What’s the Matter with Kids Today?

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

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