From Nov. 19, 2003
You can’t open the paper in rural Minnesota without reading an article or letter to the editor lamenting the plight of those poor teenagers who have nothing to do. Every time a kid opens his or her mouth to say “I’m bored,” 15 parents start running around frantically to find something to entertain the poor, deprived small-town kids.
Apparently the snowmobile, ATV, hunting season, fishing season, Nintendo, stereo, Internet, VCR, satellite dish, athletic program, Scouting program, 4H, library and youth group aren’t enough.
Our adolescents must be expert sociologists, judging by the way we buy into their explanations of society’s ills. “Kids have sex and take drugs because they’re bored,” they tell us. Armed with such ammunition, we run to the non-profits and the Legislature for grant money to build a skate park, a waterslide, a community center, or a Drug-Free Virgin Arts Program.
Well, here’s some straight talk for you parents out there: Kids don’t have sex because they’re bored. They have sex because it feels good. They don’t take drugs because they’re bored either. They take drugs because drugs make them high. They know the potential consequences, having been indoctrinated by D.A.R.E. and abstinence education, but they don’t think those consequences will happen to them.
If kids don’t have any moral opposition or fear of consequences, they’re going to do it no matter how many distractions we throw in their way. We’ve tried to accentuate the fear, but that’s not working. The only alternative is morality, which has become the property of right-wing pundits and prudes who celebrate the greed and excess of contemporary America. How can anyone grow up with a sense of morality in a culture that tells us “we are what we buy?” How can we expect kids to “just say no” to sex or drugs when every advertisement and TV show tells kids to pursue their selfish desires, regardless of the effect on other people, the environment, or their own materialistic and empty souls?
Given the pervasiveness of consumerism, it’s not surprising that we address our kids’ problems, which are spiritual at heart, by buying them something, be it an X-Box, a skate park, or an ice arena.
Don’t get me wrong — I believe investments in the community are almost always worth it, but I know a lot of rural teenagers, and they have plenty to do. They don’t need a fun fix. They’ve overdosed on it. The problem is that they’re not intellectually or morally challenged. And my guess is that most of their parents are the same way: too busy with modern-day distractions — pro sports, videos, pulp fiction, shopping malls — to have any kind of interior life. As a result, most kids have little or no relationship with their parents or other adults. Why should they, when we’re all caught up in the culture of greed, selfishness and excess, when we’re all as materially spoiled and spiritually empty as our children, and just as prone to view consumption as our savior?
It’s a pipe dream to think that we will suddenly shun consumerism and find meaning in books and conversation and self-expression, numbed as we are by the media and other drugs. But I do hope that we’ll quit blaming our problems on boredom and quit thinking that spending money will somehow save us.
So next time your kid complains of having nothing to do, here’s a list of relatively cheap and easy suggestions:
Start a rock and roll band. Take up birdwatching. Run for mayor. Plan a trip to the Boundary Waters. Raise a hundred dollars for a hunger relief organization. Befriend a nerd. Climb the town’s watertower, haul up your television on a long rope, and drop it off, making sure not to kill anybody. Hack into the IRS computers and add a trillion dollars to the bills of corporate criminals. Paint a mural. Read a book. Take a hike. Love somebody.
Issue date: November, 19 2003. ©Mille Lacs Messenger Inc.