Last night I finished Hurt: Inside the World of Today’s Teenagers and I must say that the author did an outstanding job of not sucking. With a topic that could have very easily been approached sloppily, with disinterested motivations or misplaced and stereotypical conjectures, he did a phenomenal job. I can say this because every night reading it, I was shouting out loud, “He nailed it!” or “Finally, someone gets it!” And I never do that, mainly because The Wife™ does it ALL THE DAMNED TIME and it grates on my last nerve. Payback is hell, babe.
Anyway, one of the final exploratory chapters in the book is on partying. The author acknowledges that of all the areas he was not given complete access to in his research at this high school, was the party culture. As the last line, students still saw him as a parent in this realm, and confined their comments to the all-too-familiar world of defensive humor or flippancy. But the inferences that the author makes based on overheard conversations and the little data he had is spot-on.
My entire life, I’ve wondered why I’ve felt such a strong pull to spend an inordinate amount of time with my friends. In high school, once my work was done, I wanted nothing else (and even before work was complete, ala The Senior Slide). No amount of contact time seemed to quench my desire to hang out with my friends. It was the most important thing in my life. Even in college this held true, but living with close friends helped ease the desperate longing. Post-college has been terribly rough, as all of my friends are peppered around the country and we must keep out interactions to a few select times of year.
So what’s the deal? Everyone likes to hang out with their friends. Right. And according to Hurt, it is a totally natural part of midadolescent psychosocial behavior and development. They trust friends more than adults, and they feel at ease (and have fun) with people their own age. Normal.
But what was striking in this chapter was the notion that the lack of community in this country over the past 30-40 years has left adolescents searching for this sense of belonging. Neighborhoods no longer bond together, dance together or eat together. Your barber shop no longer knows or cares that your thinking of college. Your parents have fewer close friends that live nearby, that stop over for dinner and share their stories. The chasm between the adult world and child’s has widened so alarmingly that it has left an entire age bracket with no sense of belonging. So they search out for what they know and feel at home with: their friends.
Looking back at my own life, I can say that much of this is identifiable. When at a friend’s house, I always was the one in the kitchen talking to their parents. I always was saddened by my mother’s stories about her childhood, the streets in Philly that she grew up roaming, and her neighbors and parent’s friends. So much of my parent’s development included these people. Mine, did not.
Furthermore, according to Davies, partying is less about the alcohol and more about the connection. Alcohol merely helps create the stories that teens share (that are missing from the community). Think about it? What do most kids talk about each time they return from college? Drinking stories, bar stories, drunk escapades. Alcohol frees inhibitions for people to relate on a level that they wouldn’t normally. That close interaction creates stories and bonds. Those bonds strengthen loyalty because there is such an urgent need for this sense of family.
As the author points out, sitcoms like Cheers or Friends (or Saved By The Bell as The Wife™ points out) were so popular because they tapped into the psyche of the American people and their yearning for community, for belonging, for a close group of friends who know them. And while I don’t have a clue how to cross this bridge with future children of my own, I hope something in this country changes. And for the better.