Darwin’s Law for a Younger Generation

For the uninitiated, Darwin’s Law is simple.  Basically, it revolves around survival of the fittest, or in this case, the smartest.  Those who don’t succeed in smart choices are doomed to fade away.  Or, you know, grow up and vote.

I would love to say I was immune to these challenges.  I’d like to say it, but that would be a lie.   Take the cinnamon challenge from a few years back.  You remember this one?  Kids would chug large mouthfuls of straight cinnamon while their supposed friends recorded the whole thing rather than offer to help.  Hilarity ensued as the victim choked and burned in agony, their pain forever recorded on YouTube or Facebook.  Good times were had by all.

I was maybe six when I did this myself.  To be clear, it wasn’t on purpose.  It was an accident.  You see, I loved cinnamon toast. Being the typical six-year-old, I figured there were only two ingredients: toast and cinnamon.  But who needs toast anyway?  The toast in cinnamon toast is sort of an unessential element if you ask me – kinda like the water in whiskey and water. Let me at that yummy box of cinnamon and let’s get right to the good stuff!

So there I was at the precocious age of 6…my poor mother. I climbed up the tall shelf that held all of the forbidden goodies, grabbed that box and upended it over my mouth.  Yummy…no…wait…yikes!  There was an immediate reaction.  I couldn’t breathe, the powder coated my throat and puffed into my sinuses. My mother had to practically drown me to get it washed out because water simply does not do much to clear the cinnamon invasion (if you notice, when you pour water on it, cinnamon separates and stays dry). My Mom said it was one of the scariest moments when I was a kid. So even though it sounds like it’s nothing, swallowing straight cinnamon is really very dangerous and stupid. Kids are doing this as a game.  It’s insane.

As a side note, I still love cinnamon toast, but I now know Mom had a few additional ingredients other than just cinnamon and toast in her delicious treat. I do learn. In case you were wondering.

It was actually my mother’s fault that I took part in what might have been the first trial ever of the cinnamon challenge.   You see kids, in the days that cinnamon actually came in boxes or tins, there was also a thing we used to call a wall phone.  Imagine, a phone tethered to the wall by a long cord.  These cords came in various lengths, allowing parents much more freedom to sneak up and catch their kids doing stupid things.  For the longest time, we had a short cord. However, after having lived with me for a while, my Mom secretly traded out the short cord for a long phone cord so that she could spy on my antics while talking to Aunt Margaret, Uncle Joe, or that gossipy lady down the street.  Moms have a weird sixth sense about when their kids are getting into mischief, or, in this case, blatant stupidity.  She also knew that a phone call was just enough time for her wayward child to partake in various shenanigans such as breaking a lamp, sneaking a cookie, or in this case, chugging a box of cinnamon.  I believe that I would have escaped unscathed had she not popped up around the corner, phone clenched in her hand, and caught me with the box.  She scared me so much that I choked on the cinnamon.  Hey, that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

Then there were the challenges involving innocent school supplies.  Ah, yes, the sissy test.  For reasons still unclear to psychologists everywhere, the kids in this one take a pencil top eraser and rub a spot on the top of their hand until the skin is raw. Because this is not nearly painful or satisfying enough, the kids continue to rub the spot until it becomes a painful sore.  I guess the idea was to be able to prove you can take the pain or perhaps to erase elementary school tattoos.  Of course had I known I’d be going through the excruciating agony pleasures of childbirth twice later in life, I would’ve scoffed at whoever created this challenge with a self-satisfied smirk and a wise nod.  “Ahhh, little grasshopper.  You’ve got nothing!”  At any rate, I still have the scar. I never said I was a brilliant child. In my defense, this was elementary school and not high school. Does that help?  No? Oh well.

Other challenges I remember included how high one could swing while STANDING on the swing; emergency room doctors and dentists were fond of this one. As we got older, we tempted fate by knocking down Old Lady Lloyd’s mailbox.  Sounds innocent, but you would be amazed at how fast a ninety year old woman can run down a sidewalk brandishing a cane.

There is a trend now in these challenges that seems to be more serious, with a risk of permanent injury and even in some cases life threatening.  When did challenges go from sticking your tongue to a metal pole in the winter to more ominous and dangerous risks? Can we blame social media hysteria?  Attention seeking compulsions and a desire to be a part of something no matter how stupid? Unbelievable peer pressure?  A feeling of invincibility from watching too much violent TV?   I mean, there has to be something.

Activities like the “condom” challenge where you inhale a condom and pull it through your mouth just makes absolutely zero sense to me.  Then, there is “Sack Tapping” which, to me is just crazy.  Boys trying to dash their mothers’ dreams of grandchildren all in the name of “manning up.”  Do they not realize they can do permanent damage or do they not care? These parents more than any others deserve to have grandchildren if for no other reason than to say “HA! You now have kids that act exactly like you did!”

Duct taping a friend to a pole or some other object seems to be a thing. I know, right? I thought it was a fake challenge myself, but apparently it happens. The goal of course is to duct tape the so-called friend as tightly as possible and then the friend tries their best to break free. With friends like these, who needs enemies?  I understand one girl partaking in the challenge broke her teeth and several bones in her face because she fell over onto concrete and couldn’t catch herself. Because of course, her hands were duct taped to her sides. I’m sure she wasn’t alone. I’m sure others have endured similar challenge-related injuries. This challenge, among all the others, can sometimes include a glorious one night’s vacation stay in a hospital.

Believe it or not, setting your friends or yourself on fire is a game. A game. Yes. you read that right. A. Game. The rules here are simple.  You douse yourself in flammable liquid and set yourself on fire while friends operate the video equipment (aka cell phone), the results of which are then posted on social media. Marshmallows are optional, and the fun abounds as the winners get to discover the joys of second and third degree burns.

My immediate reaction to all of this of course is to say, WTF?  My second reaction is to question the parenting involved in these young people’s lives. As a parent myself, I know kids can get into trouble. I’ve had my fair share of worries, concerns, and downright “what the hell were you thinking” moments. I’m happy to report though that neither of my kids have set themselves on fire. Perhaps judging the parents is unfair…but if not the home-life, then what?  What drives kids to do these ridiculously stupid things? And more importantly, how do we get them to stop?

The one thing all of these stupid challenges share is attention seeking behavior from the participants and the “hey are these really your friends??” individuals egging them on.  If we could convince our kids and teens to unsubscribe and unfollow these people, their fame may be over and the challenges would stop.

Most importantly, keep the lines of communication open with your kids.  Explain that Wally McFlame may seem funny today, but that he is placing his life in very real danger.  I would not be averse to showing a few real pictures of burn victims to drive the point home.  Our kids are tech savvy beyond belief, and smarter than we give them credit for.  But they are also naïve in so many ways. We need to step in and keep our kids firmly planted in reality.

My kids have tested my sanity (still intact, thank you very much), stressed me (nothing a little wine won’t fix!), and have generally made life interesting through their ongoing antics, that is for sure.  But thankfully, my kids have thus far survived without having participated in any of the challenges that are apparently intended to weed them out of society.  I personally will keep the cinnamon far out of reach, and carefully monitor all school supplies to ensure they are being used properly.  I don’t want to admit to my kids that I may, or may not, have done a few silly things myself.

Being a Kid is Tough Work

It’s not easy being green…or a kid.

Lots of adults – too many adults – think that childhood is an easy time.  They think that kids are carefree and have nothing to worry about.  Well, childhood should be an easy time, with no cares or worries, and in a perfect world it would be, but we do not live in a perfect world.

Kids face stressors of all kinds and always have. They have to go to school – and if they are not good students that’s one type of stress, and if they are good students, that’s another kind of stress, and if they have to deal with bullies that’s another type of stress, and if they are shy and have difficulty making friends – even if they aren’t subjected to bullying – that’s another type of stress, or if they’re popular and have to maintain a certain circle of friends even if they don’t want to because “it’s expected,” that’s another type of stress.  Well, you get the picture. Stress.

Nowadays there’s more than ever for kids to be worried about. Take for instance, the chat my daughter’s teacher had with her class last school year about possible shooters in the school and how they’re basically all screwed anyway.  And then there’s the fact that my daughter went to a college conference in Baltimore recently – one of her concerns included whether or not the convention center would be shot up…given Baltimore’s latest activities in that regard. Many kids face this fear in this day and age and truly, that’s just a sad testament to our society as a whole.

Then there’s home life, which can be more complicated now than ever before, considering the proliferation of different family units – single parents, same-sex parents, step-parents and step-siblings, and so on. Which can be just fine and dandy inside the home or it can be incredibly complicated depending on how the family meshes – but the external stressors that kids in these situations sometime face can be overwhelming.

And then there’s the parents. Regardless of the type of family unit, most parents are loving and treat their kids well…but there are always the exceptions. And while the percentage of “bad parents” may be low, that still means there are hundreds of thousands of parents who have no idea how to treat kids, and shouldn’t be parents in the first place, frankly.

And all that brings me to the real subject of this blog entry, which is how frustrating it is for teenagers to be lumped into a single mass.

“All teenagers are sullen.”

“All teenagers are moody and antagonistic.”

“All teenagers have teenage angst.”

I disagree with all of these statements but none more than the existence of “teenage angst.” Not all teenagers have teenage angst! And what the hell is teenage angst anyway? There’s no “adult angst” and believe me, I’ve seen plenty of adults that ought to have it.

Oh, and just because a teenager doesn’t want to be social or outgoing, even among family, does not mean they are sullen or moody or antagonistic. Perhaps they’re introverted. Perhaps they’re shy. Perhaps they have a lot going on in their mind and life and they’re distracted. Perhaps they just don’t like you. They should be allowed to do their own thing so long as they’re not being outwardly disrespectful. Speaking of which, I’m a firm believer of “respect is a two-way street.”  There is no minimum age for deserving respect. All too often adults think that kids, simply by virtue of being kids, do not deserve even a modicum of respect, thereby completely invalidating their feelings, and this is just wrong.

But how should we treat teenagers who do have angst? (Note the intentional lack of “teenage” preceding the word angst.)

Are they to blame for giving into their feelings – when adults certainly never hesitate to give in to theirs?

Kids have a lot to be anxious about. For some, it’s worse than the norm.

Having anxiety and depression is like being scared and tired at the same time. It’s the fear of failure but no urge to be productive. It’s wanting friends but hating socializing. It’s wanting to be alone but not wanting to be lonely. It’s caring about everything then caring about nothing. It’s feeling everything at once then feeling paralyzing numb.”

That’s a quote to think about, and to remember.

All of the stresses that affect kids are magnified a hundred fold if they do suffer from anxiety and/or depression.  First off, anxiety and depression are medical conditions. That’s what a lot of adults don’t seem to understand. Oh, they might “get it” regarding themselves or other adults.  They just don’t seem to understand that kids can suffer from these same conditions.  I mean, why would they?  They’re kids, in the prime of their carefree days for goodness sake.

Second, a lot of this angst is caused by external forces.

Take girls, for example. It’s well documented that boys and girls do equally well in school until they get into their teens, when the scores for girls (speaking overall here – there are always exceptions) go way down in certain subjects. Like math and science. Why? Because even today – even today! – girls are not expected to be good at math or science! And they are treated accordingly. No wonder their scores go down.

Then there’s the fact that once girls become teenagers, they “blossom” as the saying goes, and all of a sudden they’ve got to deal with the “opposite sex” coming onto them (or not). Not to mention ridiculous dress codes that make it abundantly clear that their education is much less important than a boy’s and instead they should focus on not distracting the male students from their studies.

Of course boys have a similar and equal kind of stress when they hit puberty, as there’s a blinding rush to turn them into adults and no innocence seems left to any kids anywhere!

Bad parents also cause their kids a lot of stress and anxiety. Some parents emotionally abuse kids, even if they don’t physically abuse them, threatening to withdraw their love if the kid fails a test, for example…or irrationally and insistently pushing the kid into sports when he or she would rather be on the stage let’s say, just so they can relive their old high school quarterback days.

Something else to think about: When parents have a bad day, who are the first ones they take it out on?  Their spouse, sure, but who’s next? The kids. Right. (I’m not talking abuse here – that’s a whole other issue – I’m talking about being in a bad mood, snapping at the family, being curt or short in your tone, and having no patience for anyone.) When kids have a bad day?  Who can they take it out on?  No-one. Why? Because they get punished. For belligerence. For having a bad attitude. If they go to their room and try to stay to themselves because they’ve had a bad day? They get punished. Why? For being sullen.  For being anti-social with the family. For ignoring their parents. For bringing the mood of the family down. Kids are expected to be on perfect behavior at all times or face the consequences.  Who can live sanely under those kinds of expectations!? Yet many adults expect them to do it.

My point in all this rambling?  Simple. Let’s cut our kids some slack, shall we? Kids have feelings and personalities all their own just as adults do. They shouldn’t be dismissed just because they’re kids.

 

having a good kid meme

The Locked Door

Like many of us, my daughter suffers from anxiety. Being a teenager there’s what seems like a never-ending list of reasons why her mind could be thrown into a tizzy. Her main source of anxiety comes from school. No, it’s not the academic workload or fretting about standardized tests that hammer home the fear that how you perform will shape your future. She’s an Honor Roll student who excels in the classroom. What she finds stressful are the crowds, the thronging mass of other teens jostling and ricocheting off of each other in the hallways. It’s an everyday, unavoidable occurrence between each period (unless they build her a network of secret underground tunnels, which I don’t think is quite in the school’s budget). Not to mention the annoyance of sharing classroom after classroom with kids who basically do not want to be there and who do not share the same tolerant mindset she has for her fellow human beings.

Well, her anxiety recently got worse due to a safety precaution her school is now taking, or rather, a teacher’s explanation of it. The semesters changed over this past month so classes and teachers also changed. On the first day, a new teacher of one particular class explained that she keeps one of the two doors to her classroom locked because they are the first classroom in the hall and if a madman with an Uzi comes into the school guns blazing, it will be more difficult for him to come busting in their room, spraying rounds. Now I’m all for keeping kids safe. That I have no problem with. I question the teacher’s sense in explaining the reasons behind the locked door, but apparently she felt the kids were old enough to take the news and process it accordingly.

However, this brilliant educator of children went on to voice her opinion that since the door was just a flimsy little piece of wood, the shooter could kick it in rather easily or else simply shoot through it. And what with the second [unlocked] door only about 10 feet down the hall, if the gunman wants to get in, one silly locked door isn’t going to stop him so “either way we’re all screwed anyway.”

I’m just not sure what the hell this teacher was thinking divulging this info to the kids and putting this heinous idea into their heads. She could’ve just said, “I keep that door locked at all times” and end it there. They don’t have to necessarily know it’s to slow down a psycho with a semi-automatic assault rifle, because once that possibility is raised, it can be a little difficult to erase.  Then, by all means, let’s take away even that tiny bit of a safety net by saying it’s completely useless.

This possibility, that someone could be kicking into the classroom at any given moment (because sadly this is the world we live in now)…let’s just say that has not helped my daughter with her anxiety whatsoever.  And she can’t be the only one. Kids nowadays have so much to be anxious over and this is just one more thing to stress about. School, much like home, is supposed to be a safe place. Only it isn’t. You think kids don’t know that?  They know it more than anyone else.

The school itself locks all of its external doors which is a good thing. They do what they can, as most schools do, and that makes me feel better as a parent.   I just don’t quite understand the teacher’s need to give such tragic disclosure. We know why cars have airbags and don’t need commercials showing someone flying through a windshield. We know why we own fire extinguishers and don’t have to be shown pictures of people burning alive.

All I’m saying is that while I appreciate the safety measures being taken I think spelling out the potential consequences can be a little unnecessary – especially given the teacher’s added personal commentary. It seems to me that adding stress to an already stressful situation (high school) could be a little counterproductive to the whole learning experience.

Happy Birthday to Me (Or, Ode to a Favorite Daughter)

Yesterday (Tuesday) was my birthday, and I spent it in the very enjoyable company of my daughter, Sarah.

Sarah is 15 years old. Yep, she’s in those…gasp...teenage years where they are all supposed to be sullen, shutting out their parents or siblings and spending all their time texting on their smartphones, full of teenage angst.

Well, I’m here to tell you that not all teenagers are like that.

I’m quite proud to say that Sarah enjoys my company and likes spending time with me as much as I like spending time with her. We’re weird like that.  I guess it’s because we have so much in common – we always have had.

We share a love of…wait for it…Marvel Comics.  I know. Big shock to those of you who follow this blog.  In fact, I think Sarah loves them more than I do. She knows the backstories of the comics better than I do. She goes for the misunderstood anti-hero more than the hero, like Bucky Barnes (in The Winter Soldier) and Deadpool – I think because it’s the empathy and compassion in her coming out along with the badass side of her. A great combo if you ask me. Then again, Loki’s my favorite so I guess I’m somewhat of a bad influence.

We love going to the movies together and chowing down on popcorn and drinking pop – the whole movie experience. We go every chance we get. Big Hero Six, Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers, we love them all.

Sarah is smart (as a matter of fact she is extremely smart, she’s college material already — she’ll start dual enrollment next school year), but more than that, and much more importantly, she’s a good person.

Sarah is tolerant of all people. Well, she’s intolerant sometimes, a lot of times actually – she’s intolerant of those who would belittle someone for their looks, their race, their mental capacity, their gender orientation, or things of that nature. She has a very short temper in that regard. She despises stupidity and ignorance and human cruelty and conservative mindsets. Like me, she hates hunting and animal cruelty in all forms.

She hates the abuse of authority by our government and our police when it manifests itself, but having said that, she also respects the ideals behind our government and our police force – what these institutions are supposed to be.

On top of this, she has an amazing sarcastic and witty sense of humor. It usually comes out in her writing. Not sure where she gets that from.

I was thinking of all this today while I was spending time with my daughter.

I thought of all those parents out there – hopefully not as many as I think there are – that don’t want to spend any time with their kids, or worse, want to spend time with their kids but their kids don’t want to spend time with them. (Think Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle” – what a sad song that is.)

Do the teenage years have to be so bad and stressful for teens and parents alike?

Can some of this stress be alleviated by finding things in common with your kids from a very young age and maintaining those traditions – playing chess or Scrabble after a sit-down dinner every night, sharing comic books, going to the movies every weekend… talking frankly about the world and its dangers…philosophy, books, and common interests?

Of course I know I’m lucky with Sarah… as a parent I certainly helped in her development but she also has evolved into a good kid on her own!

Have a talk with your kids today, why don’t you? Better yet…buy them a Deadpool or Captain America comic book!

 

Teenage Transgressions

As we all know, teenagers can sometimes be the worst human beings on the planet when it comes to good judgment. It’s just in their DNA and admittedly, I’m no exception. I did some bad things in my day. Who hasn’t? I’m not saying that I ever looted an electronics store or drowned bags of kittens in the river, but little stuff. Teenage stuff. I was not immune to the deception teenagers think they’re so good at and truly revel in.

At a recent family dinner, my Mom was telling a story about me having to do with an incident that happened when I was around 16 years old. My Great-Grandmother was extremely ill, so much so that my parents had to make the trip home to bring her up to our house. Being the wise parents that they are they didn’t trust me on my own (even though I had never gotten into any serious trouble) so they had my Great-Aunt come be my in-home warden.

Luckily I was still able to receive visitors. One day my friend Roberta came over to break me out so we could go horseback riding. My Great-Aunt asked, “Is this something your mother would let you do?” Without skipping a beat I said, “Oh yeahhh, Mom lets me do this all the time.” And off I went.

Well of course, if we’re being completely factual, it’s something my Mom wouldn’t let me do at all.  And of course my Great-Aunt being a truthful warden, spilled the beans as soon as my Mom got home.  I frankly cannot remember the punishment I received at the time. I doubt my mother remembers either.

Now when my Mom was telling this story at Easter dinner she was not only complaining about how I had lied, but I think she was also somewhat mocking the fact that up until that moment I had never been horseback riding before in my life.  As an aside, the topic at dinner was the skill required to stay up on a horse.  It’s not like this story of my teenage transgression involving horses just popped up out of nowhere. That would just be weird.

So anyway, as she finished her story, I had to let the truth be known. I figured that enough time had elapsed that the statute of limitations would surely fall into play. So, I told my Mom that that incident wasn’t exactly the first time I’d gone riding. In fact, I had been a bunch of times before that. In fact, Roberta and I went horse-back riding every chance we got. There was a place close to where I grew up that charged 20 bucks an hour so I rode pretty much every weekend I was in high school.  Knowing what I know now, I realize those places that rent horses to all and sundry as if they’re ATVs instead of living, breathing creatures were and are horrendous, but as a teen I had no clue. Some things come with experience and I’m glad that I’m more aware now and know better.

Well…Mom did not like learning of this 31-year-old lie (it could qualify as a white lie…right? Right??). My Dad didn’t seem to mind too much and took my confession in stride (maybe because it all happened three decades ago and I never broke my leg or neck in the process).  At first I thought it was absurd that someone could be mad over finding out about something that happened so long ago, but then I realized I can definitely understand my Mom’s side of it.  If I found out my kids had lied to me, no matter how old they were or when the lie happened, I have no doubt I’d be upset. So for that Mom, I’m sorry. Truly.

This whole thing has taught me a valuable lesson however: I should keep my mouth shut about those little acts of teenage rebellion. With that in mind it’s probably better that she never know about the trips I took to DC to hit the jazz bars (also with Roberta…hmmm…I sense a trend here). I mean, my mother has ample material already. No need to give her more to shake her head over.