In my impetuous youth, I took up skydiving, briefly.  Yes, there was a boyfriend involved, but ultimately I felt it might help cure my fear of heights.  Instead, it exacerbated them.  The real life lesson that remained though, was knowing that I was responsible for my actions.  No one else was going to pull that ripcord for me.

     My teenagers inhabit a world where self-mastery is an option not necessarily a goal.  Their role models are in and out of rehab.  They communicate more by text and screen than they do eye to eye.  They don’t labor over a handwritten, “Thank You”, but dash an email instead.  Their impulses and curiosities can be met so instantly that they have never needed to develop real patience or deep observation.  Why bother?  Someone else, somewhere, has already done it for them.  Just click for the answer.

     Here are some things teenagers have said to me in just the last year.  “Why make myself exercise when I can hire a personal trainer?  Besides, if I ever get fat, I’ll just get liposuction.”  “My lips are too thin so my mom’s taking me for collagen injections.”  “College is a complete waste of time.  My dad says I can just work in his company.” 

     Not only do they relish this world of ‘instant fixes,’ there are also multiple ways for them to ‘fix’ problems if things don’t go their way.  They can sue their parents, their teachers, the cops or even the local McDonald’s.  They may think the world is at their command, but it’s a mere illusion, as elusive and meaningless as the number of ‘friends’ on their Facebook page.

     What will really save them?  The old people.  You know, the bent over, wrinkled ones that we’re all so busy avoiding or scrambling over; the ones who pay their own bills, fought in the wars, wouldn’t dream of suing someone for a mere cockroach in their soup.  Those white-haired, slow-moving, storehouses of knowledge, experience and wisdom.  That’s who. 

    If I was a teenager today and didn’t have a grandparent handy, I’d start up a conversation with the next old person I see.  They’ll be the best lifesaver you’ve ever grabbed on to.  Take it from me.  (Helen Hudson is the author of, “Kissing Tomatoes,” a memoir of the years before and after her grandmother’s descent into Alzheimer’s.)


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