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What Is It Like to Be a Teenager Today?

Posted: 05/14/2012 5:29 pm

This question originally appeared on Quora.

2012-05-14-JWangProfile.jpg
By James Wang, Quora user

I am 18. Let me tell you what life is like.

It's awesome and I love it.

High school was completely different from what I imagined it would be. Watching MTV and hearing stories from my teachers made me believe that secondary school was a place of survival and everyone was hiding in their own little niches.

Social Changes
My school is pretty average, it's not located in the most affluent part of town nor was it located in the ghetto. We had average teachers. We were average kids. Yes, there were the druggies. Yes there were a couple troublemakers. However bullying is near non-existent in my school. Racism is gone. Social groups exist, but a social hierarchy system (from the Jocks to the geeks) was obsolete. The cheerleading team is pretty abysmal, and the football jocks worry about university like the rest of us. The fear of getting beat up is eclipsed by the fear of achieving a high GPA. The prom is just another obligatory thing we had to do. No one goes to dances anymore.

According to my teachers, around 10 years ago my school had a 'smoke pit' built for the overwhelming majority of kids who had to light a cigarette between classes. Now there's maybe 6-12 students out of the 2200 who smoke, and they have to do it out of the campus.

As for me, I'm not super popular and I suck at every single sport. Though I have friends from all the social niches and we get along nicely. I will note that I take the International Baccalaureate program, which is very gruelling academically. I am happy that teenagers in the 70s didn't have to suffer through the torture. There's piles of homework. Piles and piles and piles. IB physics is about as hard as second-year university courses, and the tests will challenge your psychological endurance.

Somewhere in our timetables, exercise and creativity is squeezed in. It's mandatory. There are regulations on what counts as exercise. Regulations on volunteering. Regulations on creativity. Self-exploratory activities so essential to passion are hard to find.

The problem is that we don't learn anything. I can't cook and I'm 18. Lock me in a kitchen and I will not survive without my Jamie Oliver app. I can't fix the sink. I can't fix ripped clothing. We have a planning course, but it's hardly useful. School prepares us for society, it doesn't prepare us for reality.

Technological Changes
Hanging out in real life? Pffttt! We have FaceTime and Twitter for that! Though in all seriousness, I do wish more of us got together more often. Biking after school and spending a Friday night at the cinema doesn't exist anymore. We have homework. We have Facebook. We simply don't have the time to do those things.

I was born in the 90s, so I know what life pre-iPhone was like. We played tag, Pokemon, we played Yu-Gi-Oh, we played Battleon. I do really enjoy time of my life where I could just sit on the grass and not have email ping-ing me every 5 minutes. It was nice. It was simple. Do I miss it? Yes. Would I go back to that time? No.

Say all you want about Facebook melting real-life relationships, but I believe it had a net positive effect. We never have to worry about losing friends after high school anymore. It has become impossible to stay disconnected (a few try, but they come crawing back), and consequently it has become impossible to stay private. I think the idea of privacy will become obsolete in the future (and that just shows you some changing perspectives).

With technology comes power
Teenagers of today have more opportunities. We have more power to make change. With the advent of the internet, getting your voice heard and your ideas realized has become accessible to everyone. Sites like Kickstarter, Etsy, are incredible ways to get recognized. Back in the day where you had to rely on other humans to spread your idea. Now you can do it with a tweet.

A guy called Ray Kurzweil said a kid in Africa with a smartphone has access to more knowledge than the president of the United States 20 years ago. His words resonated with me because that's absolutely true. Google is the most important teacher in my life. You can learn about anything. Free. And you get amazing results. You get 16-year old programmers. You get musicians without ever taking a lesson. You get innovators. This kind of power didn't exist a decade ago.

Even kids around me are doing cool things. A friend raised $5000 for Haiti because she and her buddies organized a concert with performances by grammy nominated bands. Another raised money to buy a wind turbine for my school. Yes, a freaking wind turbine! 

The crucial thing is that, teenagers of today are aware and have accepted that they can make a difference. That's pretty huge.

Concluding remarks
Life has become really boring, even with iPads and $1 billion dollar Facebook acquisitions. Sometimes when it rains (I live in Vancouver), I kinda want to throw my umbrella away and just play in the rain. Though I'd get my cellphone wet.

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