You would be hard-pressed to find a person who has a more jaded opinion about the youth of this country than I do.
I don't really know where it started for me, but I know even when I was a teenager I thought teenagers were stupid. I didn't understand the party scene, the cliques, the callousness toward others, and most of all, I couldn't understand the apathy.
That last bit is especially ironic since I was as apathetic a teenager as they come--at least when it came to things that really mattered. I didn't care about school. I didn't care much for politics or world events, which is interesting considering 9/11 happened in my first year of high school and the Iraq war began just a couple of years later.
It may be because of the person I was as a teenager that I have held a pretty bleak view on teenagers since. I hit my mid-twenties before I really started to care about things, to want to educate myself, and to be an informed and engaged citizen. And it's like I forget how I was when I look at teenagers today and see things I don't care much for.
With all that said, and setting aside the Tide pod challenge, kids deserve a lot more credit than we give them. I'm always hesitant to come to this conclusion, though. When fidget spinners came out, I was weirdly furious with how stupid that sounded until I remembered that my generation played with friggin' cardboard circles we called " Pogs ."
This generation isn't that much different from mine, it's just that the tools of the trade are different. Where my generation had the Gameboy, this generation has virtual reality headsets. Where my generation had wired house phones and clunky, slow computers with limited internet access, this generation has lightning-fast computers with access to unlimited resources, including a phone function, in the palms of their hands.
And I think that last part is really important to consider. Where a lot of people in my generation and older think kids these days are too connected to technology to the point of becoming drooling, vain, inconsiderate drones, there's something we're missing. While yes, some kids are the stereotype we like to imagine (ALL generations have those few), these kids are connected to the world in a way we just weren't and the majority of them are taking positive advantage of that.
We had to choose to go to a library to read a book about anything specific, and most of us were too apathetic to bother. We had to trust that the information we received from our parents and teachers was as true and full a picture as was possible. These kids can Google the answer to any question they have and compare information from hundreds of sources to draw informed conclusions. They can read the news 24 hours day. They can connect and engage with other people and gain insight in ways we couldn't have dreamed of. It's like a whole different world just 10+ years out from when I was that age.
A few years ago here in Colorado, students in the Jefferson County school district walked out of class to protest changes to the history curriculum. At the time, SO MANY people here believed these kids didn't know what they were protesting and just wanted to follow others and skip school for a day or two. It turned out the reason for this protest was that the new school board wanted to modify the curriculum of history classes in a way that promoted citizenship, patriotism, and respect for authority while omitting parts of our history that cast our origin in a negative light, such as the genocide of indigenous people, slavery, and other forms of oppression.
For some reason, this demonstration by these students didn't give me the impression it gave others. I had faith in the youth for once that they didn't just want to skip school; they really wanted the best education possible, even if that included the ugly truth, and they were willing to fight for it. I watched interviews with students and could see they knew what they were upset about and had good reason for demanding change.
It was so refreshing.
And I sit here today, inspired again--hopeful, even. Because now we're seeing, en masse, students and teachers and staff and allies banding together in protest once more over something they strongly believe in; gun reform.
Now, I know this is a touchy subject. I know it's hard when you see a lot of people crying out against something you strongly believe in, and the right to bear arms is one of the strongest beliefs people in this country hold. But put that aside for a second and try to consider how inspiring it is that young people all over the country care enough about something to work together and draw attention to it.
And it's not about taking people's guns away and it's not about abolishing an amendment. It's purely about inciting conversation on how we can do better while still respecting people's rights. And their right to want to live free from fear of being killed at school is just as important as anyone's right to own a gun.
I know a lot of people won't agree with me. I know, like my past self, people struggle to get over the hurdle of their notion that kids are dumb and don't know what they're doing and can't have these opinions yet because they're just not informed. I know people are just getting over reading so many news stories about teenagers eating Tide pods and can't separate those few kids from these thousands, if not millions of kids. But look at it this way: Can you think back to when you were a kid and remember anything outside of yourself that you cared about enough to speak out about? Not hobbies. Not video games. Not sports. But real, impactful, meaningful subjects? I can't. I thought I knew so much at the time, but comparing what I had to say then versus what these kids are saying now, I see that where I had no idea what I believed in, these kids do, and they're turning those beliefs into passion and action in a push for a conversation that is already bringing about change (and you can throw that in the face of those folks who think protests and marches make no difference).
That's pretty dang inspiring if you ask me.