Are Teens Barbarians?

Vandals, Goths, Visigoths, Huns, flash mob.  Someone tell me I’m not the only one that gets a little nervous when a large group of teenagers approaches.  Certainly not ALL teens are dangerous, criminal, or scary.  But it seems that a whole lot of them are.  Statistics will show you that youth are no more violent today than they were 20-30 years ago.  (Check here.)  But we are certainly hearing a lot about violent teens in the news, maybe because the news networks have 24 hours a day to fill. 

So here I am feeling old and wondering what is to become of the nation when America’s teens grow up.  We have “flash mobs” appearing in cities around the country, wreaking havoc.  Apparently, these started around 2003 as a way to grab attention for a performance meant to be entertaining or sartorial.  Participants spread the word via social media about time and place.  These days, a flash mob is just as likely to be a group of teenage delinquents who suddenly descend upon a public place to vandalize, shoplift, or intimidate.  It has happened in Philadelphia, Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul, Minnesota, and Washington, DC.  Typically, a handful of kids will be arrested and charged.  For the rest, it’s an adrenaline rush to avoid the cops and be ready for the next time.

I have trouble following the kids’ logic.  First, you get a text or see the plan posted on Facebook to head to the mall “cause everyone’s gonna be there.”  Nothing wrong there.  It’s just hanging out at the mall.  But don’t they get even a little suspicious when they see 200 or so kids assembled?  When the looting and shoving starts, don’t they get even the slightest pangs of conscience telling them that this can’t possibly end well? 

Then I read a story about kids with criminal records playing football on the top 25 college teams.  According to the investigation done by Sports Illustrated and CBS news, about 7% of the football players on those teams had records of offenses ranging from drug and alcohol-related crimes to theft, burglary, sex crimes, domestic violence, and assault.  The figures released in the investigation don’t even include any juvenile offenses due to confidentiality of those records.  Huh.  It never occurred to the admissions boards at these schools to inquire about criminal history before offering a free-ride athletic scholarship??  The Common Application, used by over 400 colleges and universities, requires applicants to indicate whether they have been “found responsible for a disciplinary violation” at school beginning in 9th grade that resulted in even probation or suspension along with expulsion.  It also includes a question about being “adjudicated guilty or convicted of a misdemeanor, felony, or other crime.”  So how did these athletes get a free pass??  Even more troubling, did their high school coaches clam up about players’ criminal history with a wink and a nod?  How is it that the adults in the decision chain don’t think a criminal history should raise any eyebrows? 

What do we adults expect from teens?  I recently watched the Valentine’s Day episode of Glee (formerly a favorite show, but a huge disappointment this season), which featured yet another girl-on-girl fight.  Yeah, that’s entertainment fit for teens.  So is the daily tabloid TV report on celebrity dust-ups on Twitter.  Not exactly the behavior we want teens to model.   I wonder, too, where teens get their colorful vocabulary.  Do most parents give up on watching their own language around their kids when they turn a certain age, say, 10 or 12?  It’s pretty obvious that most parents have allowed teens to self-police their music, TV and movie viewing, and leisure activities (“Just call me when you need a ride, and have fun!!”) with predictable results.

I am sure there are a lot of great kids out there.  But I am afraid there are a lot of kids out there who think they are better human beings than they really are.  I blogged about it here.  I just can’t wrap my mind around the mob mentality or cyber-bullying or the allure of criminal activity.  And very few in authority in these kids’ lives– parents, school administrators, guidance counsellors, coaches–have the guts to stand up and say that what a lot of teens need is some tough love.  It’s a whole lot easier to go the psychologically challenged route or the economically disadvantaged route or use some other analyze-their-motives mumbo-jumbo instead of just saying, “The kid’s a bad apple who needs to feel some wrath and have his mouth washed out with soap.”

So, what happens when flash mob-ers grow up?  Do they contribute to the economy or the democratic process?  In the immortal words of the maitre-d’ in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, “I weep for the future.”

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