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News stories aside, most kids will grow up fine with good support and encouragement from home.
Illustration by McClatchy-Tribune
Sunday, August 25, 2013
Except for college, being a teenager was the best seven years of my life.
Playing baseball, going on first dates, seeing my first rock concerts and getting my driver's license were highlights from that bygone era of the last century. But when I really remember my teenage years, one pastime stands out - cruising.
Cruising was the name given to the incredibly (and inexplicably) popular activity of driving around in circles for hours. Most Saturday nights during my junior and senior years of high school, my buddies and I piled into whoever's family car was available and high-tailed it to Galax or Mount Airy, N.C., the two primary cruising destinations.
Let me describe the complex activity of cruising: In Galax, we drove down Main Street from Hardee's to the East Stuart Drive traffic light, then - stick with me here - we turned around and went the other way. Repeat.
Main Street was packed with cars, bumper to bumper, as my friends and I drove aroundin circles for hours, blasting cassette tapes of Van Halen's "1984" and Ozzy Osborne's "Diary
of a Madman" and scoping out the female occupants of other vehicles. Had aliens been watching us from outer space, the scene must have looked like some bizarre human mating ritual, minus the actual mating part (for some of us, anyway).
This middle-aged cruise down Nostalgia Street was brought to you by recent newspaper stories.
It's up to the adults
Teenagers have made the news quite a bit lately. Some shaggy-haired adolescents were causing consternation in my neighborhood by gathering in large numbers, riding skateboards on the sidewalk and using inappropriate language around little girls on their way to ballet class and organic food shoppers at the Roanoke Natural Foods Co-op.
The problem seems to have abated, now that more grown-ups have been hanging out on the teens' concrete turf. Forget the firehoses - nothing will disperse a crowd of teenagers quicker than a few old dudes showing up on the scene!
Some people have attempted to come up with ways to alleviate "teen loitering." A new or improved skate park is an oft-cited solution.
I think a skate park for teens (and even adults) is a fine idea. I don't think it will completely solve the problem, such that there is one. Many teens just want to be left alone, which is fine, for a while. Eventually, they need to find the motivation to do something other than just hang out or endlessly drive up and down the street. Most teens are already blessed with an abundance of self-motivation.
Those teens who are not naturally motivated can usually be persuaded to abandon the street bench. That's where the grown-ups come in.
As is often the case these days, the problems of children are usually related to the problems of adults. Kids who moan about having nothing to do often don't have good support or encouragement from home.
I won't be the dad of a teenager for about six more years, but I have lots of friends who have or had teenage children and I even know some real, bona fide teens. Most parents I talked to do not buy the notion that there isn't enough for kids to do in Roanoke. In fact, a persistent characteristic of modern child-rearing has been the problem of the overscheduled child.
Not enough to do? Tell that to the kid who has a weekly schedule of swim practice, Scout troop meetings, piano lessons, choir concerts, bake sales and other stuff, not to mention hours of homework and school projects.
They will grow up fine
One of my friends, whose cruising route back in the day was Williamson Road, told me that his son had more than enough sports, school and Scouting activities to keep his kid and buddies occupied.
Of course, not every kid can be on the swim team or likes to sing or has the family support to ensure he has a full, well-rounded life. Not every child has the same opportunities as his peers.
And, in some cases, families don't always take advantage of the available activities.
The Brambleton Teen Center in Roanoke County closed about three years ago, because fewer kids were stopping by to shoot pool or play video games. The county moved many of its youth activities to the Green Ridge Recreation Center, which attracts many families for recreation, parties, dances and Splash Valley water park.
Teen centers and skate parks are nice, but, as another co-worker told me, any adult can help motivate a child. "Quality time is the greatest gift an adult can offer a young person," this co-worker said.
Incredible as it may sound to anybody over 40, most of today's teenagers are going to grow up to be productive adults.
In fact, it seems that nearly every teenager I know today is some kind of super overachiever who is terrific at school, sports and music. And if your computer or smartphone is on the fritz, who would you rather ask for help? A U.S. congressman or a teenager?
Makes me feel like I should have spent less time driving up and down streets as a teenager. Maybe I would've made something of myself.
Ralph Berrier Jr.'s column runs every other Monday in Extra.
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