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Thursday, April 18, 2024

EDITORIAL: The Bygone Days of Respectful Teen Rebellion

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Why, back in my day, if you wanted to rebel, there were rules to follow, lines ​you didn’t cross. A‌ teen veering from the straight and narrow had standards. ⁣Unfortunately, the matters seem to have drifted towards chaos, and the rules of the game have changed dramatically. Or rather, the game no longer seems to⁤ have any rules.

Where once there was ⁣James Dean in “Rebel Without a Cause,” bristling with cool and projecting a china-smashing veneer of adolescent angst, now we get disrespectful shenanigans on ѕоcial media that are passed off ‌as rebellion. ⁤I’m‍ not saying we can compare life to the ⁢silver screen. Cinema and reality have⁢ always ‌grown​ side‍ by side like⁤ two separate but closely related vines. But I do think there’s ‍a connection there that can’t entirely be dismissed.

There’s a pattern, after all.

When I was a teenager, rebelling meant rocking out to “Hey Jude” at maximum volume and ⁣energetically debating with one’s parents on Vietnam and the Civil Rights movement. It often manifested as a fight for ‍change or the defense of a deeply-felt belief. Now, it seems that teen rebellion simply denotes displaying rude gestures in school corridors and documenting every reckless activity online, vying for⁣ likes and shares.

That may sound old-fashioned to you,‍ perhaps even ⁤paternalistic. ⁢And yes, I’ll‍ admit, if there’s anything that can elicit a certain curmudgeonly kind of grumpiness in a man of my vintage, and born and raised in Schenectady, it’s these instances of unchaperoned modern rebellion.

My two daughters, ⁢god bless them, will attest with good-natured rue to my objections to their own teenage follies – the endless hours before the mirror,⁤ trying on ⁣and discarding different identities like off-the-rack‌ clothes. They know well the music of‍ my⁣ rant:⁤ “Back when I ‌was your age…”

There’s⁤ something ⁤about this change that makes me‌ uneasy. It’s not just‍ that I’m suspicious of ⁤this lack‍ of respect, it’s that I fear for them. The past, though not perfect, had fewer pitfalls. A rebellious teen of my generation could afford ⁣to make a few mistakes, bust a few rules, and tread on the occasional toe. The consequences rarely followed us​ into adulthood.

Our mistakes were left in the past, chronicled in old yearbooks or stained letters, mementos tucked away in‌ dusty attics. But⁤ for today’s teenagers, their foibles, errors, and imperfections are embalmed ⁣in the digital ⁣catacombs of the Internet; forever a click away under the searing spotlight of public judgement.

I recall a long-past summer in Schenectady ⁤when I was about fourteen. My friends and I had just seen‍ “Easy Rider” – smuggled ourselves ⁣into​ an adult-rated movie with the help of fake mustaches and lies about our age. Bruno, my bosom pal, ‌decided to emulate Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper by ​stealing his father’s prized motorcycle and tearing a zigzag path through Union College’s emerald campus.

His father, once he found out, was fit to be tied.⁢ Bruno was grounded till eternity and had to repair the damage he’d wrought ​upon college property. But he didn’t wind up shamed⁣ online. He wasn’t expelled, cut off from his dreams, and stigmatized as a reckless juvenile. He was allowed to right his​ wrongs,‍ to ‍learn from his mistakes, to grow and⁢ mature.

Modern-day rebellions don’t afford that second chance. A teenager goes off half-cocked on Twitter and suddenly they’re infamous, disgraced, roundly labeled as ​an Internet troll. Lives can ⁣be ruined at the click of a button.

So, what’s the solution? I’m not suggesting we return to those “Happy ​Days” of the​ Fonz and Ritchie Cunningham or outlaw ѕосial mediа. But we need to rethink what we cover under the blanket ‍term ‘rebellion’. We must draw a distinction between wanting ⁢to make a difference and plain rudeness. I’m all for these youngsters challenging norms and pushing boundaries, as long as it is more “Hey‍ Jude” and less‌ trolling on Twitter, and certainly not at⁣ the cost of their futures.

We, as the older generation, must do our ‌share too. We owe it to these children to tempt them back to respectful rebellion, to encourage them to ⁣voice their opinions in a meaningful, ‌thoughtful way. And I⁢ believe we can do that without having ‌to disconnect the Wifi or snatch away their smartphones.

My daughters eventually came ⁤through the storm of their teenage years, grew out of their rebellions, and stepped into the world​ as thoughtful, considerate women. I credit that outcome to the lessons they learned from those⁣ youthful skirmishes.⁤ Perhaps the children nowadays can also ⁣navigate their way through this digital tempest via respectful rebellion. The hope persists, because as ⁢long as there is ‌rebellion, there is a‍ dialogue, transformation, and ultimately, progress.

But‌ it wouldn’t​ hurt them ​to turn down their music once in a while. As the Beatles might have put it: give Brian a chance.

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Brian McCarthy
Brian McCarthy
I'm Brian McCarthy! At your service to offer traditionally informed perspective on today's issues. Some call it out of touch; I call it time-honored wisdom.
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