Friday, May 13, 2022

Andy Young: Survey says...

By Andy Young

It’s unsurprising that I view certain things differently than many students in the high school English classes I teach do. I’m more than three times as old as any of them, so it’s only natural we have differing opinions on a variety of issues.

Some of those differences are directly attributable to our respective ages. For example, I’m mystified by the attraction many young folks have to tattoos, reality TV, vaping, and various social media platforms, the vast majority of which I probably still haven’t heard of.

But not all of our differences are generational. This is prom weekend at my high school, and I’ll freely admit I don’t understand why so many people consider it such a big deal. But I didn’t get it when I was a high school senior, either. What I did comprehend back then was that attending the event would have set me back more than two weeks’ worth of take-home pay from my 40-hour-per-week summer job doing manual labor at a local apple orchard, and I just didn’t see how putting on an uncomfortable outfit and carefully eating an overpriced meal (so as to not get any stains on said rented ensemble, which I would be sporting for perhaps three hours) would be worth the investment.

My views on the prom weren't shared by many of my high school classmates at the time, and thanks to a voluntary, three-question survey I constructed and distributed to students in my Grade 12 English classes late last month I now know for a fact that my prom-related opinion isn’t the prevailing one today either, since 50 of the 59 Kennebunk High School seniors who returned the questionnaire intend to attend this year’s event.

I also wondered about the future of print-edition high school yearbooks, given that nearly every young person today is more than capable of preserving virtually every visual and oral high school memory on some sort of electronic device. But there’s good news on that front for the companies that publish such things: only seven of the responding seniors said they wouldn’t be buying this year’s yearbook, as opposed to 50 yeses and two “I don’t knows.”

But not every established adolescent practice lasts forever. Class rings, another tradition that I don’t understand today any more than I did when I was in high school, are apparently going the way of sundials, quill pens, and buckboards. Three students responding to the survey said they had bought a class ring, but nearly all of the 56 “No!”s were resounding ones. “They’re ugly,” “Not worth the money,” and “500 bucks for a ring you’ll wear five times and then stick in a sock drawer? No thank you!” were three of the milder responses from those asked to elaborate on their decision to forego school-related jewelry.

Most of today’s teens aren’t any more rebellious, lazy, disrespectful or reckless than we were at their age. It’s indisputably true they’re attracted to instant gratification, but so were the rest of us as high schoolers. One obvious difference, though: thanks to cell phones and other societal changes, instant gratification is far more readily available today than it was four-plus decades ago, and thus potentially more addictive.

At their core kids today are just the same as they were half a century ago: they’re in a hurry to become adults, or to become what their perception of an adult is. More accurately, they’d like to have adult privileges without any adult responsibilities.

Which, come to think of it, sounds pretty darn attractive to many longtime actual adults (including this one) as well! <

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