Tag Archives: teenagers

A Personal Story About Puberty, Thongs, And High School

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It has been a while since I shared some personal insights. In my defense, this past year has been rough. Back in the summer, two very close family members of mine passed away. It has not been easy getting personal under those circumstances. I’d like to change that and in a way that isn’t entirely depressing.

With that in mind, I’d like to tell a story about puberty. I’ll give everyone a moment to stop laughing and/or cringing. Take all the time you need. If you’re like John Oliver, you may need more time than most.

I feel like it’s worth bringing up because, for better or for worse, how we go through puberty plays a big part in how we grow into adults. I can’t claim with a straight face that I handled puberty as well as I could’ve. If I were to grade myself, I would probably get a C-minus, at best. This story that I’m about to share should help explain why.

To understand why this moment in my life sticks out, there’s a particular context I need to establish, especially for my female audience. When it comes to changing from a child to an adult, there’s no one moment that marks the transition. One single strand of pubic hair doesn’t make you a man any more than one juice box makes you a kid.

More often than not, at least for men, there are a series of moments that effectively signal that you are not a kid anymore. You’re not an adult, either. You’re a teenager, steadily transforming into an adult body and doing your best to handle all these weird and overwhelming changes.

I can’t speak to the female experience, but I can say that as a male, those moments can be pretty powerful. They’re like way-points on the journey to adulthood. This story marks one of those way-points. It involves one of my least favorite classes in high school and cute girls wearing revealing thongs.

I’m being dead serious, here. Again, take all the time you need to stop laughing and/or cringing.

The setting was innocent enough. It’s my freshman year of high school. I’m an awkward 15-year-old with a terrible acne problem, an underwhelming stature, and low self-confidence. I’m also at an age where I’m really starting to feel my hormones and not just in terms of awkward boners. While I’d always enjoyed the company of girls, my teenage brain was starting to complicate those feelings.

I could manage that, for the most part. Then, I walk in my Introduction to Spanish class. Now, I’m already dreading this class because, at the time, I sucked at memorizing things not associated with comic books or NFL stats. It didn’t help that my teacher was awful so I was rarely in a good mood when I walked in.

That mood changed, somewhat, when my teacher gave us assigned seating in a new classroom. As it just so happened, I ended up sitting right behind a beautiful young woman with brown hair, tan skin, and nails she always painted purple. Why do I remember that while I forgot pretty much everything else in that class? That’s where thongs enter the story.

This girl, in addition to being beautiful and sweet, loved to wear thong underwear. I knew because from where I was sitting, I could see it clearly. It didn’t matter what kind of pants she wore or what the weather was like. Whenever she leaned forward on her desk, I got a perfect view of the top part of her thong.

I don’t know if it was intentional. This girl was not shy about her body, but not in a trashy sort of way. She was very sweet and kind to everyone, regardless of what she wore. She was that way with me, even though I had lousy social skills and bad acne. Whatever her reason, she didn’t seem to care that her thong showed every time she leaned forward. I never pointed it out to her and neither did anyone else.

I freely admit that I was very distracted by this, but not in a way I minded. If it weren’t a beautiful girl wearing a thong, it would’ve been something else. That’s how disinterested I was in this class. It led to more than a few awkward boners, but I’d been getting those for years. I’d never gotten them in a way that felt like a direct response to someone else’s presence.

It wasn’t just a sign that my body was changing. It signaled that my mind was changing too. How I felt and how I thought about girls was different than before. It was never going to be the same again and I feel like it started with that one thong-loving girl.

I acknowledge that there will be some people out there who think less of me for gawking at the sight of a young woman’s underwear, especially while at school. I’m won’t make excuse and I won’t apologize for it, either.

I was a 15-year-old boy going through puberty. I hadn’t yet mastered the art of hiding porn in my bedroom and the concept of sexy underwear on beautiful women was just starting to appeal to me. It’s for that very reason, however perverse some may find it, that this memory is so vivid for me.

It was at this moment, sitting in Spanish class and covertly admiring the cute girl’s thong, that I realized I was not a kid anymore. I was becoming an adult. That was a critical revelation for me because, up until that point, I still thought of myself as a kid. Even at 15, I hadn’t quite shed that part of my identity. This experience changed that.

I couldn’t keep clinging to childhood. Moreover, I didn’t want to anymore. I felt like an adult. I wanted to grow up. I know that sounds like a lot of revelation from just seeing a cute girl’s thong, but make no mistake. The impact was that profound. It remains a defining moment for my adolescence.

In addition to the thong, I also remember the girl’s name. For the sake of her privacy, I won’t share it. However, after I finished that class, I never had a class with her again. I didn’t see much of her for the rest of high school. I doubt I’ll ever see her again. Even if I don’t, her impact on my teenage life is etched in bedrock. For that, I thank her and her tastes in underwear.

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Filed under gender issues, human nature, Jack Fisher's Insights, psychology, sex in society, sexuality

Lessons In Mental Health And Outrage Culture From “Daria”

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How does anyone stay sane in this day and age? Between fake news, outrage culture, alternative facts, and the everyday struggle to survive in an economy being subsumed by tech companies, I don’t blame anyone for being a bit uptight. I envy anyone who can step back, see the bigger picture, and retain their sanity.

For some, it takes a special kind of strength, perspective, and mental toughness to deal with the totality of the absurdities in this world. Then, there’s Daria Morgendorffer from her remarkably-ahead-of-its-time TV show, “Daria.” When it comes to maintaining a level head while surrounded by the insanities of the modern world, she’s in a league of her own.

I’ve made my love for “Dariaknown before. I’ve even shared my excitement on the prospect of a new series. Every time I make the mistake of watching the news for more than two minutes, I find myself wishing I had her nuanced perspective. It’s part of what makes her character so enduring. She’ll see things for what they are, tell it like it is, and offer revealing insights along the way.

Earlier this year, research from Clinical Psychological Science indicated that mental health issues are on the rise among young people. Every day, it seems, a new mental ailment emerges from the evolving media landscape. While mental health issues can be serious, they can also be subject to plenty of absurdities.

As it just so happens, one of my favorite episodes of “Daria” tackled this issue in a way that’s more relevant now than it was back in the early 2000s when it first aired. The title of the episode is called “Psycho Therapy” and the lessons it offers are worth learning.

The synopsis of the episode is fairly basic. Daria’s mother, Helen, is up for a promotion. However, before the law firm she works at can consider her, she and her family are sent to a psychiatric center for personality evaluations. Hilarity ensue, but it’s Daria who ends up making the most astute observations, more so than the doctors on hand.

When Daria and her family first arrive, the staff is most concerned about Daria. Considering how she answered her survey with her trademark sarcasm, that’s understandable. However, when the doctors start to evaluate her and her family, they learn something remarkable.

Compared to everyone else in her family, she’s the most mentally stable. Even if you’ve only seen a few episodes of “Daria,” that should be pretty jarring. That’s not to say that she’s the picture of mental health, but according to the doctors in the episode, she’s the most well-adjusted. These are the exact words of Dr. Jean-Michael to Daria.

Dr. Jean-Michael: Daria, I was afraid you had some rather deep-seated problems. But I must say, you’re remarkably well adjusted considering…

Quinn: You’d think someone would’ve invented eye liner before me.
But no, I, Cleopatra, have to come up with all my beauty products on my own.
Oh, what a hard life.

In Quinn’s defense, she was hypnotized when she went on that incoherent ramble. Then again, Quinn Morgandorffer is probably the least defensive character in the show and would probably benefit from a healthy bit of therapy.

What makes this assessment more revealing is just how much Daria is surrounded by intense personalities, so to speak. I won’t go so far as to say these personalities are on par with mental illness, but they certainly walk the line. While that’s part of what makes these characters interesting, it also highlights an important concept that Daria Morgandorffer embodies.

At her core, Daria is a hardcore realist. She’s not a nihilist, a social constructionist, or an existentialist. She’s someone who sees both the surface and the forces just below that surface. From there, she makes a cold, calculated assessment that is devoid of needless emotional breadth, unless you count the sarcasm.

This is how she’s able to effectively break down the mental quirks of her parents, Jake and Helen Morgandorffer. Throughout the series, their relationship goes through a lot of atypical stresses. Just check out Season 3, Episode 10, entitled “Speedtrapped” for a clear depiction of those stresses.

On top of that, they both have some fairly eccentric personality quirks. Her mother is an incredibly high-strung, career-obsessed woman who constantly worries about how “normal” both her daughters are. Her father is an overly-dense, exceedingly histrionic man who always seems like he’s in the middle of a mid-life crisis.

Even a professional would have trouble making sense of their mental state. Daria does it in just a few short sentences.

Daria: Mom’s resentful that she has to work so hard, which obscures her guilt about actually wanting to work so hard. Dad’s guilty about being less driven than Mom, but thinks it’s wrong to feel that way. So, he hides behind a smokescreen of cluelessness.

Behind the heavy monotone and light sarcasm, this shows that Daria knows her parents. Given how they behave throughout the episode, she demonstrates that she actually knows them better than they know themselves. There’s even a scene towards the end of the episode where they try to mimic one another. It ends up getting pretty dramatic for everyone, except for Daria.

Helen: I mean Dammit! I lost another client! I can’t understand why! Dammit! Nobody likes poor old Jake. Should I think about the reason? Oh, must be my father’s fault. Where’s the newspaper, dammit!

Jake: Let me bring home the pizza. I have to be the one doing everything so everyone will thank me and tell me what a big superwoman I am. I’m very, very important and very, very stressed and I don’t have time to actually do anything for anyone else, but I can pretend I care, can’t I?

This is some pretty brutal honesty, even by “Daria” standards. They reveal some pretty unhealthy sentiments that probably need more than just advice and therapy. They reflect many of the quirks and side-plots that Daria’s parents experience throughout the show with Helen constantly obsessing over her career and Jake obsessing over whatever is stressing him out at the moment.

Daria’s ability to sift through all that and make a clear, honest assessment is both remarkable and refreshing. Even though these are her parents, she doesn’t pull any punches. Moreover, she doesn’t make any value judgments either. She doesn’t take sides or show scorn. She’s just tells it like it is. She says what the audience feels and does it in that lovable, monotone sort of way.

Her being able to make that assessment is profound. Doing so while maintaining mental stability is just as amazing. The fact she can maintain this perspective around personalities that range from ditzy cheerleader types like Brittney Taylor and touchy-feely teachers like Timothy O’Neill show why Daria is the emotional anchor of the show.

Back in the early 2000s, Daria’s knack for being level-headed while surrounded by so many bizarre characters made for great entertainment. Today, it acts as a radical departure from how we make sense of a world where every news clip, viral video, and hashtag is measured by the emotional outburst it triggers.

What Daria does in “Psycho Therapy” is something that has become far less common with each passing year. She makes a clear, concise assessment of other peoples’ behaviors and attitudes without casting judgement. She doesn’t whine about other peoples’ shortcomings or bemoan misguided efforts to treat them. She just points out the cold, hard facts and lets them stand on their own merit.

Contrast that with how every comment about someone, whether it’s in person or online, is laced with value judgments. You say you like video games and immediately, you’re judged as this angry fanboy who rages whenever someone dares to significantly change a particular aspect of your game. You say you’re a feminist and immediately, you’re judged as a man-hating bitch who blames men for every single ill on the planet.

It’s not enough to just have an opinion. It’s not even enough to have personal likes or dislikes. Everything you do and why you do it has to be an indictment on your politics, your identity, and the society around you. That’s not just misguided and judgmental. It’s mentally exhausting.

Being constantly judged, online and offline, every hour of every day is sure to be stressful. It’s no wonder why it seems as though more young people are development mental health issues. Daria may seem like the most unhappy person in her show, but compared to what some people deal with in the real world, she’s a picture of sanity.

At the end of the episode, it’s not Daria’s choices that lead to the resolution. All she does is provide commentary. It’s Helen and Jake, her emotionally convoluted parents, who chart their own path. That kind of lesson wasn’t as necessary in June 2000 when this episode first aired, but it’s one worth re-learning today.

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Recalling The Time I Felt Most Emasculated

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Everybody has a few low points in their lives that they would prefer to forget. Even the richest, most privileged among us have moments where they feel like a wounded deer in a den of hungry wolves. I’ve certainly had my share of those days. While the pain they’ve caused me has waned over the years, I still remember them as clearly as they day they happened.

Talking about those moments is never easy. Most are content to keep them buried in the past and not think about them, a tactic favored by eccentric mad scientist cartoon characters. However, I believe there is some therapeutic value to revisiting those moments. Some of them can even offer insights that are more relevant today than they were when they happened.

In that spirit, I’d like to share one the greatest low points I ever had. What makes it relevant, though, isn’t that it was just especially bad. This one particular point marked the time in my life when I felt most emasculated, as a man.

Seeing as how I’ve talked a great deal about masculinity, from the way it has been demonized by ongoing social trends to the double standards that affect it, I think moments like this stand out more than they would have in previous years. I’ve even found myself recalling these moments more lately, but this particular moment tends to hit me the hardest.

To understand this memory and why it left me feeling so emasculated, I need to establish the situation. It takes place back when I was in grade school, specifically the fifth grade. That’s an important detail because this is a time when most kids are on the cusp of puberty and just learning what it means to mature from a kid to an adult.

Even before this particular event, I wasn’t handling that transition as well as I’d hoped. I had some attitude problems back then. I wasn’t much of a troublemaker, but I had a nasty habit of getting defensive. I would take things way too personally and overreact way too easily, even by the standards of a fifth grader.

As a result, this left me with few friends and more than a few enemies. I won’t say they were outright bullies, but they were close and I did everything I could go to goad them. My social skills were just that poor and my insecurities were just that great.

All those issues culminated near the end of the school year when my class took part in this big Civil War project that was supposed to be fun. The way it worked was we all picked names out of a hat to represent notable Civil War figures. Then, we would act out those roles in a make-shift activities, the last one being this big mock battle outside using water balloons.

It should’ve been fun. It was late May, the weather was warm, and we’d have an excuse throwing water balloons at each other. For me, though, it turned into one of the worst moments of my pre-adult life. I still consider it one of the most damaging moments of my life, to date.

Back when we were picking names out of a hat, I had the misfortune of picking the name of a woman. The name of the woman was Louisa May Alcott and, for all the wrong reasons, I’ve come to shutter at that name. That’s not to criticize her place in history, but picking that name really made that project a nightmare.

I tried to get another name, but my teacher wouldn’t let me. In hindsight, I could understand why. There were a lot of girls in that class stuck with male roles and there were only a few female roles to go around. I couldn’t even trade with someone. She basically told me to suck it up and go with it.

That, alone, was tough because I was the only boy in that class stuck with a female role. Needless to say, I got made fun of pretty quickly. Thanks to my attitude and immaturity at the time, I did everything possible to make it worse.

Throughout the project, I felt very uncomfortable playing this role and didn’t do a very good job. No matter what I did, I just gave everyone another reason to make fun of me and I reacted in a way that just gave them more incentive. In many ways, it was my fault for letting it get that bad. There were easy solutions, though, and my teachers never did a damn thing to help me.

Finally, on the day of the water balloon fight, it all came to ahead. I had already been in a bad mood that day and I did a lousy job of hiding it. As a result, I heard some kids talking about how they’d gang up on me and target me alone with their water balloons. It left me genuinely scared that I was going to be completely humiliated.

That might have been paranoia on my part, but it was more than enough to make me sit it out. When we were lining up to start the water balloon fight, I slipped away and sat down near the back wall of the school. I don’t remember if I told my teacher. I’m pretty sure I got knocked down a grade for not participating, but I wasn’t thinking about that.

However, that wasn’t the worst part. Shortly after the water balloon fight started, some of the kids from my class started mocking me from far. They started calling out, “Hi Louisa!” None of them ran up to me and threw their water balloon at me, but the damage had been done.

It was at that moment, all those kids laughing at me and calling me that woman’s name, where the distress I felt turned into outright emasculation. Make no mistake. There is a difference. Just being embarrassed is hard enough for anyone. Being emasculated, though, feels much more personal.

Regardless of how you feel about gender being a social construct or the faults in masculine standards, our gender is very much a part of who we are. Being a man is part of who I am, more so than me being a comic book fan or an aspiring erotica/romance writer. When I feel like that part of me is under attack, the damage runs much deeper.

Hearing those voices from my classmates and the laughter that followed didn’t just make me feel upset, sad, and angry. I suddenly felt less than human, lacking the qualities of men and women alike. I had no sense of worth, dignity, or identity. I felt like a wounded animal, just waiting to get eaten.

I tried to shut it out. I just kept my head down and stared at my shoes the entire time, trying with all my might not to break down and cry on the spot. I managed to avoid that, thankfully. I don’t doubt that would’ve made the moment even worse.

I’m also grateful that one of the school counselors stopped by and sat next to me. I think her presence was what stopped the chanting. She talked to me, but I don’t remember her saying anything that made me feel better. I just sat there and waited for the day to end.

Eventually, it did. I got through it and moved forward, but that moment still left quite a few scars that took a long time to heal. After that day, I became much more of a shut-in. I stopped talking in class. I stopped trying to make friends. I basically shut myself off as much as possible, saying as little as I could to get through the day.

I’m not saying that moment was completely responsible for my poor social skills, which would carry on through high school where a terrible acne problem helped compound my situation. However, I do think it set the tone. It damaged my sense of self, both in terms of my gender and of the person I was growing into.

It took a long time and a lot of work, complete with the undying support of my friends and family, to recover from that moment. When I think back on it now, I feel like it has greater meaning at a time when masculinity is seen as inherently negative. Having had my masculinity attacked at one point, I understand how damaging it can be.

These days, it’s not uncommon to hear people decry and demean men, as a whole. There have been women who advocated for the outright murder of men. They’ve been brushed off, not unlike how my teachers brushed off my discomfort on that fateful day. However, if a man even shows a hint of misogyny, they’re outright vilified. Just ask Henry Cavill.

That gives the impression that it’s okay to make a man feel emasculated, but you’re an outright monster if you make a woman feel offended in any way. It’s as though our gender determines how much compassion we get. That’s not just unfair. That’s unjust to an egregious extent.

I’ve since come to terms with what happened that day. I acknowledge that I was responsible for how parts of it played out, but there were also factors I couldn’t control and it hurt me on a deeply personal level. I don’t doubt for a second that plenty of men out there have found themselves in similar positions, feeling so low and utter unmasculine that it’s downright traumatic.

Nobody deserves to feel that way, regardless of their gender. I hope that by sharing my experience, other men will feel comfortable sharing theirs as well. There may still be those who hear stories like this and roll their eyes, thinking a man’s pain just cannot compare to that of a woman or someone who is transgender. To those people, I would say that pain is pain. It doesn’t care about your gender. It still hurts all the same.

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The War On Boredom: Generation Z Already Bored With The Internet?

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There’s a recurring theme in the history of conflict, crises, and panics of all kinds. Most of the time, there are obvious signs. From the Great Depression to the Great Recession of 2008 to telling signs that something was up with Harvey Weinstein, there were ominous hints that something much bigger was going on. By not heeding those hints, we made things worse in the long run.

Granted, those hints are obvious through the lens of hindsight. I don’t mean to make it sound like predicting a crisis is easy. If it were, then nobody would ever lose money in the stock market and terrorists would be out of a job. It’s an unfortunate, but unavoidable theme in human history. The various signs of looming issue are subtle and the implications require more foresight than our brains permit.

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That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make an effort to sniff out a crisis before it happens. The cost of being wrong is usually far less than the anguish of being right, albeit with a few notable exceptions. I’ve been talking about a particular crisis that may very well be in the early stages as I write this. It doesn’t involve harassment, wars, or economic collapse, though. It involves boredom.

I’ve speculated that boredom may be the plague of the future. I’ve even hypothesized that Generation Z, the current cohort that is barely out of their teen years, may be prone to the kind of nihilistic mentality that further compounds the effects of boredom. I sincerely hope I’m wrong, but I’ve yet to see anything to discount my points.

Call it the boredom wave. Call it the coming War on Boredom. Call it whatever you want. It’s an issue that we’ll have to address on some levels. As more and more of society becomes automated by machines and streamlined by artificial intelligence, more and more people will have more and more free time on their hands.

Image result for too much free time

Even if we get to the point where society has a universal basic income so that nobody has to work or toil, we still have a problem. What are people going to do with all that free time? What happens when there’s so much of it that the boredom becomes infuriating? It’s hard to say, although there have been some disturbing signs.

Recently, though, another sign emerged, courtesy of The Daily Beast. In a recent article, Taylor Lorenz explores some revealing anecdotes about how the emerging youth in Generation Z is getting bored with the internet activities that have kept Millennials so entertained for the past couple decades. If the War on Boredom is to be a real conflict, then this could end up being the catalyst.

Say what you will about the veracity of these anecdotes. There’s a reason anecdotal evidence is considered weak evidence by the legal and scientific community. These stories still offer distressing insights with equally distressing implications. This is just one that the article highlighted.

“When I’m bored while I’m on my phone and I’m switching between different apps… I’m just searching for something to do,” said Addie, a 15-year-old in Long Island. “It’s like walking around your house in circles.” Often, they’ll find nothing on their phone entertaining and simply zone out and daydream.

Now, I’m sure every previous generations, from Millennials to the Baby Boomers, will roll their eyes at that complaint. I can already hear the condemnations of this emerging generation. A part of me, a Millennial, even feels that way.

They say things like, “You kids have no idea how great you have it! You’ve got a gadget in your pocket that gives you unlimited access to the entire library of human knowledge and an endless stream of entertainment, from books to videos to pictures of cats. How the hell can you be bored by that?”

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However, that’s easy to say for those who are old enough to remember a world without the internet, smartphones, or streaming media. I didn’t have internet access in my house until I was about 13-years-old and even then it was a dial-up connection that was painfully slow and prone to cutting out suddenly. In terms of combating boredom, my generation had different tools and different methods when we were kids.

To us, as well as the generations before us, the usage of smartphones and the entertainment content of the internet is still amazing to us. I still remember what it was like being at the complete mercy of what was on TV and having to play video games with no online multiplayer or DLC. Those time seem so distant now, but the teenagers of Generation Z have no such perspective.

From their point of view, smartphones have always existed. The internet has always been this ubiquitous thing that they’re a part of. It’s not a modern wonder to them. It’s a trivial, mundane part of their lives. People like me can’t see it like that because we still remember a world without it.

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As a result, Generation Z isn’t going to see all the entertainment and media as a wonder. They’re going to see it as part of their normal and no matter what form normal takes, it’s still going to be boring to some extent. That’s part of what makes normal what it is. The article itself even acknowledges this.

It’s tempting to think that these devices, with their endless ability to stimulate, offer salvation from the type of mind-numbing boredom that is so core to the teen experience. But humans adapt to the conditions that surround them, and technical advances are no different. What seemed novel to one generation feels passé to the next. To many teens, smartphones and the internet have already lost their appeal.

It goes even further, distinguishing how Generation Z sees their smartphones and contrasting it with their Millennial predecessors. When someone my age or older sees a teenager on a phone, we don’t usually assume they’re just bored. We think they’re just another self-obsessed teenager who can’t resist checking their social media feeds every half-second.

While it’s much easier and more self-serving to assume that teenagers are just that self-obsessed, it’s probably more likely that boredom is a larger factor here. I would take it further than that. I would go so far as to claim that this is one of those signs that we foolishly overlooked in the future.

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These teenagers have access to the same technology and media that has kept other generations so engaged and enthralled. However, they’re seeing it and they’re bored by it. Anyone who knows anything about boredom understands that when boredom reaches a certain level, you’ll go to extremes to feel any kind of stimulation.

With that in mind, what kind of extremes will Generation Z resort to in their efforts to combat boredom? If they can’t get it from their phones or their computers, how will they combat this issue? To them, it’ll be a war. To every other generation, it’ll seem asinine. However, it may very well consume the social and political landscape of the future.

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Generation Z, The March For Our Lives, And The Nihilism Turning Point

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Last year, I wrote a couple of posts about the mentality of Millennials and the possible quirks they may inspire in Generation Z, which are just starting to emerge. While I’m neither the spokesperson for Millennials, nor am I an expert on the generation they’re creating. Being a Millennial myself, though, I like to think I have more insight than most. I’ve watched their story play out and I’ve even lived part of it.

However, this particular topic isn’t about Millennials. This is about the emerging generation after them, Generation Z. While Millennials are still subject to any number of trends and criticisms, Generation Z hasn’t had much time to establish themselves or have a defining moment. That may be changing in wake of the Parkland shooting.

To understand why, it’s important to provide a bit of context about Generation Z. First and foremost, we need to identify just who they are, relative to Millennials, Generation X, and the Baby Boomers. While there’s no official cut-off point, most reputable sources identify anyone born after the year 2000 as members of Generation Z.

Those who lived through the Parkland shooting are mostly in their mid-to-late teens so they fit into this category. That matters a great deal because it’s happening at a point where Generation Z is on the cusp of adulthood. To understand why that matters, it’s important to note the context of this generation.

These kids, and they are still kids for the most part, were born into a world where they didn’t witness the horrors of Columbine or the experience the collective trauma of the September 11th attacks. Generation Z has always lived in a world where school shootings are a thing and the War on Terror has always been ongoing.

Beyond that, they’re also a generation that has been even more well-connected than their Millennial predecessors. Most never had to endure the hardships of dial-up internet or cell phones that did not have a camera. Their entire lives have been connected, so to speak. That’s part of what has fueled their reaction to the Parkland shooting.

The kids in Generation Z have been watching all their lives as horrible mass shootings from Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, and Las Vegas happen with distressing regularity. At the same time, they’ve watched as efforts by Millennials, Generation X, and the Baby Boomers amount to very little change. The fact that the internet and social media documents all these failures leaves quite an impression.

Being young, idealistic, and not totally jaded, the members of Generation Z are finally at an age where they have a chance to make an effort of their own. They’re still not old enough to drink or vote in many instances, but they’re now in a position to make their voices heard. That was the idea behind the March For Our Lives that occurred last week.

It marks a potentially defining moment for Generation Z, one that may have far-reaching consequences for years to come. They’ve seen how many have tried and failed to use the horrors of mass shootings to promote gun control reforms. They’re also informed and educated enough to know how egregious the gun violence disparity is in the United States compared to other developed countries.

While I applaud the passion of these remarkable young people, I also worry that this event may become a turning point, of sorts. By that, I mean these noble and sincere efforts of these kids could be the catalyst that instills a sense of nihilism that may very well define their generation.

This is something I speculated on when I made my predictions on the collective mindset of Generation Z last year, going so far as to identify Rick Sanchez from “Rick And Morty” as their first icon. I stated that Generation Z would likely be the most nihilistic generation of all time. Now, the success or failure of the March For Our Lives could be the turning point that cements that nihilism within Generation Z.

As I said before, it won’t be the same kind of nihilism we associate with the Friedrich Nietzsches of the world. It’s the kind of nihilism that is the byproduct of being surrounded by so much information and seeing how little it truly matters in the long run.

Like Millennials, Generation Z is very educated. They’ve grown up in a world where they have access to nearly all the world’s relevant information through their smartphones. They’re smart enough and tech-savvy enough to see world events unfolding before their eyes. They’re also informed enough to know how hard it is for any event to make for meaningful change.

Now, here they are, having experienced one of their first traumas as an up-and-coming generation. They’ve seen all those terrible mass shootings inspire nothing but empty thoughts and prayers. They feel inspired enough and bold enough to make an effort, hoping they’ll succeed where so many others have failed.

While many are rooting for them, the odds are stacked against them. Even major news outlets are starting to spoil the outcome, applauding the kids while brushing off their ideals as youthful day-dreaming. I don’t think they realize just what kind of impression they’ll have on their generation as a whole.

Let’s say, for a moment, that the most likely scenario happens and the March For Our Lives leads to no meaningful change in gun control laws or in efforts to curb mass shootings. What kind of message does that send to the survivors of Parkland and the entire generation emerging behind it?

Firstly, it establishes that their lives, their pain, and their ideals don’t matter. It doesn’t matter how passionate they are. It doesn’t matter how traumatized they are. What they went through and how they reacted in response doesn’t matter. In such a crowded, diverse, and complicated world, their lives are trivial.

That’s almost a textbook definition of existential nihilism. Their hopes, their dreams, and their very place in the universe is insignificant. It wouldn’t have mattered if ten times more kids died at Parkland. It still wouldn’t have changed anything. There would still be no gun control. There would still be more mass shootings. All that time, effort, energy, and pain amounted to nothing.

In previous generations, it was almost beneficial to live in a world that wasn’t so connected. They could see horrible events on the news, but find a way to compartmentalize it in their minds so they could go on with their lives. With Generation Z, being so connected and informed, that’s just not feasible anymore.

They don’t just see that their efforts at Parkland were meaningless. They also see how many other mass shootings have occurred throughout history and how utterly inane such violence is in the grand scheme of things. In a sense, their ability to connect and inform themselves could render them numb to any greater sense of purpose.

That’s not to say that the kids behind March For Our Lives or the whole of Generation Z will be a bunch of dispassionate, misanthropic naysayers who are so emotionally flat that they don’t respond to stories of human suffering anymore. It just means that they’ll be a lot more calculated with their perspective.

Keep in mind, a world of regular school shootings and a never-ending war on terrorism is not some major upheaval to Generation Z. That’s their concept of normal. They’ve always lived in a world where terror attacks can happen at any time, when mass shootings can happen just as frequently, and no meaningful change ever comes of it.

For them, all the yelling, protesting, and outrage that generations of the past have voiced will just seem like background noise. If all the suffering and trauma led to nothing, then why should they bother? That may very well be a question that the Parkland survivors start asking themselves after the March For Our Lives accomplishes nothing.

Now, that’s not to say Generation Z won’t react differently. That’s not even to say that the March For Our Lives won’t accomplish something meaningful in the end. It’s impossible to predict major trends that go onto define an entire generation, but it’s still possible to note the vulnerabilities.

For Generation Z, nihilism might end up being less a reaction and more a necessity. They’re coming into a world where all the news is fake, facts battle alternative facts, and dead kids only evoke empty thoughts and prayers. Once this fact settles in, it’ll be interesting to see how they seek to define themselves moving forward.

Being the optimist I am, I believe that the kind of nihilism that Generation Z embraces could help inoculate them from some of the detrimental effects of identity politics, fake news, and outrage culture. I think that’s critical, given how these forces have corrupted debates and empowered professional trolls.

In any case, Generation Z faces an uphill battle in an effort to set themselves apart from their Millennial peers. A greater sense of nihilism may make them difficult to deal, but that’s exactly what will help define them as they seek purpose within a seemingly purposeless world.

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Should We Re-Think Our Expectations Of Teenagers?

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When I was a teenager and in a particularly bad mood, which happened more often than I care to admit, there was this one thing my parents often told me that really pissed me off.  It came out in many forms, but this was the underlying sentiment.

“If you EXPECT it to be a bad experience, then it’s GOING to be bad experience.”

I can’t recount how many times I heard something like this. I just remember it pissing me off even more every time I heard it. They usually said it to me whenever we were going out to do something that didn’t involve me sulking in my mood. Being the great parents they were, they didn’t let that happen. They got me off my ass and out of that mindset.

They probably didn’t know at the time, but that bit of good parenting reflects a real phenomenon within our collective psyche. It’s called expectancy theory and it’s kind of what it sounds like.

It’s based on the principle that if someone has certain expectations about something, it’ll affect how they approach it. If they have a positive, hopeful attitude, then they’ll be more likely to evoke positive, hopeful outcomes. If they’re negative about it, as I often was, then it’s not going to turn out well and confirmation bias will help make it worse.

With that in mind, I’d like to apply this to an experience that’s pretty much universal for everyone. Specifically, I want to focus on our expectations as and towards teenagers. Now, I know I’ve given teenagers a lot of crap on this blog, often highlighting how they tend to do dumb things and have misguided attitudes. In my defense, my own confirmation bias has somewhat affected that.

I did not have a good teenage experience. I had a terrible attitude for much of my teenage years and, despite having great parents and amazing social support, I found ways to make myself miserable. However, for the purposes of this discussion, I want to focus less on my own experience and more on the concept as a whole.

Take a moment, whether you’re a teenager or not, to ask a few important questions about the sentiment you have towards teenagers. Don’t just think about how you feel about it, personally. Think about how we collectively approach the teenage experience.

Are teenagers more deviant because of basic developmental biology or because we expect them to be deviant?

Are teenagers more immature because of basic developmental biology or because we expect them to be immature?

Are teenagers disrespectful because of their basic developmental biology or because we expect them to be disrespectful?

Are teenagers more prone to risky behavior because of basic developmental biology or because we expect them to do risky things?

See the pattern? There seems to be this underlying assumption about teenagers that rarely gets scrutinized. It’s this idea that all the biological changes that teenagers go through with puberty somehow transforms them from these sweet, innocent children into these reckless, irresponsible, proto-adults who aren’t capable of managing themselves.

It’s fairly likely that all those biological transformations that teenagers go through has some affect on their mentality. However, even the most up-to-date research on the issue concedes that our understanding of the mechanisms behind the process are extremely limited. What that means in a scientific context is we should not assume that our assumptions at the moment are wholly valid.

It may very well be the case that our expectations about teenagers have a significant impact on how we treat them. In turn, how we treat them ends up affecting how they act in response. Then, when they react, we use confirmation bias to justify our expectations. It comes off as one elaborate self-fulfilling prophecy to which we all contribute.

When you think about it, the signs are there. If you’re a teenager, just look at how the world treats you. If you’re an adult, think about how you were treated as a teenager and how you treat teenagers now.

We impose strict curfews about what they can do with their private time. We don’t trust them to consent to sexual activity until a certain age. We regularly send them to educational institutions where their lives and schedules are strictly controlled, not unlike that of prisoners. Whenever there’s a crime or an act of deviance, we tend to expect teenagers to be involved.

From my own experience, I can attest to this. When I was in high school, I noticed a distinct change in the way adults and teachers dealt with us, compared to middle and elementary school. Suddenly, everything we did was subject to greater scrutiny. It was as though everyone thought that we, a bunch of hormonal teenagers, were just one impulse away from becoming violent deviants.

I’m not going to lie. I found that kind of insulting. Teachers, adults, and even police officers would talk down to us whenever they discussed things like sex, crime, and even our personal lives. It wasn’t just that we were expected to screw up. It was almost as though we were supposed to screw up.

It never really crossed my mind that being a teenager could mean anything else. The idea that these attitudes were somehow flawed never entered my mind. I don’t think many people, including other teenagers, give it much thought now. That may very well be a problem that only makes itself worse the longer we have these expectations.

Part of what inspired me to write about this topic is an article from TheVerge that pitched the crazy, yet oddly logical idea that we should consider those under the age of 24 to still be teenagers. I admit I thought it was a joke at first, albeit not of The Onion variety. However, the author does make some interesting points.

Compared to earlier generations, youth today are staying in school longer, marrying and having kids later, and buying a house later, writes Susan Sawyer, the chair of adolescent health at the University of Melbourne, in an op-ed published today in the journal The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health. The transition period from childhood to adulthood lasts far beyond age 19, when it is popularly thought to end. As a result, she writes, we should change our policies and services to better serve this population.

In a sense, the author of the article is doubling down on the expectations. Now, it’s not just people who don’t have a two in front of their age to which we should ascribe these assumptions. We need to apply that to people even older because somehow, they’re still not meeting the other expectations we have of functioning adults.

Personally, I think that’s taking things in the wrong direction. If we’re going to start expecting more deviance and immaturity from more people, then that’s what we’re going to see and not just from confirmation bias. Just as I did as a kid, my negative expectations led to negative manifestations. Now, they may follow young people beyond high school.

It’s not magical thinking to say that attitude matters when it comes to dealing with people. Human psychology is extremely complex and varies wildly from individual to individual, but humans are still a very social species. As such, treating others with respect and maturity will provide them with incentives to do the same.

I don’t deny that certain assumptions are difficult to escape, especially when some of them are incorporated into actual policies. Even if we woke up tomorrow and started treating everyone over the age of 13 as a responsible adult, it probably wouldn’t resolve the many issues we still have with youth in society. However, as I came to learn as an adult, having a good attitude goes a long way towards achieving a good outcome.

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What “Big Mouth” Gets Right (And Wrong) About Puberty

When you’re a platform that has created shows like “House of Cards” and “BoJack Horseman,” the bar for quality is higher than most. That’s the benefit/burden of being successful. Say what you will about how Netflix has evolved over the years, it has produced some amazing content in an age that some call the third golden age of TV.

Then, there are shows like “Big Mouth.” I’m not saying that Netflix is lowering the bar for the sake of balance, but I’m still struggling to make sense of this show. When I heard about it, especially with comedian Nick Kroll attached to it, I hoped I had found another show to pass the time in between seasons of “BoJack Horseman.” I’m won’t say I was disappointed, but I do feel like I took the quality of Netflix content for granted.

I’m not going to say that “Big Mouth” is a bad show, but I won’t make excuses for it. It’s the kind of show that goes out of its way to be crude for all the wrong reasons and not in the traditions of “South Park” either. It doesn’t go for the cheap laugh or even the mid-priced laugh. It’s a show that just goes out of its way to sensationalize teenagers going through puberty.

On paper, it sounds like a great concept. Going through puberty is wrought with all sorts of craziness, some funny and some embarrassing as hell. I’ve shared some on this blog, including a story about the most awkward boner I’ve ever gotten.

Big Mouth” tries to extract humor from similarly awkward situations. It takes a lot of swings and it misses a lot of pitches, but it does manage to hit a few balls here and there. Yes, I also mean that in a literal sense. This show does resort to that kind of humor.

It may not be the kind of high-concept insight you get from an episode of “Rick and Morty,” but it does at least try to send a message about the horrors of puberty. Even if the product is crude and exceedingly exaggerated, that message is relevant, so much so that it’s worth talking about.

I honestly didn’t expect to write about “Big Mouth” in any capacity, especially when writing about sexy memories from my college years is so much more interesting. However, after gritting my teeth and watching the show, I feel the horrors of puberty are worth talking about, especially with ideas about toxic masculinity being so prevalent lately.

Big Mouth” doesn’t attempt to wade too deeply into those kinds of issues. It’s too crude and too crass a show to even attempt that kind of commentary. However, it does do a good job at showing just how powerful and, at times, overwhelming that flood of hormones can be to a young person. For some, it’s downright traumatic.

Throughout the show, the main characters, Nick Birch, Andrew, Glouberman, and Jessi Glaser, are often hounded by literal manifestations of a monster that personifies their hormones. It’s never clear whether the monster is invisible or not, but this creature basically says everything the FCC won’t allow teenagers to say out loud.

For the boys, the monster is named Maurice and his advice usually amounts to things like, “Go ahead and jerk off!” or “Look at her tits!” or “Too bad, buddy! You’re getting a boner!” I’m not going to lie. That monster kind of triggered some awkward moments from my teenage years where I found myself thinking thoughts too crude, even for my novels.

The girls aren’t spared from that awkwardness either. There’s another hormone monster every bit as crude, but reserved for female characters. Her name is Connie and she embodies all the alpha bitch, hyper-feminine extremes that Sam Kinison ever joked about. She’s emotional, dramatic, and demands that every female character be confused or overwhelmed by her body. That’s basically puberty in a nutshell.

In a sense, “Big Mouth” is unique in its balanced approach to showing how boys and girls both struggle to endure puberty. That’s rare in most coming of age stories that either focus on horny guys trying to get laid or bitchy girls trying to get popular. This show doesn’t give a pass to either gender.

This is what “Big Mouth” actually gets right about puberty, to some extent. It’s not just overwhelming and frustrating for one gender. The male experience is unique. They have to deal with constant erections and that annoying voice in their head urging them to think dirty thoughts about anything that even looks like a beautiful women.

Since I’m a man who has more than his share of bad memories from my awkward teen years, that’s a sentiment I can appreciate. However, it’s the female perspective in “Big Mouth” that I found most intriguing. The idea that girls are just as freaked out about the changes in their bodies, minds, and everything in between shouldn’t be such a novel concept, but this show goes out of its way to belabor it.

Now, I don’t know for sure that the girls I went to high school with had an actual hormone monster on their shoulder, telling them to cry irrationally at a moment’s notice or lash out at anyone who dared to look at them the wrong way. It’s just somewhat refreshing to think that teen awkwardness knows no gender.

If gender balance is a strength in “Big Mouth,” though, it’s biggest weakness is portraying how the characters deal with it. The show is so over-the-top with the extremes of puberty that it’s hard to glean a meaningful story from it all.

It’s not just that puberty takes the form of actual hormone monsters that sound like uncensored commentary from a bad porno. It’s not that the show makes puberty sound overly traumatic either. There’s never a sense that the characters, even Jessi and Nick, actually grow through the experience. That’s kind of a big oversight with puberty.

From a purely biological standpoint, puberty is the maturation of a child into adulthood. That maturation part is never even hinted at in the show. After watching the first season of “Big Mouth,” it’s hard to imagine any of the characters involved growing into functioning adults.

In the real world, puberty tends to bring out the best or worst in a person. If someone starts becoming an asshole in puberty, they usually stay that way into adulthood. If someone shows an ability to deal with it and grow, as a person, then they’re usually in good shape. It can even get pretty hilarious when both kinds of people have to deal with one another. Unfortunately, we don’t get that with “Big Mouth.”

I won’t go so far as to say the show is terrible. It does have its moments and some of those moments are genuinely funny or insightful. It is, as the end of the day, an overly comedic take on the rigors of puberty. It doesn’t try to be coy or deceptive. It doesn’t try to use colorful metaphors involving flowers or cucumbers. It gets right down the dirty, gritty details.

I can see the show appealing to those who suffered more during puberty than most. I can even see the show appealing to “South Park” and “Family Guy” fans. It’s hardly a guide or a warning with respect to the rigors of puberty, but it reflects a common truth. Being a teenager sucks and puberty is a big reason why.

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