Why I Wouldn't Want to Be a Teenager Today

I think it's safe to say that there are few among us who, given the chance, would return to their teenage years. However, I'd much rather relive my coming of age years when they actually took place--the 80s--then today. Unless you go back to ancient or medievel times or the Great Depression, I don't think there's been a period of history when things have looked more bleak to be a teen than today. At the risk of sounding like a cranky old lady, here are some of the reasons why:

Awful Job Outlook
I'm really fortunate to have been working since I was 15 years old, except for one 18 month period after I was laid off during the dotcom crash. My first job was in a supermarket; while I attended a local college I worked at a hotel, and then I was able to make the transition into the 9-5 office world. Today's teens not only face a job crisis once they graduate from college, but summer jobs are very hard to find. Fewer than 3 out of 10 American teens have a summer job this year, and the ones that do aren't getting as many hours as they would like. On the positive side, the Portland Tribute reported that the lack of work has turned some teens into entrepreneurs. However, not everyone can be the next Steve Jobs. I should also point out how crazy expensive college tuition has become compared to my college years during the early 90s, when scholarships, loans and my hotel job helped push me through. Today's college grads are left with astronomical loan debt and a very competitive job market. If I had to do it all over again today, I'd skip the four year bachelor's degree for training for an industry that has foreseeable demand for the coming years.   

Rampant Bullying
I was teased and bullied many times through elementary and junior high school, but I think what I went through was small potatoes compared to what some of today's kids must endure. I can remember a mean girl from one of my classes crank calling my best friend and I separately and saying terrible things about us; today, because of social media, that same message would be instantly broadcast to 100 or so classmates. It's a sad situation that has led some kids to kill themselves. I guess one good thing to come out of it has been the rise of anti-bullying organizations, which weren't around when I was going to school. 

Ad from '80s Actual
Tethered to Technology
On that note, today's teens have never known a world without the Internet, smartphones, iPads, iPods, etc. When I was in elementary school, the closest we got to seeing a piece of portable technology in the classroom was when someone brought in an electronic game such as Simon or Merlin. I won't deny that the Internet is a marvelous invention--I may not be employed right now if it weren't for it, and certainly wouldn't be enjoying the virtues of my blog. However, kids are becoming addicted to technology and constantly having a device in their hands. It's breaking down social, communication, and writing skills among the younger generations. According to a New York Times article from 2009, texting interferes with everything from sleep time to learning in the classroom. But nothing irks me more than to see people walking down the street, not paying attention to their surroundings or anyone around them while they text. Time to shut it off, already? 

The Lack of Good Role Models
Maybe I'm just really out of the loop with this one, but I'm hard pressed to think of anyone who's a good role model for kids, teens and young adults these days. Certainly not Miley Cyrus. Maybe Will.i.am with his charity work? Maybe there's an athlete I don't know about? Today's fixation on being famous for the sake of being famous has catapulted people into the spotlight who don't deserve it and infested the networks with crappy reality shows. The Kardashians and Snooki should not be role models.

Sexed Up Society
I personally don't know if there's more pressure among teens to have sex today then during the 80s, but what I know is this: today's pop culture seems to be saturated with tons more sexual imagery then ever before. Yes, we had George Michael singing that he wanted our sex, and Cyndi Lauper singing about masturbation (She Bop) but at least they kept their clothes on where today, dressing slutty on stage in the norm. There was an emphasis on safe sex during the 80s because of the AIDS crisis; I can remember Madonna and other celebs in public service announcements urging people to be safe and use condoms. I don't remember the last time I heard about the same message being aimed at today's teens, even though it's been reported that oral and anal sex are among the rise in teens, despite the fact that it's not 100% safe. Teens are also dealing with "sexting" and sending racy photos of themselves via their phones. 

Well, I hope I didn't come across as too crotchety with this post, but I'm grateful just the same to have been a teen of the 80s, when it seemed the most of us had to worry about was having enough Aqua Net to keep our hairstyle up all day. Such simpler times, indeed.


  1. Wow-I never thought about it, mainly because I''d rather redo my 20's instead of my teens- but great summary. I agree with you, the 80's were pretty easy. In my high school there was minor bullying, very minor, we all got along pretty well. Facebook, Twitter and the like have most definitely changed the lives of some teens- and not in a good way,

  2. You know, I agree. I grew up also in the '80s, and it seemed a much better time to grow up. One thing I miss is the rich musical/youth culture that used to exist in the '60s, '70s, and '80s too. Although today's music is not all bad, by any means, I think the musical culture during those previous years was so much richer. It was a time when music really defined being young, whether you listened to the Beatles, the Stones, Pink Floyd, U2, new wave, or heavy metal. I just dont think thats so present today. I feel blessed to have grown up at a time when getting a new album, putting up rock posters, and spending a lot of time playing air guitar in my room was such a great thing.

    And thanks also to the great teen films of the '80s, from the great John Hughes, and others.

    One thing I am not so sure about is the bullying. I am not sure if its truly the case that bullying has gotten worse, or if there has just finally come a response that draws attention to how bad it can be. Although I love the '80s, I must admit that I went through some bullying back then that was more than just minor. I think the existence of the movie "Heathers" suggests that others also had the same experience. But what made me pull through it was the sense of noncomformity being a good thing (another trait of that era, thanks in part to the after-effects of the '60s), and the sense that the future was going to be better.

  3. I would never ever go back to my teen years, no mater the decade they occurred in. Although the rush for fame is frightening and they all seem as if they need technology to breath I have teenaged nieces who are lovely, and are loving their life way more than I loved mine as a teen. Where as in the 80's being dark and depressed was kind of in, now its not, and they are surprisingly happy with their lives.

  4. I agree with you on everything except the "rampant bullying" since I believe that it has become an incredible broad term. In my day a bully was someone who beat you up or took your lunch money. Today it can be something as slight as "she looked at me the wrong way and my feelings were hurt". Today's society is hyper sensitive to everything so practically any action or comment can be considered "bullying".

  5. This was a good piece Pam, whenever I listen to stories from my 16 year old niece, I often wonder what it'd be like to be a teenager now. I think there are pluses & minuses for every generation, kids have a lot more conveniences now with texting & social networking (when I was a teen, I went to a rural school & couldn't even talk to half my friends on the phone as they were "long distance"!)

    But at the same time, I think kids today face a lot more pressures too--and God knows that going to college is no longer the key to success it used to be.

    I'm just surprised how...sophisticated kids today are, growing up much faster than kids my age did in the '70s. We didn't have the world's knowledge at our fingertips, we were blisfully ignorant of the world around us. :)

  6. PS. Love GoRetro's new backdrop :)

  7. I often wonder myself about what it would be like growing up now. Personally, I'm thankful to not have not had the internet or an iPhone. I love my cell phone and computer now, but it just seems like too much. My cousin's daughter has had an iPad since she was two.

    If I went back though, it would just be fix the lame mistakes I made with studying. I can bring my 80s music anywhere, so I'm good for whatever decade I can relieve my teenage fiascoes! :)

    I'm actually in college now and I have to say most of the kids I have met have been great, smart and driven. In that respect, I am hoping for good things to come!

    Also, I think I mentioned this somewhere else, but one of my younger friends told me that she was jealous I grew up in the 80s because you didn't have dress so revealingly to fit in. That struck me as a little sad.

    Great article!

  8. Solid writing Pam. You are talented and formed your arguments well.

  9. My Little Corner -- I think I would redo my 20s as well because I know better now and there are some things I know I would do differently!

    lazlo -- That is very true about the music culture disappearing...we don't really have rock and roll anymore, or if we do it's coming from bands that no one has heard of. I cannot listen to much of today's "pop" and I mostly listen to this alternative/"home grown" radio station that plays some really great new music that I never would have heard through the traditional stations.

    Oh yeah, gotta love John Hughes' films!

    Ruth -- Happy to hear that your nieces are happy.

    Luis -- By bullying, I meant the traditional definition of the word...repeated behavior meant to demean another person down. The kids who are in the American news for being a bully's target are not complaining about being looked at the wrong way; they've had to endure some serious harassment and mistreatment. And it isn't just kids; an older bus monitor lady made headlines here when teens on a bus repeatedly called her awful names and had the nerve to film and post the footage. Luckily she's retiring from her job now.

    ApacheDug -- yeah, kids seem to know too much about certain things that I was still ignorant about at that age. Thanks for noticing the new background...I'm experimenting with it and the layout, so it will probably change again soon!

    Amanda -- thank you and same here, and I agree about the 80s not being revealing (even though at the time I remember some of my friends' parents questioned the music.

    42N -- Thank you!

    Thanks for the interesting comments, everyone!


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