Tag Archives: teenagers

Torn Between Childhood And Adulthood: The Journey Of Bobby Hill

mjphkd8z03611

The greatness of a TV show is often measured in how endearing the characters are. Whether it has dramatic themes like “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad” or over-the-top comedy like “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia,” TV shows thrive and fail by the strength of their characters.

A show like “King of the Hill” is a good example of this and not just because it has plenty of great characters. The personalities and stories of characters like Hank Hill, Boomhauer, and Luanne are all endearing in their own unique way. I’ve even gone out of my way to praise Hank Hill on multiple occasions for his work ethic and his unique approach to masculinity.

However, “King of the Hill” is unique in the sheer range of characters it offers, with respect to likability. Characters like Bill Dautrieve and Khan Souphanousinphone have definite flaws, but do plenty to warrant respect. Peggy Hill is a textbook narcissist, but still does plenty to balance it out. Dale Gribble is a paranoid idiot, but he’s still a loyal friend and just fun to be around.

There are also a few characters who are just assholes most of the time. While the show goes out of its way to balance everyone to some extent, there’s only so much you can do with characters like Cotton Hill and Buck Strickland. I could say a lot about those two, in terms of how they impact the themes of the show, but I’d like to focus on a character who has confounded me over the years.

Confounded, yet entertained.

Of all the colorful characters that make “King of the Hill” one of my favorite shows of all time, Bobby Hill is the one I’m most conflicted about. I’ve always had mixed feelings about him. I can watch one episode where I have no sympathy for him, but in the very next, he’ll come off as one of the most respectable characters in Arlen.

Some of that might have to do with me, as a viewer. When I started watching this show, I was younger and had a lot more in common with Bobby. We were both overwhelmed by the prospect of growing up. We often felt beleaguered by school, adults, and puberty. I related to him a lot more than I did with the adults in the show.

Then, as I re-watched those same episodes as an adult, I saw Bobby in a different light. I had a hard time sympathizing with his struggles in certain episodes. At times, he came off as some immature kid trying desperately to avoid responsibility and hard work. In one episode, he became a full-fledged panhandler.

At the same time, Bobby had moments where he genuinely shined. While I would argue that the series finale was his finest hour and the culmination of his growth, he also had other moments in which he stepped up to do something awesome. He was, in my opinion, the most confounding characters in the entire show.

Now, after having watched and re-watched every episode of “King of the Hill,” while also having the benefit of my own personal growth, I feel like I can appreciate Bobby’s character in a new way. In terms of the bigger picture, Bobby Hill represents an important theme in the show. Specifically, his story revolves around someone torn between adulthood and childhood.

While “King of the Hill” has many themes, Bobby’s were often tied to his youth and that youth was often the catalyst for his misadventures. When the show begins, he’s 11-year-old. By the time it ends, he’s 13-years-old. These are some formative years in a boy’s life and the show takes full advantage of that.

In the first several seasons, Bobby definitely carries himself as a kid. His behavior is distinctly childlike, from using his dad’s golf clubs to hit dog shit to taking part in a camping trip in which he accidentally kills an endangered animal. Then, over the course of the show, his stories evolve. He starts getting interested in girls and sees the effects of puberty on his best friend. At times, he’s more than a little overwhelmed.

In some cases, he wants to be an adult. He even enjoys the maturity and status that comes with it. In others, he actively avoids it, clinging to his childhood and the carefree innocence that it entails. Granted, there are times when he just wants to be lazy. At one point, he states outright that he prefers taking baths because he doesn’t like standing for so long.

However, there are plenty of other instances in which he sees the rigors of adulthood and doesn’t find it the least bit appealing. It doesn’t help that he’s had some very unpleasant experiences with the adult world, which includes one in which he ran out onto a racetrack because of an asshole boss. After an experience like that, who wouldn’t long for the more sheltered life of childhood?

To some extent, it’s not entirely Bobby’s fault that the adult world is so overwhelming. His laziness doesn’t help, but there are times when Hank’s uptight parenting skills actively contribute to the problem. The only reason he had that aforementioned job at a racetrack was because Hank tried to teach him a lesson about hard work and it taught him the wrong lesson, entirely.

On top of that, Peggy often babies him in ways that reinforce how much easier and carefree it is to be a child. Whether it’s cutting his hair or giving him one of Hank’s old trophies, she often makes childhood feel a lot easier and safer, albeit indirectly. Bobby gets so many mixed messages throughout the show that it’s easy to see why he’s often so conflicted.

Like most themes in “King of the Hill,” the nature of the conflicts fluctuate. There is a sense of progression for certain characters, but there’s also a general consistency over the course of the show. Joseph and Luanne are very different by the final season when compared to the first season, but Bobby’s journey is left somewhat ambiguous.

By the end of the show, he finds a skill and a passion that he wants to pursue. In the same way Hank has a passion for propane and propane accessories, Bobby discovers a passion for grading the quality of steaks. It’s a passion that requires both hard work and a level of maturity the likes of which he hasn’t pursued before. It also makes for a powerful moment when he and his dad finally get to share in a mutual interest.

At the same time, he still carries himself like a kid. Even within that final episode, he gets overwhelmed by the pressure placed on him by other adults. While he managed to overcome the pressure, there’s still a sense that he’s not entirely ready for the adult world. At the very least, he’s not quite as reluctant to pursue it.

Bobby Hill’s journey, struggling between childhood and adulthood, is just one among many compelling plots in “King of the Hill.” His journey has many setbacks and absurdities, but it still feels real and relatable. For an animated show that includes eccentric characters in fictitious settings, it’s quite an achievement.

Hank Hill often says his boy ain’t right. On some levels, that might be true. In the grand scheme of things, however, the show demonstrated that Bobby Hill was as right as he needed to be when struggling between childhood and adulthood.

Leave a comment

Filed under King of the Hill, psychology, television

Birthday Reflections: My 20s Vs. My 30s

1010723275-h

Recently, I celebrated my birthday. It didn’t involve an elaborate party or some special event. It wasn’t just another day, either. I went out of my way to make it special, as did my friends and family. By the standards of a man in his 30s, it was a good birthday. I didn’t need much. I just needed a day that made getting older feel less daunting.

As we get older, our attitudes towards birthdays change. When we’re young, birthdays are this big event that we go out of our way to make memorable. As kids, it’s an excuse to have a big party full of cakes, presents, and birthday checks from generous relatives. As teenagers, it’s another year gone by and another step closer towards greater independence.

Once we enter our 20s, however, things get trickier. We start to see birthdays less as events and more as formalities. By that time, most of us have other pressing concerns beyond which cake we want and how we’ll spend our birthday checks, assuming our relatives still send them. That experience may vary, depending on your circumstances. For me, my 20s was a strange time and it showed in how I celebrated birthdays.

These days, I feel like I’ve achieved just the right balance when it comes to birthdays. At the same time, each passing year has helped put what I went through in my 20s into a clearer perspective. You can’t always see the forest from the trees when you’re young. It takes years of living, learning, growth, success, and even failure to truly appreciate how your life changes.

I found myself appreciating that even more this past week. When I look back at how I was in my 20s, I see just how far I’ve come. Ten years ago, I was in a very different place. I had just graduated college. I was still paying off debt, searching for a steady job, and trying to establish myself. It was not a smooth ride, but it was not as difficult as it could’ve been.

It helped that I had a supportive family who helped me transition from college to the adult world. It helped even more that they let me move back home and live rent free until I saved up enough money to pay down my debts and move out. They helped make parts of the transition easier, but I still made it harder on myself in way too many ways.

In my 20s, the memories of high school were still fresh in my mind. On top of that, I had broken up with my college girlfriend and I still hadn’t quite recovered. I also had a long way to go in terms of refining my social skills. At that time, I was still very socially awkward. I avoided parties and large crowds. I had a hard time striking up conversations. I also lacked confidence, poise, and vision.

For the most part, I treated adult life in my 20s the same way I treated college. In my defense, that was the life I’d gotten used to at that point. I treated work like going to class. I only ever saw work as a means to a paycheck that I could use to pay down my debts and pay my rent. When problems came up, my first instinct wasn’t to solve them. It was to find someone else who could.

In some cases, I held myself back. I clung to the less burdensome life I had in college. I relied heavily on friends and parents to help me with things like taxes, car repairs, and finding quality health care. Again, my family was awesome every step of the way and didn’t berate me for relying on them so much. However, at some point, I had to grow up on my own.

That process didn’t really pick up until my late 20s. That was around the time when I finally caught up in terms of social skills. It was also the same time I gained more professional and career experience. I no longer saw work as a means to a paycheck. I saw it as a part of a blossoming career. Compared to how many others in their 20s have struggled, I was considerably lucky.

Once I made it into my 30s, my outlook changed even more. I stopped looking at things in terms of when I got my next paycheck and started making plans for the future. I dared to set bolder goals for myself. I also dared to learn more skills that hadn’t interested me before. Something as simple as inflating a tire on my car or fixing my garbage disposal became a real endeavor.

At that same time, I also became more health conscious, both physically and mentally. I’ve noted before how unhealthy I was in my early 20s. Back then, it wasn’t unusual for me to create entire meals around bowls of cereal drenched in chocolate milk. The most I did in terms of cooking involved hot pockets and burritos.

Again, in my defense, that was what I’d gotten used to in college. It certainly wasn’t healthy and that showed in my appearance. Even though I was young, I wasn’t exactly fit. I had no muscle tone and a less-than-toned stomach. I also avoided exercise to the utmost. My hatred of gym class in high school somehow followed me into my 20s.

Now that I’m in my 30s, I can safely say that I’m more physically fit than I was when I graduated college. I’ll even go so far as to say I’m more attractive. I can see my ab muscles. I have biceps that are worth showing off. I can run for three miles with ease and I go to the gym at least twice a week. I also eat much better than I did in my 20s. I can actually cook a healthy meal without relying on a microwave.

It may not sound like much, but all those little things really accumulated once I hit my 30s. It didn’t happen all at once. It was a process, one that allowed me to become a functional adult that I’m proud to be. I’ve built a good life for myself. I have confidence, good health, a great family, and a strong support structure that brings out the best in me.

It even showed in how I approached birthdays. In my 20s, birthdays reminded me that I’m getting older. In my 30s, they affirm that I’ve grown into a man that I’m proud of and I want to keep growing.

Every now and then, especially around my birthday, I find myself contemplating what I would’ve done differently in my 20s, knowing what I know now. With each passing year, however, I realize that there’s not much I could’ve done. Even with the benefit of hindsight, I feel like I had to go through that awkward transition period in my 20s. It made me a better person, in the long run.

Now, as I near my 40s, I look forward to seeing the kind of person I grow into. I also hope to meet that special someone along the way. Until that time comes, I feel like I’ve got a healthy attitude towards birthdays and most other things now that I’m in my 30s. My 20s were fun in many ways, but I don’t miss them.

I’m excited about my future. I’m hopeful about where life will take me. I don’t doubt for a second that who I am now will be very different than who I am in another 10 years. Hopefully, by that time, I’ll be able to share more reflections about that journey. Only time will tell.

Until then, to all those who helped make my birthday special this year, I sincerely thank you.

Leave a comment

Filed under Jack Fisher's Insights

What “Daria” Can Teach Us About Educating (Uninterested) Teenagers

daria-920x584

Some shows have one particular episode that you can watch again and again while still enjoying it. Great shows have multiple episodes like that. By that measure, “Daria” is greater than most. Even by the standards of late 90s animation, the show stands out in so many ways. It’s one of those rare shows that has aged remarkably well and feels more relevant now than when it originally aired.

I’ve already praised “Daria” for its unique approach to shedding a critical light on a world full of lies, half-truths, and fake news. I’ve even singled out a single episode for how the show handled a sensitive issue like mental health. These are issues that have only become more relevant since the show went off the air.

In that same spirit, I’d like to highlight another episode from the show that highlights another major issue. It also happens to be my favorite episode and the one I’ve probably re-watched the most. That episode is “Lucky Strike,” the sixth episode of the fifth season. On top of being one of the funniest episodes of the series, it also has some of the shows best moments while still tackling a major issue.

The issue, this time around, is education. It might not be the kind of a hot-button issue that makes for major headlines, but it’s still as relevant as ever, especially if we’re referring to the American education system. It’s not hard to find stories about just how bad it is, especially when compared to how other industrialized countries do it.

It was a big deal in the 90s and early 2000s, as well. Fittingly enough, this episode aired just a few months before the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act, which has been the cornerstone of the American education system. While reasonable people can debate how well it has or hasn’t worked, “Daria” has already made one of the most effective arguments about what constitutes good education.

The premise of the episode begins with a teacher strike, an issue that has become distressingly common in recent years. Lawndale High’s notoriously uptight principal, Angela Li, short-changes a group of teachers who are underpaid, under-appreciated, and have to deal with uninterested idiots like Kevin Thompson and Brittney Taylor. By any measure, they have a very good reason to strike.

Never one to concede defeat or express genuine concern for student aptitude, she keeps the school running by hiring substitute teachers, some of which demonstrate limited qualifications at best. One even showed an overtly creepy attraction with one of the female students. This leads to Daria getting roped into teaching a class.

As it just so happens, the class she’s teaching is the same class that her sister and unapologetic popularity whore, Quinn, is in. Given how Quinn has spent almost the entire series denying she’s even related to Daria, it’s a great opportunity to make things awkward. Daria makes more than a few quips about it in her own wonderfully misanthropic way.

However, when it comes to actually teaching the class, Daria does something that sets herself apart from most substitutes. Even if she’s only doing it to mess with her sister, she takes her role seriously. She shows a genuine desire to teach, but she doesn’t use the same approach as the rest of her teachers. She utilizes her own unique way.

It helps that the class is an English class. Daria is a voracious reader. That is established in the first episodes of the series and belabored on multiple occasions. It also helps that the assignment is simple. The class is reading Romeo and Juliet, a story that almost every high school English class reads at some point. In terms of substitute teacher gigs, it’s as standard as it comes.

I remember reading this play in high school as well. I don’t remember it fondly, though. In class, we would just read through each act, do a few assignments in a textbook, and take a test at the end. Most of the time, the test involved multiple choice or short answer. There were only right and wrong answers. That was really all there was to it.

Daria’s approach is different. Daria doesn’t just teach from a textbook. She has the students read the play, but not so they can get the answers for an assignment. She takes the time to help them appreciate it. When one of her air-headed students doesn’t appreciate a particular part, she helps put it into a more relevant context. It doesn’t just work. It makes the story feel like something other than an assignment.

It’s an approach that anyone who loathes standardized tests can appreciate. I’ve made my disdain for standardized tests known before, but it’s not a personal peeve on my part. There is legitimate research that indicates that standardized testing is not a good way to educate kids.

Teaching kids to take a test is not the same as teaching. They’re learning how to memorize answers for a test. That’s not real learning. You can memorize all the answers for a particular test, but not know why those answers are correct. For someone like Daria Morgendorffer, who places a high value on thinking for yourself, this approach just doesn’t work for her.

For everyone else, the test is the only thing that matters. For the always-superficial Quinn, that’s her primary concern. She laments about how her sister might screw her over or worse, undermine her popularity. It’s such a burden that actually reading the play and knowing what it’s about barely registers.

Then, in one of Daria’s finest moments, she further deviates from the traditional educational model and gives her class a simple essay test. There’s no multiple choice or short answer. She just gives them a simple question.

What is Romeo and Juliet about?

That’s it. The only requirement is that they write at least 250 words and support their answer. For those who didn’t care enough to read the play, like Quinn’s equally-superficial posse, the Fashion Club, it’s the worst possible scenario. For Quinn, who actually read the play, it was easy.

In fact, it was because of that test that Quinn also had her finest hour. In one of the few moments of the show in which she’s actually likable, she defends Daria’s approach to teaching to the entire class. Then, in another pivotal moment for the series, she admits that Daria is her sister.

In addition to this critical moment of personal growth, Daria shows that she truly values people who think for themselves. Even when one of her students makes an objectively foolish comment about Romeo and Juliet, she still gives him a good grade because he actually tried to back it up. For her, that’s more valuable than simply knowing the difference between Paris and Tybalt.

Her approach is even appreciated by her students. Keep in mind, these are the same students who show little to no interest in class throughout the show. They are, like most teenagers, not that big on having to be at school for seven hours a day, learning things they don’t want to learn about. Daria understands this and tries to make the class less tedious. It’s something even an air-headed teenager can appreciate.

Most of them, anyway.

It’s also a valuable lesson that has real-world applications. Some places have even applied Daria’s approach, to some extent. Countries like Finland have a system that doesn’t rely so heavily on standardized tests. Not surprisingly, Finland’s education ranking is significantly better than the United States and by a significant margin. Daria would’ve actually fit in with that system.

It’s not just because that system eschews standardized tests. It actually emphasizes teaching a student how to think and reason. A test isn’t going to reveal that. On top of that, teachers are better-educated and well-compensated in places like Finland. They would not have had to strike like the teachers in this episode.

In some respects, Daria showed how much better someone could teach a class if they didn’t have to deal with the constraints of the current system. It even helped that the Principal Li was more focused on outwitting the teacher union than she was with teaching students. Without those constraints, Daria managed to teach a class in a way that her students appreciated.

Between that moment and the moment she shared with her sister, “Lucky Strike” accomplishes a great deal. Daria has a chance to shine and makes the most of it. On top of that, she demonstrates that it is possible to educate a room of disinterested teenagers in a way that’s genuinely effective.

There are many other moments in “Daria” where major complications, and the many absurdities they entail, get cut down by the show’s distinct brand of misanthropic humor. Daria rarely sets out to make big statements, be they about the educations system or our flawed understanding of mental health. However, she still finds a way to make her point and never crack a smile.

That’s why Daria is so lovable. It’s also why we need wisdom like hers more than ever.

Leave a comment

Filed under Current Events, Daria, human nature, psychology, television

How I Lost And Regained My Self-Esteem

depressed-guy

Self-esteem is one of those concepts that has gained a mixed reputation in recent years. To some extent, that reputation is well-earned. We’ve all dealt with people with an inflated ego. Being around them for extended periods can range from frustrating to intolerable. Some have even called the glut of self-esteem and its narcissistic byproducts an epidemic.

Personally, I think that claim is overly hyperbolic. However, I understand the popular sentiment. I was a kid around the time the cracks in the the self-esteem movement really started to show. I sat through many of those classes that espoused the value of self-esteem. I saw all those PSA’s after popular kids shows encouraging kids to believe in themselves no matter what. Even by kid standards, I thought they were cheesy.

At the same time, I was dealing with a lot of personal issues and my self-esteem was often a big part of those issues. I went through periods of my young life when I thought I could do anything. I went through other periods where I thought was a worthless waste of flesh. Going through the rigors of puberty, enduring high school, and dealing with some less-than-ideal health situations certainly didn’t help.

It was worse than this.

In short, I had a lot of self-esteem as a kid. I really believed in myself and I fought hard to affirm that belief. Then, as I became a teenager, I lost my self-esteem. I became a miserable, self-loathing hunk of living misery. I don’t know how I could’ve felt worse about myself. Then, as an adult, I got my self-esteem back and I haven’t let go over it since.

It was a roller coaster ride, to say the least. It wasn’t always a smooth ride and I found many ways to make it harder for myself. The older I get, the more I realize how misguided I was and how much of it was my own doing. I like to think I’ve learned form it. I also think the experience is worth sharing. Hopefully, others can relate. Perhaps, those who struggled like I did can glean lessons I wish I’d learned earlier.

Before I get into the details of this story, I want to make one thing clear. I don’t blame the self-esteem movement that has become so popular to bash.

I don’t blame the schools, either. I grew up in an area where the schools were great, for the most part. By almost any measure, I was lucky. I got an education that many kids in America would envy.

I sure as hell won’t blame my parents and family. In fact, they’re the heroes of this story. They put up with me at times when I was downright insufferable. My mother, my father, and my siblings did all the right things for a kid like me. I’m lucky they were there because things could’ve turned out way worse for me and I have nobody to blame but myself.

To understand where my self-esteem issues began, it’s necessary to understand the kind of kid I was growing up. For the most part, I was pretty normal. However, if there was one trait that set me apart from the other kids, it was how uptight I was.

By that, I don’t just mean I was stressed out by tests and homework. I was the kind of kid who would get anxious and upset if a school bus was late. I always had to be on time. I always had to get things done early. I didn’t procrastinate on anything. That may sound like a useful trait, but the way I went about it made it a liability.

Between being so uptight with timing, I was just as uptight when it came to grades. Anything less than a perfect score was disappointing. I had this mentality where there were only A’s and F’s and nothing in between. Again, this is not something my parents, teachers, or counselors imposed on me. This is something I did to myself.

I held myself to a high standard. I bought into the idea that just believing in yourself was enough to achieve anything. I’d read it in superhero comics. I’d seen it in cartoons. I genuinely believed I was smart and capable at a level that grossly exceeded my actual abilities. Call it inflated self-esteem, if you want. The end result was the same. When you set impossible standards, you set yourself up for inevitable failure.

My parents warned me, as did my siblings and friends. Everybody warned me that I was being too hard on myself. In hindsight, I should’ve listened. I really wish I had because it set me up for some very difficult teen years.

On top of that, this is around the same time I developed a terrible acne problem that plagued me into my 20s. I also developed asthma that made basic exercise or just a typical gym class feel like prolonged torture so on top of having an acne-ridden face, I was also out of shape. It made me extremely self-conscious of my looks and when you’re ready uptight, that’s a bad combination.

Altogether, this hit my self-esteem the same way a flame-thrower hit a wounded fly. I didn’t just lose my confidence. For a while, my sense of self-worth was hanging by the thinnest of threads. It got to a point where I just started randomly insulting myself. It wasn’t a funny kind of self-deprecation, either. My parents and siblings got downright angry with me whenever I did it, but that rarely dissuaded me.

It got bad. For a while, I had a hard time believing it would get much better. I honestly thought my self-esteem was gone and I was destined to be a walking ball of misery. Then, something remarkable happened.

It wasn’t some incredible epiphany, either. As soon as I graduated high school and entered the adult world, I found a new kind of confidence. It didn’t happen overnight, but there was definitely a transition. It started in college, but it only blossomed as I got older and gained more life experience.

I think the catalyst for that change came when I got my first taste of independence. In college, my life wasn’t so micromanaged. I could actually set my own schedule, plan my own day, and make my own choices. Granted, it wasn’t total freedom. I was going to college on my parents’ dollar. However, compared to high school, it was like getting paroled.

In this environment, I learned something critical that I hadn’t learned in high school or from cheesy after school specials. To have self-esteem, it’s not enough to just believe in yourself. You have to work for it. You have to earn that feeling of accomplishment. It’s not easy, but it’s worth doing and by achieving it, you’re going to feel better about yourself, by default.

It also helped that I became much less uptight in college. To some extent, I do blame some of the messages I got in high school. I had been under the impression that if I didn’t get perfect grades in high school, then I would never go to college and I would die poor and lonely. Even if that impression was misguided, it was such a relief to find out my failures in high school did not define me.

That Spanish test I failed in my sophomore year did not ruin my future.

That assignment I botched in my physics class during my Junior year did not decide my fate.

That may not sound like a big deal to most people, but for someone who was as uptight as me, it was eye-opening. It caused me to re-evaluate my approach to personal standards, real achievement, and how I graded myself.

Suddenly, my personal world didn’t seem so dire. There was some room for error. I could make mistakes, learn from them, and be better for it. To my younger self, that concept might as well have been an alien language. I didn’t care about the process. I cared only for the result. I had to learn that appreciating the process helped me work towards those results.

This didn’t just extend to college. It also helped with my personal life and my health. In college, I got my first girlfriend. I actually developed a social life where I made friends, went to parties, and hung out with people. I was still socially awkward. To this day, I’m still behind the curve in that respect. However, I’m light-years ahead of where I was in my youth.

Things really picked up when I started taking care of myself. Instead of just laying around, feeling sorry for myself, I started exercising. I got serious about treating my acne. I sank most of my savings into fixing my eyesight so that I didn’t have to wear thick glasses anymore. In short, I invested in myself. Like any good investment, it didn’t pay off immediately. Over time, though, the results compounded.

Bit by bit, my self-esteem returned. I had to work for it. Whether it was developing better study skills or getting into shape, I actually had to get up in the morning and make a concerted effort. I know it sounds like common sense, but to my younger self, it seemed so hopeless. If I couldn’t achieve everything all at once, then why bother? It was a terrible mindset and one that held me back.

Today, I have the confidence and self-esteem to share this story. I can even look back on those difficult times and laugh at how I acted. Some close family members will even laugh with me, even though I did not make things easy for them. They definitely did their part. They helped keep me from falling too deep into despair. It just took me a while to do my part, as well.

It would be easy for me to make excuses for my struggles. I could’ve blamed the self-esteem movement, misguided teachers, and after school specials that aired in between my favorite cartoon. In the end, they would still be empty. I still made the choices that made me miserable.

I set myself for disappointment and frustration. Nobody was going to come along and fix everything for me. Nothing was going to resolve itself, just by hoping for the best. In the end, my self-esteem was like any other skill or challenge. I had to apply myself. I had to work hard to earn the results I sought. They were hard lessons to learn, but they were worth learning.

I just wished I’d learned them sooner.

3 Comments

Filed under human nature, Jack Fisher's Insights, psychology

Should Teenagers Be Allowed To Use Sex Robots?

repsa

There are certain products and activities that society prohibits from teenagers. For the most part, there’s a reason behind that. Teenagers are young, inexperienced, and not mature enough to handle certain things. It’s not an insult, although I don’t blame any teenager for taking offense. It’s just an acknowledgement that most young minds aren’t ready to process the adult world.

That said, things get exceedingly tricky when sexuality enters the picture. Unlike smoking, drinking, or wanting to drive a car, sex is an innate desire that every teenager is wired to seek. You don’t need peer pressure, subversive advertising, or heavy metal music to make a teenager think about sex. Chances are they’re already thinking about it. For parents and teenagers alike, it makes for many awkward conversations.

Pictured are two people who do NOT want to have that conversation.

Thanks to the hormonal onslaught of puberty, a teenager’s sexuality is often in a state of chaos. They have thoughts, feelings, and desires they don’t entirely understand. Their bodies are changing and they’re just trying to keep up. On top of that, the most common refrain from parents and teachers is to repress all those feelings and shame anyone who doesn’t.

It’s an awkward situation, to say the least. I’m not a teenager or a parent, but I think most would agree there’s a lot of room for improvement. Improving comprehensive sex education, providing accurate information, and helping teenagers develop a mature understanding of sexuality will go a long way towards this effort. These are all things we can and should be doing now.

However, what happens once sex robots enter the picture?

It’s a serious question. While I’m sure it’ll elicit awkward laughter from some, I believe this issue is worth contemplating. As I’ve noted before, sex robots are coming. I know that’s a poor choice of words, but it’s true.

Some models are already available for purchase. While nobody will mistake them for actual people, the fact you can buy one today shows the market is there. Sex still sells and, like cell phones before it, the technology will improve. Even if we’re decades from something as lifelike as the model in “Ex Machina,” we’re not that far from something that provides realistic sexual experience.

While there will be plenty of adults who celebrate this technology, as well as a few who condemn it, what will it mean for teenagers? Will they be allowed to legally purchase sex robots? Even if they cannot purchase one, will they be allowed to use one? If not, then how will we go about policing it?

These are relevant questions and the answers don’t entirely depend on logistics. As I noted before, society prohibits teenagers from doing all sorts of activities. There are legitimate legal, social, and even medical reasons for these prohibitions. There are serious, long-term harms associated with teenagers who smoke and drink alcohol. For a healthy society, these prohibitions make sense.

With sex, it’s a lot trickier. While there is some research to indicate that viewing pornography affects teenage sexual behavior, it’s not as conclusive as the harms of drug addiction. Some of those harms have more to do with stigma and poor sexual education than the content itself. Once sex robots enter the equation, though, things get even more complicated.

Porn, for all its quirks and kinks, is a fantasy on a computer screen. A sex robot is a tangible, human-like figure that people can interact with. On top of that, if the robot has a human-like measure of intelligence, it can also provide a realistic sexual experience that the user can share. Robot or not, this experience can be as intimate and satisfying as anything someone might experience in their personal life.

For teenagers, as well as their parents and teachers, this creates both opportunities and risks. Let’s say, for instance, that sex robots are legally accessible for any teenager who wants one. These robots look and feel like any other person. They have a measure of intelligence that allows them to interact and form healthy, beneficial relationships with teenagers.

In this environment, every teenager has a sexual outlet, no matter how awkward or unattractive. They have a sex robot who can provide them companionship, teach them about their sexuality, and even help them learn what they want in an intimate partner. Maybe they even help teenagers struggling with their sexual orientation gain a better understanding of who they are.

Since these are robots, the risks of pregnancy and disease is not an issue. If these robots are sufficiently intelligent, they’ll be capable of guiding teenagers through their sexual maturation, regardless of gender, orientation, or disposition. Instead of hearing some teacher or parent just lecture them on all these awkward issues, they have a chance to experience it first-hand.

For parents, I imagine I’ll still be distressing to think about their teenage son or daughter having sex of any kind. Whether it’s with a person or a robot, it’s going to cause plenty of stress. That’s unavoidable, no matter how much the technology matures. At the same time, sex robots could ultimately be the safest and most satisfying way for a teenager to learn about their sexuality.

The ultimate sex ed teacher.

All that said, there are risks. In a perfect world, sex robots would ensure that every teenager navigates their adolescence with the benefit of a fulfilling, mature understanding of sexuality. Everyone from the most attractive athlete in high school to the ugliest kid in neighborhood enjoys intimate, satisfying experiences through these sex robots. Sadly, we don’t live in a perfect world.

There’s certainly a chance that sex robots could lead to potential harm, which would only be compounded for teenagers. In some situations, sex robots could cause certain individuals to dissociate themselves from other flesh-and-blood people. They may ultimately prefer the company of their sex robot over anyone else, including close friends and family.

This could lead to an entire generation of men and women who reject relationships with non-robot partners, intimate or otherwise. They would see sex with other people as this needlessly complicated, needlessly risky endeavor that offers few benefits. Beyond stagnating the population more than it already is, it could make people more distant from one another than they already are.

On top of that, there could be issues with the sex robots themselves. Ideally, every sex robot would be calibrated to foster healthy attitudes towards sex, intimacy, and relationships. Since computers are rarely perfect and prone to glitching, it’s a given that a sex robot will malfunction at some point. What will that do to the teenager who uses it?

In that case, a faulty sex robot fosters some very unhealthy attitudes in a young, impressionable user. If it’s not caught in time, this person could grow into someone with a very skewed understanding of sexuality. That already happens today with teenagers who are poorly educated on sex. With sex robots, the problems could escalate quickly.

Then, there are the parents, teachers, and authority figures themselves. This is one aspect of sex robots that might be the most difficult to contemplate. It’s easy to imagine a scenario where the adults of the world decide that teenagers shouldn’t use sex robots for the same reason they shouldn’t smoke cigarettes. That may just be the path of least resistance at first.

Where would you put the warning label?

At the same time, it’ll be adults who program, sell, and regulate sex robots. Who’s to say that they’ll do so in a way that has the best interests of teenagers in mind? If anything, people will be more tempted to use sex robots to exert a measure of control over teenagers that even more powerful than controlling their cell phone.

Perhaps parents in religious communities configure sex robots specifically designed to mold their teenagers’ sexuality to their liking. That means anything that may involve homosexuality or bisexuality would be strongly discouraged, shamed, or conditioned. The harm that would do to a teenager is difficult to quantify, although we do have some clues.

There could also be parents who don’t have healthy attitudes about sexuality themselves. Perhaps parents in abusive relationships program a sex robot to reinforce those relationships to their children. From their perspective, they’re not trying to harm or mold their teenager’s sexuality. They’re just conveying what they think is normal.

The (possible) future of normal.

There are probably plenty more risky scenarios I could contemplate. I’m sure those reading this have already imagined a few that I cannot put into words. Whatever the possibilities, the question remains. Teenagers are already thinking about sex. In every generation in every time period, part of being a teenager means contemplating sexuality and dealing with sexual urges.

It’s impossible to overstate just how impactful sex robots will be to society, sexuality, and how people relate to one another in general. Like it or not, teenagers will be affected. Sex robots can certainly do plenty of good. For some, they may be therapeutic. For others, they’ll be disruptive. For teenagers, it could be all of that and then some.

It’s difficult to say, at this point. It’s even harder to determine whether permitting teenagers to use sex robots will do more harm than good. One way or another, teenagers will continue thinking about sex and it’s still going to be awkward for them. No amount of technology will ever change that.

2 Comments

Filed under futurism, human nature, psychology, sex in society, sex robots, sexuality, Sexy Future

How “The Society” Humanizes Teenagers In A Refreshing (And Overdue) Way

the-society-netflix

As someone who hasn’t been a teenager for many years, I admit I have some unflattering perceptions of that demographic. Ask anyone over the age of 30 what they think of teenagers today and chances are you’ll hear more than a few complaints.

They’re too obsessed with their phones.

They’re too emotionally fragile and prone to outrage.

They’re too entitled, coddled, and sheltered from the real world.

You’ve probably heard those rants before and not just from Fox News. With those stereotypes in mind, imagine what would happen if a large collection of teenagers were left unsupervised and isolated in a large area for long stretches of time. What do you think would happen? How do you see that playing out?

Something like this, probably.

I don’t deny that I’d make some unflattering assumptions such a scenario. I would fully expect that they act erratically and irresponsibly. I would also expect for them to falter emotionally if left alone for too long. Having lived their whole lives within some system of authority and supervision, I wouldn’t expect them to function for very long on their own.

It’s those very assumptions that that “The Society,” a very binge-worthy Netflix show, dares to challenge. This thriller/mystery/drama is one of those shows that has all the right ingredients to play up every tired trope that teen-centered television show has explored for years. That was certainly what I expected when I discovered the show. I freely admit that those expectations were wrong.

The premise of “The Society” is built around a strange mystery that “Lost” fans should appreciate. One day, a large contingent of high school students get on a bus and leave the affluent New England town of West Ham for a 10-day camping trip. For reasons not yet revealed, the buses turn around and drop them off exactly where they picked them up.

Upon returning, these teenagers find out that all the adults in their town are gone. Near as they can tell, everyone just picked up and left. To further compound the mystery, they find out that all the paths leading out of the town have become dead ends. There are no neighboring towns to visit. As far as they know, there’s nothing but endless forests in every direction.

It’s genuine mystery with distressing implications. While the specifics are only partially explored in the first season, the mystery is only part of what makes the “The Society” such a compelling show. It doesn’t just put a bunch of hormonal, irrational teenagers in an enclosed area and let the drama tell the story. The show dares to humanize teenagers in a way that is exceedingly rare in a TV show.

By that, I’m not just referring to a handful of character that are well-developed and fleshed out. While there are certainly plenty of those in this show, it approaches how teenagers conduct themselves with more balance and nuance. It even makes the case that, in dire situations, they can come together and cooperate as well as full-fledged adults.

In the beginning, that’s not immediately apparent. When they all return to West Ham and find out the adults are gone, they react the way most would expect of decadent, hormonal teenagers if they were left unsupervised all night. However, the extent of their decadence never goes beyond a certain point.

To a point, being the key term.

Sure, many drink, they dance, and they hook up. A few just go home and turn in for the night, thinking nothing is amiss. They don’t do anything too outrageous, though. In essence, they conduct themselves the same way most single adults would if they knew there were no police or authority figures to stop them.

After that first night, though, things start getting serious. These teenagers, who still come off as kids in the first few episodes, realizes that something has gone very wrong. Their parents are gone. The adults are gone. Their entire town is completely cut off. They have no connection to the world beyond their town. They have a finite supply of food and little experience in terms of governing themselves.

It’s a scary situation. Some handle it better than others, but a few start to crack under the pressure. For some, especially Campbell Eliot and Lexie, the situation reveals sides of their personality that probably wouldn’t have otherwise emerged. That tends to happen with most people in extreme circumstances, but being a teenager tends to raise the stakes even more.

The fun and games quickly end. People start getting hurt. There are even a few deaths, which has a significant impact on everyone in the town. It sends a clear, unambiguous message. This isn’t just about hanging in there until their parents find them. They have to survive and they can’t do that unless they work together.

On paper, it sounds like it can only end in disaster and it certainly comes close, especially towards the end of the first season. Again, these are teenagers. Most people don’t expect them to function beyond a certain point. While “The Society” doesn’t strip away everything in the mold of “Lord of the Flies,” it removes enough to make the situation dire.

They still have electricity, running water, and shelter. However, their food supply is finite and there’s a distressing lack of expertise in everything from basic medical care to fixing a car. In order to survive, they must create a system of governance to keep the peace. If they don’t, then everybody suffers.

This is where “The Society” really shines, both as a story and as a concept. It’s also where it explores how teenagers, despite their maturity and lack of experience, can come together when they have to. They’re not perfect, but neither are experienced adults. They do find themselves in painful, heart-wrenching situations that include murder, illness, and despair. However, things never totally fall apart.

To anyone who has ever tried to explain student loan debt to a teenager, it almost seems absurd. The idea that a bunch of unsupervised teenagers can somehow form a functioning society just doesn’t fit with the common narrative surrounding teenagers.

In that narrative, things always tend to devolve until the adults return to impart the proper amount of discipline. Look at any movie, sitcom, or rowdy music video and the themes often come back to teenagers being out of control and needing the discipline of responsible adults. “The Society” makes the case that teenagers can become responsible on their own, albeit after some setbacks.

There are still many factors working against them. We’ve yet to see what happens to the citizens of New Ham, as they dubbed it, when the food runs out and they have to start farming the land. We also haven’t seen them endure a harsh New England winter. However, “The Society” never gives the impression that these young people are incapable of overcoming these challenges.

By the end of the first season, it’s easy to root for them. The emotional toll is palpable and so are the difficult decisions that many end up facing. Over the course of the show, however, it’s easy to see the progression that they all experience. It’s hard to even see them as teenagers anymore. Some conduct themselves as true, full-fledged adults.

While the mystery surrounding “The Society” is still unfolding, complete with fan theories and potential clues, the show’s approach to depicting teenagers is its greatest accomplishment in my opinion. If there is a second season, I’m definitely interested in seeing how these characters and their over-arching story progresses.

I doubt “The Society” will change anyone’s current attitudes of teenagers. There will surely be other shows and movies that double down on the many stereotypes surrounding them. If nothing else, “The Society” shows that teenagers are capable of carrying a story without adults complaining about them.

2 Comments

Filed under human nature, philosophy, psychology, television

Life Lessons From My Father: Hard Work And Relaxing

father-son-1030x579

Last month, I helped celebrate Mother’s Day by telling a personal story that revealed just how awesome my mother is. I’m proud of that story. I can also confirm that my mother read it and sent her loving appreciation that same day. She really is that sweet and I’m eternally grateful to have a parent like her.

With Father’s Day being tomorrow, it’s my father’s turn. It’s also yet another excuse to talk about how awesome my parents are and I’m not going to pass that opportunity up. Like my mother, my father is incredible and I owe so much to him. His love and support has helped me become the man I am today.

There are a lot of stories I could tell about my father. I’ve already recounted a few. There are plenty I can tell that help affirm why he’s such an awesome dad. Rather than select one, I’d like to focus on a particular lesson he taught me growing up that I didn’t appreciate until I was an adult. Since I know he reads this site too, I think he’ll agree that it’s a critical lesson that can be difficult for many.

Almost as critical as this.

It has to do with hard work and relaxation. They’re two conflicting forces, but both are critical to surviving in this chaotic world. We need to work hard if we’re going to get ahead and forge the life we want in this world. You could argue that this has become more difficult, but there’s definitely a place for it in every society.

On the other side of that coin is relaxation. That’s something we all need just as much. After all, what’s the point of working so hard if you don’t take any time to enjoy it? Relaxation isn’t just important for a good work/life balance. It’s critical to our health. As it just so happens, my dad knew how to do both.

My father, for much of his life, was a hard worker who didn’t hesitate to get his hands dirty. He didn’t just sit at a desk. He actually went out into the world, working with people and braving the elements. He was also an early riser. He was almost always the first one up in the house. At 5:00 a.m. he was out of bed. By 5:30, he was dressed and ready to leave.

As a kid, I didn’t understand that kind of work ethic. Both my parents worked, but I saw that as just something adults do. Even after I learned about making money, paying taxes, and building a career, I didn’t appreciate it as much as I should have. I’ve only come to appreciate it more as I got older.

My dad had a tough job, but he never came home looking miserable and angry. He did come home exhausted many times, but not to the point where he carried himself like a Dilbert cartoon. He seemed to take genuine pride in his work. It fulfilled him in a way that showed in how he conducted himself. He had a poise and strength to him, which he still carries to this day.

However, it’s how he managed to relax after all that hard work that has resonated with me in recent years. Part of that is due to how uptight and high-strung I was as a teenager. When I got home from school, I didn’t relax as much as I did dread what I might face the next day. If that sounds like an unhealthy attitude, that’s because it is and it caused me plenty of problems.

What I looked like on a good day.

My dad’s attitude was very different. When he got home from work, he didn’t get anxious or uptight about the next day. He just grabbed a bag of peanuts, opened a bottle of beer, and watched a baseball game while sitting on the couch. He watched a lot of other things too, but he always seemed most relaxed while watching baseball.

I often watched with him. I even helped him crack the peanuts. They’re among some of my favorite memories as a kid, watching baseball with my dad and eating peanuts. I didn’t do it quite as often when I was a teenager and I honestly believed that contributed to the misery I endured during those tumultuous times.

My dad understood those issues, much more than I gave him credit for. He often boiled things down to something that seemed too simple. He would tell me to just take it easy, relax, and appreciate things in the here and now, be it a baseball game or a “Simpsons” re-run. Me being the whiny kid I was, I just rolled my eyes at him. Looking back on it, I realize there was more to his advice.

My dad knew how to keep things simple back then. He still knows to this day and I marvel at his ability to streamline things that seem so complicated. To him, relaxation and hard work didn’t have to be mutually exclusive. You can work hard all day and still relax once you got home. It sounds so obvious, but people find ways to mess it up.

Some feel like if they’re not working hard, then they’re doing something wrong

Some feel like if they’re not relaxing, then they must be miserable and broken.

Some feel like if they try to do both, then one undermines the other.

I certainly bought into that, even after I went to college. For a while, I made work the center of everything. If I wasn’t working on something school-related, I was making other projects for myself. Relaxing just meant resting so that I had the energy I needed to do more work. It’s as unhealthy as it sounds and I think both my parents understood that.

I admit it took a long time for my dad’s advice to sink in. With each passing year, I appreciate how skilled he was at balancing hard work with relaxation. He always came off as calm, strong, and balanced. When things got tough, he kept a level head. When everyone else was stressed out, he remained the most composed. He was clear, direct, and concise with every word he said.

Those aren’t just the marks of a great father. They’re traits of a great man, in general. My father set a high bar and if I’m being honest, I still struggle to match it most of the time. I’ve gotten a lot better at balancing work with relaxation over the years, but I feel like I made it much harder than it should’ve been. My dad was there every step of the way, giving me real, usable advice. I just didn’t embrace it.

I might have been a slow learner with respect to work/life balance, but that only helps me appreciate my father even more, especially on Father’s Day. No matter how old I get, he keeps finding ways to be awesome. He never runs out of things to teach me, whether it involves relaxing or how to make the perfect pasta sauce. There’s so much I’ve learned from him and I’m a better man because of it.

Thanks, Dad. Seriously.

I’ll always be grateful for having such an amazing father. I admit I didn’t always make it easy for him, but he never hesitated to love me and support me as any father would. Whether I’m working hard or relaxing on a hot summer day, his influence helps me become the man I strive to be.

To my father and all the other dedicated dads out there, thank you for your love and support. Happy Father’s Day! You’ve worked so hard for your kids. Today, you can take a moment to relax and reflect on just how awesome you are.

Leave a comment

Filed under Jack Fisher's Insights, men's issues, noble masculinity, psychology, Uplifting Stories