Teenagers think they’re so cool

Last week’s column about the game Guitar Hero III got me thinking even more about how kids learn, what they learn, and whether their experiences are fundamentally any different from what my generation experienced as kids.

For the most part, they’re not. Sure, in 1980, a cell phone was recognizable only as a fantasy accouterment in the form of the communicators on Star Trek, and the most advanced video game was Pac-Man. But we had fun with our games involving mud and sticks, and even without cell phones, it wasn’t that much trouble to communicate. We did, after all, have rudimentary telephone technology and the ability to converse face-to-face and through something else called “the handwritten note” — which is much like a text message only cheaper.

Mostly I despise walking through shopping malls, but on a trip to Denver last weekend, I was reminded of how interesting it is to watch the teenagers — especially the non-mountain variety — on parade at the mall. Many of them had haircuts similar to mine at that age, and my wife pointed out a few examples of a possible resurgence in the old preppy-raised-collar look. The droopy drawers thing still mystifies me, but in practice the look isn’t too much more ridiculous-looking than colossal bell bottoms or Sassoon jeans.

And despite the cell phones and texting and iPods and all that extra connectivity and hardware teens pack today, at the end of the day the most important things are the same: They want to look good (at least relative to the pack), smell good (or at least not too badly) and stand out from the crowd commensurate with their comfort level. Few have the intestinal fortitude to be a class clown or pack leader, but no one wants to be ignored either. It’s a bell curve, with the below-the-radar kids on one end, the over-achievers and obnoxious ones on the other, and the bulk stacked in the middle trying to keep abreast of the wave that propels high school society.

It’s a frightfully old cliché that teenagers cannot for a moment believe their parents have the slightest idea what they’re feeling and experiencing – but it’s as true as ever. Every once in a while, though, we’re able to say something that breaks through the clouds and makes them think, if only for a moment, that we are of the same species. When our 14-year-old went to the Pink Floyd laser light show up at Beaver Creek last week, I told her I’d seen such a thing myself many moons ago. I went on to describe some of experiences seeing a few dozen Grateful Dead shows and got a little bit more reaction – a look that seemed to say: “I can’t believe you could’ve done anything remotely similar to what I like to do. Who are you?”

For readers who haven’t hit the teen years yet with their kids, get used to it. Sometime, the best we can do is find those occasional intersections of interest and milk them for all they’re worth.

Guitar Hero Update: When I posed the question of whether kids playing “fake” guitar on this video game would undermine the potential for future real guitarists, I prompted a response from someone at www.guitarinstructor.com, who said the site caters to GH wannabes who’d like to try the real thing. A quick look at the site reveals a pretty cool interface to learn guitar via online lessons from professional pickers. At $1.99 per lesson, it appears to be worth a try – especially if you’d like to pry Johnny off the big TV so you can watch people who can’t sing on “American Idol” instead.


Managing editor Alex Miller can be reached at editor@vaildaily.com.

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