I’m the parent of teens. I’m always surprised when that information elicits groans of sympathy. It’s a tempestuous patch, for sure, when peer culture collides with parental expectations. Throw in rampant hormones and a dawning realization that you’re going to join a larger world that appears to be on the brink of ruin—it’s a lot to negotiate.
And yet, given my experience of today’s teens, I actually have great hope for what’s ahead.
I’ve checked out the Live at Massey Hall jam session, and that gang of teens is creating a scene that’s hospitable without being stuffy. They welcome adults (both parents and players) and kids from other schools around the city. They encourage one another to take risks, they celebrate small victories, they experiment with genuine collaboration. They make music, and they have fun. That looks like courage to me.
I see the same kind of openness and hunger to connect with others (and with the creative spark inside) in the younger kids who are learning music in the CanU Jazz Academy. I see it in the university students who are their mentors, too. I see it in the high school kids who attend jazz camp, and in the friends my kids bring home to sit around our table.
I’m thinking about the challenges of adolescence these days because Winnipeg is about to host three writers who have won the Governor General’s Literary Award, our country’s highest honour. Martha Brooks, one of our local treasures, won for her book, True Confessions of a Heartless Girl, about a young woman on the run from a violent home. Susin Neilsen’s book, The Reluctant Journal of Henry K Larsen, takes us inside the heart and mind of a kid whose family has been ravaged by his brother’s response to violent bullying. In When Everything Feels Like the Movies, Raziel Reid brings to life a flamboyant gay teen whose response to hostile homophobia is to pretend everything is staged.
Reid is still in his early twenties, and his book is generating serious backlash for its blunt sexuality and harsh depiction of youth culture. Many people are outraged that kids can get their hands on a book that’s so “void of values.” (Reid has responded that these people might have come from the Winnipeg neighbourhood he grew up in.) Reid’s book may be less overtly hopeful than the other two, but that tormented boy is not only fictional. Our real world will be healthier and more hopeful when there’s room and care for him.
All three of these books take us inside teens struggling with tremendous pain and heartbreak. They are textured, thoughtful, and challenging. They help us know something deep about the human capacity for love and hope, and about the responsibility of the broader community. It takes a village, and all of us are a part of that village.
Our kids are right to be skeptical of us, considering the mess we’re in. They’re right to resist—as we resisted the adults in authority when we were their age. Their job is to be themselves, and that invariably reveals our blind spots and unconsidered opinions. Our job, I think, is to support their questioning, make room for their creativity, and celebrate their efforts to create a more respectful and hospitable world.