To be a teen in the 90s.

I was inside of a high school building today. It was live, that is, students and teachers were actively doing what students and teachers do, and I was there in the middle of it when the P.A. crackled and issued forth the following announcement: “Students are reminded that coats are not allowed in the classroom. They are to be kept in your locker, along with your cell phones and ipods.”

 

Even though I myself have a cell phone and something of an ipod, the announcement reminded me of how much space exists between the current high school generation and my own. Light years. To be a teen in 2008 is so vastly different than to be a teen in 1998. Of course this is true as any decade passes. In 1998 we had technology our 80’s teenage predecessors did not: most families had computers with the increasingly popular internet, we had CDs and Discmans and maybe a fledgling DVD collection (I was still a VHS girl). Pagers were fairly popular, and a few of the elite had cell phones, although most students saved their envy for greater things—personal cell phones were not necessary and were even seen as a bit decadent. Clueless, for all of its satire, was prophetic. (But how were we to know?)

 

We did not text, we did not facebook, we did not myspace, we did not youtube. We did not blog.

 

We were not at war.

 

Instead we worried about Y2K, stored freshwater in our bathtub and stocked our basements full of canned goods and plastic wrap. We were prepared for anything, so we thought. We were the classes who ushered in school shootings and, soon after, school shooting drills. We distracted ourselves. We argued about who was truly the “first graduating class of the new millenium,” class of ’00 or class of ’01. (’01, for the record.) We listened to some really bad music. In general, we liked ourselves, but under the microscope maybe we didn’t.

I once thought I would write a story about this, about teens who lived their teenage years during the 90’s, but it’s already been done so many times, and with much greater accuracy I’m sure, by writers who were themselves immersed in the 90’s at the time of writing. The 90’s are now history, and I’ve never done well with history. I’ve never really liked the 90’s. But that may be common, for a person to reject the decade surrounding their high school years. Is it?

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The second time I’ll talk about it here.

I usually spend at least part of my lunch hour flipping through the local paper, and while bad news comes as no surprise, a story printed today was especially disconcerting. A recent study has determined that at least 1 in 4 teenage girls have a sexually transmitted disease (story here), HPV being the most prevalent and, you know, a precursor to cervical cancer. 1 in 4 teenage girls. Now, of course this is an alarming report and I’m sure you can read a billion different reactions to it in a billion different blogs, and I’ll warn you right here, before you read any further, that the reaction I’m about to give is pretty conservative, pretty old-fashioned.

Here is the thing, every news story that is out there (including the one I linked to) reports the tragic facts and then, almost immediately, turns around and says, “The problem is inadequate sex-education!” The inadequate sex-ed, of course, referring to government-sponsored abstinence-heavy sex-ed programs. And yes, I’m sure that a tactic of “Don’t have sex!” is highly inneffective, and to think otherwise is to live in a dream world. Kids have sex. We know this. And apparently they get STDs, in high numbers. But do we really think the problem is the sex-education program? I mean, that might be an ineffective bandage, but is that really what is causing the wound? Do we truly, honestly think that?

I’m not going to go on and on about how backwards our culture has become (you couldn’t even read the article I linked to above without looking at some sexed-up super models caressing one another, but I said I wouldn’t get into it.) All I will say is this: I don’t know if I’ll ever have any daughters someday–I would sure like to–but it makes me very sad to think that I will have to take them to their pediatrician around the age of 10 to start receiving the HPV vaccine, because our culture tells them they have to grow up so fast, and our culture does not believe they are capable of (nor should they have to be) reigning in their hormones, and our culture is perfectly content to bombard them with sexual imagery and ideas and ideals instead of protecting their innocence as long as possible. We are failing our girls, and I don’t think it has anything to do our lousy sex education programs. Our trees have rotting roots. That’s what I think.

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    Breena Wiederhoeft
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