fact that they feel a great deal of pressure to do well in school and hold great concern to what they will do after university – let alone how they will pay to get there. With tuition prices rising, the pressure to attain scholarships of any kind increases and in turn, most take on too many activities they can handle. "I have a part time job, I'm in 2 school bands, 3 choirs and in cadets," says Matthew, "plus I have to keep my average above a ninety percent. I have no time for anything else in my life."

Competition for jobs today, as we all know, is pretty fierce. The option of not attending a post-secondary institution after high school is just not there for those teenagers who wish to become successful. A degree or diploma is key to a successful occupation in the future, and kids today it seems, are always looking toward and planning for tomorrow. Among teens today, the stigma of being a "nerd" is practically non-existent. Many teenagers consider it "cool" to work hard for marks and to achieve. "Anyone who work hard will eventually rise to the top," states Rob, "And there is nothing wrong with that."

So one thing is clear: teenagers of today are certainly not what they seem. Pre-conceived notions have seemed to make the very word "teen" a stigma of society. Hopefully, though, the truth will leak out and opinions will change for the better. Parents need not worry so much. Their children are fine. And as The Who of their own generation once said, "The kids are all right".

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