I just returned from chaperoning a high school trip to New York, taking 85 dance students to see shows, take class, and explore Manhattan. Granted, I was one of several chaperones so it wasn’t as arduous as it sounds, but it was still exhausting and challenging – try explaining to a huffy teen girl that “bed check” means I have to check that she’s actually in her room, so she can’t just text me that she’s going to bed. However, in general I can report that there is hope for the next generation. (My father used to worry that our generation would amount to nothing since we didn’t grow up with saxophone music, but the popularity of artists like Huey Lewis and Bruce Springsteen, with prominent sax players, reassured him. Likewise, I used to fret that the next generation was doomed because they were addicted to electronics, self-absorbed with short attention spans, and uninterested in reading the classic kids’ books I loved, but this trip convinced me they’ll be fine, based on a few observations:
– Sure, today’s teens text incessantly and have lost the ability to spell, thanks to spell-check and shorthand like ROTFLMAO, but they are also much more open-minded than we were as kids, eagerly trying new experiences and extremely tolerant of the more eccentric members of their group. (Remember, this was a trip for dance/theatre students from a large, extremely diverse public school, so we had the same types of characters you’d see on shows like Glee, as well as kids ranging from a senior who works 2 jobs to help support her family to some extremely wealthy kids who quietly put in extra money when the lunch group didn’t have enough for their table’s check.)
– Some things haven’t changed, like adolescent girls squealing and sighing over cute celebrities, but this group idolized the chorus boys from Newsies (with whom they got to take class and pose for photos), and even their less theatrically-inclined friends are more likely to worship movie starsn or singers with actual talent. (Of course, I still maintain the Monkees were talented comic actors in on the ironic joke, not just a manufactured boy band selected for their teen appeal)
– Speaking of irony, this generation gets it in a way mine never did. In fact, they have multiple layers of irony, so that they can ‘like’ everything from Hello Kitty to Justin Bieber – something about the ‘air quotes’ makes everything okay, which makes it not okay to tease their classmates for uncool tastes. (The weird girl in my 6th grade class who was obsessed with Dark Shadows, because she decided she was a vampire, would have fit in much better today!)
– Okay, they may not read Little Women or The Hobbit (since they can see the movie, duh . . . ), but they are fairly sophisticated. My 16-year-old son was on the trip – mostly with another chaperone’s group, since the organizers realized no kid in his or her right mind wants to spend a high school trip with a parent! – and he came back one day very proud of having bought two LPs in a vintage record store (records being as exotic to these kids as 78s were to us!) And several of his friends bought LPs as well. When I explained my turntable had been destroyed several moves ago and many of his friends’ parents were probably in the same boat he replied, “Oh, they’re not to play, Mom, it’s all about the aesthetics.” (I also love that the records he chose were by Rush and Frank Sinatra – how’s that for ironic fusion?)
– They are fairly tolerant of our generation’s befuddlement. The whole trip made me feel a bit like Jane Goodall researching chimpanzees, observing an entirely different species and trying to decode their communication methods – I’ve finally learned text shorthand, LOL, but I’m still not sure whether Instagram is a noun or a verb. But when I tried out their vocabulary, using ‘dope’ or ‘JK’, they didn’t laugh too loudly (at least in front of me).
– Today’s kids are a great combination of independent and needy – they found their way around and got themselves up on time, yet they weren’t afraid to call on a chaperone when they had questions or were concerned about their roommate whose boyfriend broke up with her via text. (I particularly loved seeing “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” with them, which is a highly stylized, odd musical based on English music hall theatre, including lots of characters talking to the audience and having women play male ingenue roles, a tradition begun with operas using mezzos as boys. At intermission, a group of the kids came up to me and told me they were completely confused, so when I gave them a bit of background, one of them exclaimed, “Oh, we just thought they were lesbians!” Which they actually thought was cool . . . . )
One other side note – it was wonderfully refreshing to go several days without seeing a newspaper or looking at a computer, and consequently having no idea of what was going on in the world. When I mentioned that to my husband in one of our very brief phone check-ins, he said, “Well, you heard a meteor crashed in Russia,” and I thought he was joking. Anyway, if you are a parent who is nervous about chaperoning this type of large trip, rest assured that it will be reassuring (but not very well restful), so take inspiration from these kids and go for it. However, you won’t have much time to act on that inspiration, which is why I don’t have a video to post this week. Stay tuned for next week!