Up Front by Emma Hart


The Kids are All Right

Somebody recently asked me for advice on raising teens. I have to admit, I did make that laughing noise with my face for a while. Yeah. Ask me. Though this may be one of those jobs that should only be done by people who don't want to do it. I'd be the last person to tell you raising teenagers is a joy and a blessing. I'd also be the last person to tell you they're terrifying little fuckers who are self-absorbed and completely anti-social. I mean, what if one of my teenagers heard me say that? 

Sometimes, though, they give me something that can be in pretty short supply: hope for the future. (Apologies for the disturbingly crotch-height angle of the video.) 

 You might think, who the hell thought it was a good idea to have Tony Abbot talk to a bunch of kids from a performing arts college anyway? What more predictable nest of stroppy outspoken lefty liberals? Of course they're not down with your racism and your sexism and your institutionalised homophobia. And it's not like they have to come up with solutions. Easy for them. Of course they're Sticking It to the Man, they're teenagers. Maybe they got coached by their teachers. Maybe they're just being contrary, and they'd just as happily have argued the other side of the coin. 

But here's the thing. The Prime Minister of Australia just got pwned by a bunch of Year 9s. (Those are third formers in the old money.) What teenagers are is challenging. Literally. They're supposed to challenge us. And the more scorn you hold them in, the more easily your ideas should be able to stand up to their challenges. I mean, they're not thinking things through, and you have, right? So it should be easy for you to explain it to them. 

While many teenagers are completely disengaged, some of them are more passionate about politics than anyone else on the planet – including their future selves. Teens have what I like to call Cynical Idealism. Everything is total and utter shit, but every problem is perfectly easily fixed, if people would just stop being dicks. 

When you're older, things get more complicated. So much more complicated that sometimes nothing gets done at all. I love me some nuance, but we also need to have someone who will just say, "But why? That's bullshit." Having to explain your ideas, your beliefs, your processes in simple terms is a great way to test them. Why they say "Why?" you better damn well have a reason. 

This current bunch of teens are actually pretty damn great, I think. We Gen Xers raised us some kids who are more liberal, more questioning, and less risk-taking than we were at their age. We're also passing on to them, possibly for the first time, a world worse than the one we grew up in. My teen years ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the invention of the internet. Thanks, older people. It's too early to tell what the defining events of my children's teen years will prove to have been. They're going to have to learn about the benefits of hindsight, but they will. 

We're coming up on that time when political parties, especially those on the left, remember that there are young people, and that it would be nice if they voted. So people their parents' age sit around and try to work out what would motivate them to become politically engaged. Don't get me wrong: I'm one of them. We were handing out enrolment packs at Armageddon. It's a noble cause: it just doesn't sit quite right with me. 

It'd be a start, I think, if we asked "young people" (that being an amorphous blob, like "the gays") why they aren't voting. They're not idiots, they know. I mean, what, currently, is in it for them? It's a reasonable question to ask, while we're undrinkabling their water, not building them schools, loading them up with debt, and pricing them out of owning a home. If they don't feel that they're getting anything out of this particular social contract, why should they participate? 

I've been told, by an educational professional, that I have no idea what a normal kid is like, so I'm not sure that my family can offer much insight. My son couldn't tell you why his peers don't give a shit any more than I could have at that age. One piece of advice I can give you about teens though: they don't owe us anything.

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