Of Spice Sniffing and Neck Biting
Two alarmist teen tales making the recent media rounds gave me quite a chuckle. A weary chuckle, you could even say. In one corner, we have the (now widely ridiculed) FOX Cleveland piece on the possible emerging “trend” of nutmeg huffing among America’s youth. And in the other, we have The Early Show by way of The Washington Post reporting speculating on the increasing popularity of Twilight-inspired biting as a means of showing affection among middle-schoolers. At least the WaPo had the decency to end their headline with a question mark.
The cultural touchpoints may have changed, but the idea of being on edge about the goings-on of our country’s young adults isn’t unique to the current crop of youth (Have we agreed on calling them Gen Z? Has snot-nosed brats been roundly rejected?), obviously. Long before we had Oprah and Dr. Phil episodes devoted to the perils of sexting, the shock of faux pregnancy pacts and the hidden messages in jelly bracelets, heck, even before Nancy Reagan’s exhortation to just say no, there was the cinematic gem that is Reefer Madness. Clutching our pearls and imploring others to please think of the children never goes out of style.
The media’s appetite for questionably-researched trend pieces aside (it is summer after all), I can’t help but wonder why we’re so inclined to believe the worst (or at least most scandalous) about “kids today” and their intentions. Is it a product of casting our collective memory back (and I’m still pretty young, so mine doesn’t go back that far) to our own youths, thinking of what we got up to (or would have gotten up to), adding in a dose of To Catch a Predator, a splash of scantily-clad Miley Cyrus and a rarely-admitted lingering paranoia about the reach of technology to come up with a worst case scenario? Is it a function of a parental protective instinct? Are we jealous of their relatively responsibility-free existence and want to convince ourselves that being young is no longer all that it’s cracked up to be?
Maybe it’s simply a fact of human nature that once we pass out of one experience or life stage, our memories of its immediacy, its joys and pains tend to fade, so that we are able to let it go in order to move on to whatever the next challenge or stage throws at us (cue Springsteen’s Glory Days for those who can’t let it drop). Certainly, it explains why folks willingly repeat the miracle of childbirth. And as our memories fade, we conveniently forget that while the social and historical context for today’s youth may not mirror our own, issues of sex, belonging, peer pressure, testing boundaries and forming identities are timeless and the evolving means by which youth confront them are as alluringly dangerous and head-shakingly dumb in hindsight as they’ve ever been.
Yeah, as dumb as sniffing pie spice even.