During a recent XFinity On-Demand rental of the movie "The Way Way Back," it occurred to me again that being an early teenager can be a pretty shitty proposition. The main character is a 14-year-old young man who is placed in the awkward position of dealing with a possible new stepfather (played nastily by Steve Carrell) whose "parenting" methods involve giving the kid a "3" on a scale of 10 and telling him to work on "getting his rating up, for starters."
Talk about alienation.
The movie is worth viewing even if it seems to have passed through the publicity gauntlet somehow. There is humor, insight and possible tragedy mixed together. You will appreciate the ending.
Time as a teenager
And it got me thinking about being a teenager. In fact I often think about being a teenager. Is that weird? Do most people move on and forget about their teen years as something in the past, or do most of us refer to those years as a point of reference in who we are now?
Possibly it's a combination of the two for most people. When something comes along to remind us of our teen years, we're likely to think back and half-figure out how our brain was working at the time. But not really.
Our hormones change. Our outlooks too. Circumstances certainly always change. Even if you live in the town where you went to high school, nothing really looks or feels the same. Usually the downtown is a mess these days. The high school may still be there, but it often has attachments built on to accommodate some influx of students that came along. So really, nothing stays the same.
But I don't even think teens think in terms of infrastructure much. Not any more. Their lives are virtual, digital and textual. Bricks and mortar can't hold them. But little else can either.
Teens are growing up in a more naturally diverse world as a result of all they can see and experience through their technologies. Yes, there are still prejudicial teens and bullies too. But there are also zillions of teens whose friends aren't the same color as them. They also have gay friends and like them.
Society is struggling to figure out what to do with this next generation of teens, and even the current or recent graduates of college are not being automatically accepted in the work world. There are all sorts of new portals and protocols being invented to help companies figure out what to do with smart young people who see through the bricks and mortar of workplace structural setups.
It's changing because the newly invented world of social media is forcing corporate organizations to come out of their holes and actually engage with customers in real conversation, or be left in the dust.
Teen minds at work
It's all a result of the teen mind at work. Facebook was originally targeted at college students and then teenagers. As one of the largest social networking tools in the world, it constantly morphs itself to both adapt to and prescribe the methods by which people choose to communicate.
It's almost hilarious to think that major corporations are being forced to interact like teenagers. Come on, you never thought about that before?
That's because most people do not engage with respect to the teen mind. We're content to view teenagers through the harsh and ridiculous light of teen exploitation movies like American Pie. Much more accurate is the world of Superbad, in which Jonah Hill and Michael Cera awkwardly but courageously navigate their way through the variegations of senior year when they haven't yet gotten laid. But might. They want to, anyway.
Modern teens and love
In my work with teen youth groups over the years, and including teenagers and the senior high school students I now see every Wednesday night, it has always been evident that teenagers may or may not seem to be "present" in mind, but they always have something in mind.
It may be a shallow wish such as getting hold of the car to go out and see what's happening. But that's something, isn't it? Or it may be some deep wish to be loved that they cannot possibly express for fear of coming off needy or desperate or scared or lonely. But teenagers always want to be loved. We can state that fact without exception of worry of being wrong.
And that's the entire point of the manner in which we should engage with respect to the teen mind. Even when they're difficult or even mean, it is love they want. They may find it somewhere other than home, or even with all the wrong people, but they will find it. Or keep trying.
Which is why it's all so simple, and yet so damned hard to love teenagers. They make it tough sometimes. They make it even tougher on themselves with their mistakes and forgetfulness, drama and carelessness.
Adults, meanwhile, struggling to find love themselves, and give it accordingly, just don't know what to do at times with respect to the teen mind. But don't worry, you're not alone. Oh God no, you're not alone.
As John Lennon once said, "All you need is love." He was right about a lot of things, but few lyrics exceed that one in truth. Especially with respect to the teen mind.