What's the Matter with Kids Today?

A lot but they are coping

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If you'd had the chance to be at the Sundance Film Festival this year, you'd know that the hot independent movie is Kids, a relentless depiction of a group of New York City teenagers who spend their days skateboarding, getting high, fucking around (even though one of them is HIV positive), and fucking around some more. Apparently this characterization of 90s youth has hit a nerve with some anxious adults: Last month, New York ran a story about the film, asking on the cover, 'Are they really this nasty?'

The answer, of course, lies somewhere between yes and no. But what all the hand-wringing about KIDS really shows is that the media have done a terrible job reporting what it's like to be gawky, horny, and brimming with both hope and cynicism at the end of the twentieth century. Under current circumstances, it doesn't seem like a stretch to say that if we can't market products to kids, our only use for them is to blame them for the crime and violence that the papers seem all too happy to cover.

Which begs this question: How can adults, especially those who aren't the parents of teenagers, learn about contemporary adolescence in way that doesn't stereotype kids or try and make them into Tori Spelling proto-Fruitopia drinkers? The answer is corny, but important: Listen -- and then encourage teenagers to start telling their own stories. That's what Yo!, a journal of youth and life in the Bay Area, has been doing since 1993. Covering topics that include reflections of Muslim teenagers about the Oklahoma City bombing, as well as how the long-awaited prom was a huge disappointment and ways to help stray kids hang on, this is the real stuff of kids' lives, written with unflinching honesty and compassion. YO! is a moving testament to the power that bearing witness can have for those who normally aren't allowed to speak for themselves.

Original to Utne Reader Online