Tag: adolescence

The Inexplicable Nature of Seed Pods

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image via aeliope.blogspot.com
image via aeleope.blogspot.com

University of Baltimore MFA student Ian Anderson remembers his teenage summers at the beach with friends who were like brothers until they couldn’t be any longer.

I was sitting on the step in the garage of Greene’s Bike Rental with my summer friends, Dominic and Marty. Dominic was a year younger than me, wearing a long, white t-shirt and gym shorts—his uniform. Marty was a year older than me, but the shortest and with the kindest face. We were waiting for the cops to show up. Mr. Greene assured us the cops were coming, and our parents. I was 14 years old, an age when angry parents are infinitely worse than anything the judicial system can offer. Mr. Greene kept walking around the garage, cursing, coming back to us, saying, “you little shits,” and then walking around again. I was scared. I think Marty and Dominic were, too, but they didn’t show it, so I didn’t either. The garage door was open, framing a blue sky with cotton candy clouds, the kind you see on postcards. The wind was coming in off the sea, cooling the streets of Wildwood, where my family rented an apartment above my grandmother’s beach house every summer. It was a beautiful day outside, but we were in the garage.

About a Girl

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In which University of Baltimore Asst. Prof. and Bohemian Rhapsody Columnist Marion Winik introduces her best girlfriend forever.

When I was young, I knew I would never get married. I had the whole seven dwarfs of unwifely characteristics: Bossy, Macho, Driven, Ornery, Rebellious, Intemperate, and Whack. Still, I was boy-crazy from the get-go and hormones trump all cards. I spent my teens and 20s pursuing a series of mad loves, and then devoted my 30s and 40s to two passionate, screwed-up marriages. My first husband died young; the second and I nearly killed each other.

Get Invisalign and Get Straightened out for Good

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Being a teenager is tough enough without crooked teeth or bulky braces. What’s worse, the pain of a crooked smile doesn’t fade with age. Countless middle-age moms cringe when they see their adolescent children reliving the same painful smile that’s plagued them for years. The rest of the world notices, too: A new study confirms that straight teeth make people seem happier, friendlier, healthier — even more popular and trustworthy. (See the results in the graphic below.) If you’ve got a crooked smile, don’t despair. Now there’s a new way to straighten out your smile permanently with an FDA-approved method that’s nearly invisible and comparable to braces.

Invisalign uses clear, nearly invisible braces (called aligners) to straighten teeth — without any clunky metal or wires. (Remember the days when kids called a braces-wearer metal mouth? Thank goodness, your kids won’t have to hear it.) Using Invisalign, you can expect to straighten teeth in about a year if you suffer from overly crowded teeth, widely spaced teeth, crossbite, overbite, or underbite. Of course, total time varies, depending on the severity of the case.

Behind the Counselor’s Door: What Your Teens Aren’t Telling You in 2012

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Teens live in another country from the rest of us  — always have. Parents may get glimpses, but most of that world is always going to stay hidden. Probably the only adults who come close to getting a look are those who deal with the age group throughout the day, in a way parents never do. 

So, to find out what kinds of problems Baltimore kids are facing these days, it seemed like a good idea to ask high school counselors, who at least occasionally get reports back from the front — the country we all lived in once, but now barely remember.

No counselor wanted to give their name — “Hey, this is Smalltimore,” said one. “Everyone knows everyone.” But other than that, they were willing to talk. What goes on with kids these days? Are their problems all that different from our problems in the past? Is there really anything new under the sun? 

Well, actually, yes. The technology revolution has changed the landscape almost beyond recognition. All the counselors agreed about that; agreed, too, that there was almost no way to stay on top of this exploding universe.

“The cyber world is way out of our control,” admitted a longtime counselor at one Baltimore private school (we’ll call him Private School I). And parents have a hard time getting a grip on this. “Technology, it’s like a generation gap. The gap is wide, and as soon as we learn what they were doing a month ago, it’s changed.”

“[Sitting in front of a screen,] you can just about say any bloody thing you want. So a lot of impulse control falls by the wayside,” he said. “[At Private School I,] we talk about it all the time. We say, ‘Remember, everyone on the planet can read it once you put it in there; you hit send, the entire world can see what you wrote.’”

There are other dangers, said a counselor from another Baltimore private school (we’ll call her Private School II). “Kids are so open, they access each other’s Facebook page, never thinking they need to watch their password. What if something happens to that friendship? And the other person is feeling vindictive?”

Perhaps the biggest change technology has brought — and the hardest for parents to grasp — is the inter-connectivity. What with cell phones, text messaging, Facebook, Twitter and the like, teens today are plugged into each other in a way that would have seemed like pure science fiction one short generation ago. “Very different from what we had. It’s more intense, more ever present, and there’s the expectation that you respond immediately. So you’re on hyper alert,” said Private School I.

“Parents are aware but don’t know the extent,” said Private School II. “If the kids don’t have their cell phone they feel disconnected. If they miss something posted on Twitter, who broke up with who, they feel behind.” She believes our brains lack the capacity to keep up with this stuff. “That connectedness  — it adds stress.”

Technology may have changed things, but the traditional teenage problems are still around, of course. Substance abuse, for instance.

“I’m amazed at the amount of marijuana use,” said Private School II, who’s been in the field close to 20 years. “With the push for legalization, the lid is off.” Perhaps, too, the fact that so many parents of today’s teens have used it themselves has made a difference. Alcohol use has also risen, she thinks.

And of course, as always with adolescents, sex is part of the picture. But here, too, there’s been a change. Gay teens, for instance, are more likely to be open — and to be accepted — than in the past. Things aren’t perfect yet, but as sex advisor Dan Savage says, it really is getting better.

“I believe this generation is going to teach us something about acceptance,” said Private School II. “About the whole gay thing, but also with minorities, even class and privilege.” Her school, she said, tries to be sensitive to all types of kids, including the transgendered. “We have unisex bathrooms, for those who are questioning their gender. Private schools can be protective that way.”

Parents may struggle with accepting their kids are gay, but have an especially hard time dealing with transgender issues. “It’s hard for  people to wrap their heads around,” Private School II said. “I tell the kids, you have to give parents time to grieve, over the loss of traditional family.”

Today’s teens seem far more comfortable exploring (and accepting) varying forms of sexuality. “For some time, it’s all been about hookups; nobody dates,” said Private School II. “But now, if it’s not possible to hook up at a party, it’s okay to hook up with your friend — no matter what sex.”

A counselor from a Baltimore County public high school, though, insisted most teens there are more interested in going to college than in sex. At his former post, a different Baltimore County public high school, he had run into far more “hypersexualized kids,” he said; at his current high school, he believes students are less into relationships, and able to keep from acting out sexually. “It might be on their minds, but they’re able to keep their behavior in check,” he said.

This came as a bit of a surprise to this reporter,who still has vague memories of her own teenage years, and who’d always believed hypersexuality was as much a part of adolescence as acne. She’s willing to concede, though, that some schools today might be different.

All the counselors agreed the biggest problem facing high school kids today has little to do with technology, drugs or sex. Instead it is stress, pure and simple. According to them, stress levels are off the charts.

“This college entrance stuff has gotten crazy,” said Private School I, who’s been in the field 38 years. “It’s incredibly more stressful, way more intense, than it used to be. And the acceleration, the AP stuff, the over-scheduling — piano, soccer. Much worse.”

The pressure has led to a rise in depression, he believes. It also leads to more cases of “academic integrity” (actually, lack of it) — cheating, plagiarism.

The public high school counselor agreed. “The major issue I see is this expectation that students need to go to the best college, and to do that they need the best grades in the hardest classes. So those students end up overextending themselves, run themselves ragged, develop stress, depression.”

Private School I concurred. “I think kids are really overextending themselves. I see a good bit of teenage depression and I think this is part of it,” she said.

Parents, the counselors agreed, have a lot to do with this escalation; maybe it’s because of the economic picture, but there’s more anxiety about getting into college, more pressure being exerted.

There is, however, some good news. Eating disorders are down, or at least, not up. Private School I reports proudly there have been no suicides at his school in over a decade. (After two, in a two-year period, the school “brought in the best mental health advisors Johns Hopkins could offer,” to help figure out what to do; the answer was to involve parents far more.)

And despite the fact it’s become something of a cause de jour in the media, all three counselors reported very little problem with bullying. “We don’t focus on bullies, we focus on the bystander,” explained Private School II. “The 90 percent in the middle who can stand up and say, ‘This isn’t right.’ Those are the ones we want to empower.”

Another bright spot? “I’m seeing a real uptick in political interest, kids involved in non-violent protest,” said Private School I. “Arab Spring and the Occupy Wall Street movement have had a positive effect.”

My age group felt there could never be a generation gap as huge as the one between us and our parents — we, after all, had the culture wars, as well as sex, drugs and rock and roll. But as it turns out, two guys tinkering with electronics in a garage managed to kick off an even bigger gap, one parents struggle to bridge today.

You can only wonder what the next gap will consist of, what these kids will face with their own kids — the only sure thing being that no one will see it coming.

 

Judy Oppenheimer is a freelance writer based in D.C.

Against Coming of Age

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Every day at 8:01, my daughter Jane and I drive to Roland Park Elementary/Middle School, our little car pulsing with the pounding sounds of Z-104.3. Balancing her pink mesh backpack on her knees, swishing a hand in teal arm-warmers to the beat, Jane sings along with PitBull as he offers in his suavely robotic way to pump this jam however we want. Pump it from the side, pump it upside down, or we can pump it from the back and the front!

I sigh and roll my eyes. As the song fades, deejay Jackson Blue takes a call from a listener who wants to know if people think what her boyfriend wants to do in bed is too kinky. A girl they met in the bar last night is involved, and she is really fat!

Punch button, change station. Oh good, we’re back to some double or single entendre song about sex, drinking, or sex and drinking, which go together like…sex and drinking! You like to drink? So do we! Amazingly, despite all the frankness in our house and the various permission slips I’ve signed for sex education sessions at school, some of the innuendos in these songs are not 100 percent clear to 11-year-old Jane.

I can tell from the questions she asks about the 1998-99 season of “Dawson’s Creek,” the TV series onto which we have moved after exhausting “The Gilmore Girls” catalogue, that there are things she doesn’t know. She can’t figure out what Katie Holmes’ character means when she asks Dawson how often he “walks the dog,” even when Dawson explains that he does it every morning, with Katie Couric. When a football quarterback is taunted by a former girlfriend because he has a “soft spot for women in all the wrong places,” Jane has no clue what is being suggested. Recently, she asked me what foreplay was.

I went with “things couples do when they like each other.”

To be honest, I don’t really know if I’ve ever understood what foreplay is. Someone had to explain to me fairly recently that it doesn’t include oral sex. Does Jane know about oral sex? Has she heard the hip-hop classics “Love in Ya Mouth” or “Slob on My Knob”? Isn’t there a middle school oral sex scare? I bet Jane cannot even believe people do that. I don’t want to gross her out by insisting that they do.

Anyway, who needs icky foreplay when you have the life of the mind encouraged by today’s media? For example, last Friday night we pretended we were Ke$ha and Katy Perry, brushing our teeth with a bottle of Jack before getting probed and disrobed by extra-terrestrials. In the morning we couldn’t remember a thing but we are pretty sure it was AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

“What’s a bottle of Jack?” I asked Jane, just to see.

“It’s alcohol.”

“Why do you think she brushed her teeth with it?”

Jane is stymied but so am I.

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Jane and her friends have a group crush on a boy in their class, and this is how they like it. “At least 750 people have a crush on him,” she reported. This is the perfect first love, one step up from mooning over Joe Jonas when you are nine years old, but not all the way to one-on-one romance. That may still be too much to contemplate. (Author’s Note: Please do not tell Jane that I mentioned Joe Jonas, now more vigorously repudiated than ever was he loved.)

But soon enough, it all changes. Suddenly the wave catches you and you don’t just want a sports bra and mascara and girly gossip, you want to pitch all the trappings of your childhood into the fire, and now that you have boobs, dudes of all ages stand ready to help you. Or at least that’s how I remember it. I’ve always had quite a bit of sympathy for Lindsay Lohan, whose transition from sweet little princess to wild, drugged-up slut seems so familiar, so willed, so iconic. If Lindsay is different from other girls, it’s mostly a matter of degree. And of being onstage all the time, with a bunch of bloodthirsty hypocrites watching. Honestly, I hope she finds her way.

The end of girlhood is masterminded by nature of course, but culture gets its mitts on us too, rough, insistent and full of contradictions. Today’s 11-year-old girl knows that she can do anything she wants, have any career, be a mom, make it on her own, with kids or without, with a marriage or not, with a man or with Ellen DeGeneres. She also knows it is time to put her hands in the air and her bootie on the floor and start the party, and find the pictures on Facebook in the morning.

I was not much older than Jane when I got my first kiss — back in the days when “Lay Lady Lay” was a really hot song. As Caitlin Flanagan points out in her new essay collection, Girl Land, which meditates on these same worries plaguing me now, Dylan’s song was not just erotic, it was romantic. Whatever colors you have in your mind/ I’ll show them to you and you’ll see them shine. Romantic is one thing commercial hip-hop is not — at least not about sex.

Glen Willis kissing me on the golf course in 1970 was not all that romantic either — what I remember most about the first few years of doing things with boys was (a) that I felt nothing, and thought I might be “frigid,” especially since private experiments had demonstrated that I could both experience desire and solve the problem, (b) I kept track of all the boys I kissed in a little notebook annotated with ones, twos and threes to indicate what base we got to, though the exact meaning of the bases was a matter of continual debate with my girlfriends. Really, I didn’t get it. But believe me, I kept at it until I figured it out. And once my passionate soul and my fresh young body caught up with each other, and with a copy of the 1970s classic, The Sensuous Woman, I’m afraid we were trouble.

Trouble. That’s what we’re looking at here, with my beautiful peach of a girl and PitBull and hormones and middle school and Dawson Leery’s daily monkey-spanking. Nothing has ever made me feel as conservative as being the mother of an 11-year-old.

I can’t tell you how much I’m going to miss her.

 

Marion Winik writes “Bohemian Rhapsody,” a column about life, love, and the pursuit of self-awareness. Check out her heartbreakingly honest and funny essays twice a month on Baltimore Fishbowl.

A Message from Rudolph: It Gets Better

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If there’s anything the public school system has taught my sixth-grade daughter Jane, it’s to name the predicament described in this 1939 Christmas poem.

Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer had a very shiny nose / And if you ever saw it, you would even say it glows / All of the other reindeer used to laugh and call him names / They never let poor Rudolph join in any reindeer games

Clearly, Rudolph was bullied.

In fact, Jane has become so hypersensitive to the issue of bullying and has heard so many horror stories (there is some ungodly hybrid of Heather Has Two Mommies and The Laramie Project going around) that she burst into tears in social studies when the teacher merely mentioned the word. Unfortunately, the public education approach to anything, whether it’s drug addiction or the periodic table of elements, is sometimes so ham-handed it becomes a form of harassment in itself.

Weep no more for Rudolph, Jane. Like almost all of the more than 30,000 people who have posted videos on itgetsbetter.org, he made it out the other side. Just picture him in his YouTube clip, eyes moist, nose bright, antlers graying a bit by now, the dark red wall of the barn behind him. I grew up in a pen at the North Pole…at first I couldn’t understand why no one liked me…working his way through the teasing and taunting to the glorious, foggy eve when his incandescent proboscis made him a hero, a beacon, metaphorically and literally, a hottie, like the kids on “Glee.” (Santa is played by Matthew Morrison here.) Then how the reindeer loved him! Those fickle, fickle reindeer.

The reindeer were teenagers, I imagine — who else could bound through the sky like that, who else would be so unabashedly mean? Immersed in that moment when our twinned potentials for empathy and cruelty are first sounded to their shocking depths. The moment when we begin to understand how much we can feel for others, yet how brutally cold we can be. I, who spent much of junior high writing suicide poems, experienced a brief period of popularity when I co-authored a puppet show making fun of everyone else in the class.

And the red nose? Whether you read it as an LGBT orientation, a handicap, a weight problem, social awkwardness, whether Rudolph was a stutterer, a nerd or an ethnic minority, suffered from alopecia, amblyopia, or an actual red nose, perhaps from rosacea or a secret drinking habit or hours of crying in his lonely stall, depressed and isolated — in any case, there should be a cheery anthem and an “It Gets Better” video for all those things. Or It Gets Worse, But Then It Gets Better. And possibly It Gets a Little Worse Again, But Now You Are Older and Less of a Drama Queen.

It takes years to understand that the color of your nose is also the color of your parachute — that what first appears as one’s greatest burden is often one’s saving grace, one’s ticket out of Dodge, one’s high-flying freak flag and membership card in the club. And, as in so many other areas of life, we all need to copy the gay people and reach out a hand to those suffering younger versions of ourselves. Overweight teens with obsessive crushes, giant noses, and frightening, unfillable needs for attention — I am here for you! For you, I tell and retell my inspiring story of true love, exercise and rhinoplasty!

According to Harvard psychologist Stephen Pinker in his new book, The Better Angels of Our Nature, the world is becoming a more peaceful place. There are fewer killings, fewer rapes, less child abuse. This, he says, is because the human race is actually, measurably getting a little smarter. And, I extrapolate, because we slightly smarter people are shining flashlights into the dark corners, making “It Gets Better” videos and teaching kids about bullying as the red-nosed reindeer flies above us, snout ablaze.

This is the North Pole and we are the only elves there are, complicit and innocent, wronged and wrong, stumbling as best we can through this cruelest and most hopeful of all possible worlds.

 

Marion Winik writes “Bohemian Rhapsody,” a column about life, love, and the pursuit of self-awareness. Check out her heartbreakingly honest and funny essays twice a month on Baltimore Fishbowl.

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