Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Losing touch with the lives of the young


From page A10 | March 09, 2014 |

The year was 2005 and I was at a meeting of people from UC Davis and the Davis community to discuss the problem of irresponsible teen drinking. I was itching to raise my hand and speak, but something had changed in my life that stopped me.

I no longer felt I had my finger on the pulse of the problem.

When I first wrote about teen drinking in 1999, both of my children were still in the Davis school system. An anonymous source told me about a big booze party for graduating seniors, sponsored by a Davis parent, and I wrote about that.

My column was titled, “Teen drinking in Davis: the problem is bigger than I thought” and I commented that many Davis parents had their “heads in the sand” about the fact that their own children drank.

Five years later, I wanted to raise my hand in the meeting and affirm the same idea.

But I stopped my arm halfway up, and I didn’t speak because it occurred to me that my observation might no longer be true. Time had passed. New plans had been implemented. Maybe they worked.

Now another nine years have gone by and I have no idea what the situation is regarding alcohol (or drugs) in Davis High School or at UC Davis.

The finger that I used to keep on the pulse of Davis parents is used for other things now, like tracking issues relating to the elderly. I don’t know what younger Davis parents are doing and thinking.

How did this happen so quickly? My youngest child graduated from Davis High only 10 years ago, but in terms of impact to my life, it’s as if every school building in Davis suddenly got hoisted on a lift and moved to Woodland.

I don’t know what’s going on anymore.

I still read The Davis Enterprise, so I know there are plays, musicals, band trips and occasional thorny incidents at the high school, the most recent one involving a volleyball coach. When my children were at Davis High, I knew that behind every small notice in the newspaper was a big story that never appeared.

I liked knowing some of those big stories. Even if I couldn’t publish details because I would break someone’s confidence, I could make generalizations (“Davis parents have their heads in the sand about drinking”) with a fair amount of certainty.

I also liked knowing what was going on in the lives of young people because I want to understand how each new generation sees the world. What stays the same? What changes?

Will the majority of young people always lean left on political issues? Will they always take more risks than their parents? Do they all want to experiment with “forbidden” things?

It seems that a larger proportion of today’s youth support Republicans. Why?

A couple of years ago, I began subscribing to the New Yorker Magazine where I can read what other writers — people whose children are still in the thick of it — have to say about youthful trends. But I liked it better when I could make those observations myself.

And — who am I kidding? — I’m heartbroken to be further away from my own children’s lives. I liked knowing what was going on, to feel part of their lives simply by breathing the same air, hearing the same band music, seeing the same teachers at open house, and listening to the same speeches by the principal, although we might disagree on the value of what was said.

Now, even high school is receding behind me, as if I were looking out of the back of a train.

At one time, I thought I’d never forget my own youthful experiences (not only what happened but what it felt like) but then I did. I started learning again when I had my own children.

My grandchildren may be the third train, but I won’t hear the daily whistle because they live far away. News comes to me via my daughter and her husband; their insights from their children are valuable but by the time they reach me, they’re second hand.

I value nothing more than my own first-hand experience. That seems narrow and arrogant and insufficiently respectful of people who write articles called “What We Mean When We Talk About High School” (The Atlantic) or “The Collateral Damage of a Teenager” (New Yorker Magazine) but it’s the best way I learn. When it comes to young people, I need my own sources.

I miss them so, my old sources, who used to live with me.

— Marion Franck lives in Davis with her family. Reach her at marionf2@gmail.com


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