Friday, March 21, 2008

Same title, different job.

When I graduated from high school, my friends were getting cars and trips from their parents as celebratory presents. My grandma Lela gave me a ring, and my parents gave me a card (I think). I asked my dad about the discrepancy in treatment that my friends were getting compared to my twin sister and me. Dad’s response was, “I’m not going to reward you for something that you were supposed to do anyway.” It made such sense that I couldn’t even maintain the pretense of righteous indignation, something teenage girls are pro at.

Marlo graduates from high school next year and I am sorry to say that my response will probably not be the same as my father’s. That isn’t to say that Marlo isn’t a good girl, because she is. I would respond differently because it is just a whole different world today for teenagers.

  • When I was a teenager, MTV was relatively new. I still remember where I was when it débuted – babysitting two little kids named Toby and Mandy. It actually played, gasp!, music videos. Now, MTV is a 24-hour infomercial for the consumerism and the stupidity of today’s youth. It features such fascinating shows as “My Sweet 16,” which shows parents throwing their obnoxiously rude teenager girls lavish Sweet 16 parties on the scale of a big wedding. The teenagers are rude and the parents whip out their checkbooks. Interesting take on the Pavlov’s dogs phenomenon. So, as a parent, you have to try to raise a considerate, respectful and sane child among 24-hour-a-day advertising and celebrities that tell them that being an ass is cool and desirable.[1]
  • When I was a teenager, HIV/AIDS was still (supposedly) confined to the homosexual community and hemophiliacs (from problems with the nation’s blood supply). Recently, the newspaper reported that more than one in four American teenage girls has a sexually transmitted disease (3 million girls). In the study, only half of the girls surveyed admitted to being sexually active. Of those that did admit to sexual activity, the rate of infection was startling – 40 percent! Now, personally, I’d like to give the same sort of sex talk my parents gave me, which consisted solely of admonitions not to engage in sex, without any real information about birth control or safe sex. It certainly would be a lot more comfortable for me. However, the luxury of just telling your kids not to engage in premarital sex is over. Any parent who doesn’t discuss these very real risks of STDs, which are probably higher than getting hit by a car crossing the street, is negligent.[2]
  • Car crashes are the leading cause of death for tweens and teens. Of those killed, 54% were riding with a teen driver. The risk of dying in a car crash doubles when riding with a driver less than 25 years old. My problem is compounded by the fact that Marlo thinks that all of my concern stems from over-exposure to mangled bodies in my prior career as a personal injury paralegal. No matter now many news articles I email her, she just thinks that I’m overreacting. Finally, when her boyfriend got his license and a Mustang (in the same week, damn his parents), I had to tell her point blank that I couldn’t stand it if she died. I’m not prone to such open displays of feeling.
  • My father would probably disagree, but it seems that today’s teenagers are prone to more risky bone-headed moves than in my youth. I was the “responsible one” in high school who made sure that my friends didn’t drink and drive, didn’t trash their parent’s house during a party, didn’t shoplift, and comforted them after they were sick from drinking. (Not the most glamorous job, but someone had to do it). I don’t recall my friends doing many stupid things that could have gotten them killed. I remember we used to make little rockets with firecrackers, a small apple juice can and a bigger coffee can. We probably could have lost a few fingers, but no one was at risk of dying, in my opinion. However, these days, one hears about all sorts of stupid things that teens do that could seriously harm them – things illustrated on that aptly-named television show, “Jackass.” Just this week in the paper was a story about a teenage boy who suspended himself from a freeway overpass with the help of a friend so he could paint, “Matthew loves [girlfriend’s name].” Sweet, but stupid.
  • I used to think that my job would be done when I got Marlo safely off to college. Turns out I was wrong. College appears as dangerous as being a high school student. First of all, in the Rape of America study, over 80% of all women who reported being raped were less than 25 years old. On college campuses, there is an average of 35.3 rapes per 1,000 female students. Those odds are frightening enough to want my child to forego college for a minimum wage job (although I suspect that her odds of being shot while a convenience store clerk are probably similar). Secondly, there is this new-fangled version of spring break. Instead of coming home to visit one’s parents and hometown friends, college students head south to Florida or Mexico, etc. to get drunk and party. Sort of a week-long version of Mardi Gras. Last week, the paper reported a story about an eighteen year old girl who was raped and then thrown off a sixth floor balcony by the hotel guard hired to provide security during spring break.

Dad may think I’m lowering my standards too much, but if Marlo graduates without being harmed as a result of massive teenage stupidity, without an STD or having gotten pregnant, without being maimed or killed in a car crash with a driver under the age of 25 (including herself), and without being raped by an acquaintance or stranger, I’m throwing a great big party and taking her on a tour of Europe. If she can survive the odds and succeed, it is far beyond “what [she] was supposed to do anyway.”

[1] One example of this is a 15 year old Alaskan teenager who is seemingly proud to have won the “most rotten sneaker” contest. Since when is stinking like a pig something to boast about?

[2] Not to mention the fact that comprehensive sex education cuts teen pregnancies while abstinence-only education raises the risks. I have no problems teaching abstinence – it’s the “only” part that I’ve got an issue with.

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