Spending time with my teenagers and their friends is a fundamental part of life for me while I am wrapped up safely in my bubble as the world outside struggles and changes beyond comprehension.
We road trip, and I ferry the kids around for social activities such as mini golf, laser tag or ice skating.
A couple of days ago, my 15 year old son and his friend joined me in LOLGAS and we headed out on a grey Sunday and had a slow but steady fully electric run from Auckland to Rotorua. Here’s the time-lapse so you can experience in a few seconds what took us three hours to get through. You’re welcome!
I’ve travelled through Japan and across New Zealand’s North island several times with these two quirky and clever kids. I always enjoy time with my eldest son and his very funny friend. This trip, I’d also planned for her highness princess Stephanie to join us on this adventure, but she is deep in the thick of her own teenage wasteland, which, thankfully includes zero incidents of getting wasted on substances stronger than Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. Her world and her friends lives and loves are ever changing. I am blessed to watch from a safe but protective distance as the girls maneuver through their friendships, follies, and feelings together and find themselves and their place in the fold. Old friends have returned and introduced new dynamics and drama and feelings can run high in their hearts and heads as they struggle through this incredible changing landscape. It’s a lot. But it’s a blessing to be confided in and able to offer sound advice, that is really rather surprisingly well received. Most of this advice is just: Don’t be a jerk. And speak up and be brave in the event you notice someone clearly bring a jerk. Okay, I use much stronger language than the word jerk, but the sentiment is accurate.
The girls and their colourful rainbow miriad of friends and acquaintances identify as anything from witches to Buddhist and transgender to sysgen are a wonderful eclectic bunch.
Daniel and his friend are facing their puberty with less Tik Tok and “spilling tea” and more sharing ironic and often dark memes that embrace painful social commentary, and meandering through the world finding meaning in Reddit rabbit holes and edgy YouTuber takes on a society that is crumbling and cracking because of the sins of their predecessors. The terms “Okay Boomer” or “Yes Karen” are ultimate insults when I am deemed to be making poor choices as a consumer, caregiver, role model, or human being. Acknowledging skewed priorities and selfish entitlements and behaviours is an amazingly powerful and unforeseen circumstance of being a parent to people who are on the precipice of independence and adulthood.
Perhaps the most noteworthy thing about our adventure is that we basically did nothing at all.
The weather was bad, attractions were crowded, and we really didn’t leave with any sort of itinerary. So we opted for very early nights and lots of eating. I went to an antique store (more on that in the next blog) and we went to a place called bargain world and bought recently expired soda and candy that we decided it was too risky to consume. Massive fail as environmentalists and/or conscious consumers, but the comedic value of our adventure is impossible to do justice to on this medium.
The highlights were watching the Lorax and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang on DVD (yes, DVD… the zillenials had a great laugh) and almost going to Bible World and driving through the 3D adventure land parking lot and not bothering to wait for a park. We all agreed that crowds are just not where we were at.
So, in lieu of treetop adventures and tourist activities we had lots of time to talk about the state of the world and their state of mind. They have a lot going on in their heads. They worry about the world and want to feel impactful or at least honourable as human beings in the face of information the receive and take in. They actively bemoan hypocrisy and entitlement, knowing that we are all guilty of these things daily in our safe little world.
I’m reminded of my partner’s paramount gem of wisdom this week, which keeps creeping into conversation daily and that is this:
“Accountability feels like an attack when you’re not ready to acknowledge how your behavior harms others. To admit that you were wrong is to declare that you are wiser now and that another really dope version of you is emerging. Keep evolving and go as far as you can go.”
The best I could do in finding the source of this incredibly loaded and important thought is an account called 47 Chakras that tweeted it in December 2018.
The kids have, likely without meaning to, highlighted the struggle we all have juggling shame, guilt, accountability, responsibility, kindness and impact.
I have said it thousands of times, and will say it again. We must do the best we can with what we know and when we know better do better.
The theme of young adults being curious, optimistic, educated and assertive is not new. The youth have been front and centre of narratives in wars, revolutions, and times of change since stories of old were first passed down at fireside tribal gatherings. Mythology and history are littered with the factual and fictional fights won and lost by the young. From King David vanquishing Goliath, to Joan of Arc becoming a teenage martyr and leading a revolution, the energy and involvement of young people and the impact they have as individuals and groups really ought not surprise anyone.
Today’s teenagers are a powerful and vital force, despite being marginalised and sidelined as has been custom for centuries.
My kids and their friends make me proud and give me hope. They’re never afraid to hold up a mirror and let me know if I am falling short of the morality and authenticity I profess to practice.
These kids have adopted a strange optimistic nihilism that sits in some strange and complimentary symmetry with a can-do attitude of activism when faced with things they feel they can impact. They are both incredibly conscious consumers, Daniel is actually a practicing anti-consumer, and his friend won’t allow me to buy anything from a chain or channel that he has researched and deemed to be socially or environmentally unsustainable. They actively engage with their peers and teachers in conversations and debates about energy, electrification, boycotting products and services, and real talking about terrifying geopolitical realities.
They both report almost daily to me on the atrocities faced by Uighur Muslim population in China. There are reports of draconian measures from forced labour to eugenic sterilisations in what, if the limited reports are true, is a humanitarian crisis not seen since WW2. We can’t just pop over to Xijiang province to check it out and invite detainees over here to NZ for safe haven. What we can do, however, is make an active choice not to purchase goods or services from a long list of alleged tech and manufacturing giants who are reported to be capitalizing on these unthinkable atrocities. And don’t get them started on Yemen, Syria or the DAR. That all sneaks in on their radar too. And it hurts us all a bit to know how safe and lucky we are to be in New Zealand and in very comfortable and secure financial and general positions.
We are discussing our own short YouTube series entitled “Now You Know” where we research current events and situations through veracious and respected sources, and recommend ethical options for goods, services and activities. Sitting idly by in absolute comfort while people and the planet struggle here and globally is not the modus operandi of the teenagers I am blessed to know. And there are so many more just like them.
They’ve heard me ranting and raging about injustice and inequality and they’ve watched me rush into battles of all sorts over the years. My children’s first protests marches were attended in front packs, and I’ve broken my brain arrogantly trying to be the change I want to see in the world.
I got a lot of things wrong, vehemently defending and trusting the wrong information advice and individuals. This is not unique to me. Some philosophers would argue it is a gift to suffer. As long as we learn. And after being kicked squarely in the guts by countless people who I tried actively to help, I’m fairly confident I’ve learned a thing or two. The kids have had front row seats to it a few times, and take absolute pleasure in removing the sting of it all by laughing about the absurdity and entitlement they’ve watched unfold. It’s actually great for them to know that not everyone is honest, and the best of intentions can sometimes end in disaster. But those disasters and the resulting wounds mend and make for excellently entertaining stories when enough time has passed. The youth I know don’t seem to have the hubris, insecurity, blind ambition or passive aggressive insecurity of so many broken and jaded adults (many in positions of power). The kids I am watching grow into kind, funny, resilient adults just want to be heard, respected, and surprisingly, held accountable.
Don’t get me wrong, they’re often lazy, slovenly and spoiled too. Perfectly imperfect messes who teach me something every day.
So, as you charge through your grown-up gauntlet, I implore you to take an opportunity if it exists to really talk to a teenager. If none belong to you personally, borrow one from a friend or relative and bring them bowling or on a hike so you can ask them what their thoughts on life the universe and everything are. If you listen, I can guarantee you’ll learn something, and almost certainly laugh a bit too.