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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Off the Grid: The teenagers will save us all

By Ammi Midstokke For The Spokesman-Review

I am the proud owner of a 2007 adolescent.

Some time ago, its father said, “Well, B will have a hard time finding some way to rebel against us. We’re pretty open-minded.” Apparently the recent gender-bending trend of the nation hadn’t arrived in his Berlin neighborhood yet.

He likes to tempt fate. Also, he lives eight thousand miles away so on a Tuesday night when the adolescent is sobbing and wondering how they’ll ever get a job that pays enough to afford all the cosmetic surgery necessary to their identity, I have to soothe the crisis with Mom Wisdom.

“I guess that’s one reason to focus on getting good grades,” I say. Super helpful, I know.

The trick to raising teenagers is constantly connecting the dots between The Problem (everyone else in the world, duh) and The Solution (them). The other trick is to learn how to interpret eye rolls, sighs, huffs and sudden bursts of emotionally-mature, socially-engaged interaction that shine like a ray of hopeful light, however brief.

I also considered just staying drunk until the kid goes to college, but apparently that and diazepam as a nutritional supplement have been passé since the Seventies. Now we have to practice mindfulness and learn to validate emotions. Frankly, the barbiturates seem the easier route.

The other day, I overheard some conversation between a gaggle of girls, boys and everything else on the spectrum. We’re a safe house for more than rogue chipmunks and stink bugs. Regardless of your hair color or pronouns, I’ll probably try to feed you some vegetables because I’m a mom at heart.

In that conversation I heard terms like “toxic friend” and “trauma dump” and “not respecting my boundaries” and “social contagion” and “dopamine slot machine.” And then I heard incredibly educational dialogue about their experiences navigating this wacky and wild world. These kids, call them what we will, are using language and mastering concepts that took me decades of therapy to understand.

If we had taken a bet on 15-year-old me, we’d have guessed on me doing shady drug deals or running a Shakespeare-themed bordello outside of Reno by now. Meanwhile, society was panicking like the grunge movement was the downfall of civilization. Society is always panicking about the youth as if they were never the youth. Or as if they completed this essential phase of development with more class or they were somehow more … tempered or productive.

They were not. We were not.

Different, for sure. We had different issues. These kids are thrust into a world where the planet is on fire and gender seems like a rather antiquated sociocultural construct in which one end is more subjected to violence and the other has to run Spartan races to tap into their testosterone in socially acceptable ways.

These kids are going to have to find The Solution (them) to The Problems (us, duh) we’ve created.

I believe, if they don’t burn out all their brain cells with cheap hair dye and vapes (not to mention survive the fentanyl crisis), they are far more capable than my lot was. These kids have voices. And they are smart. They know how to listen to each other and pull in resources when they are struggling. Also, they can literally google the answer to anything at any time. It’s like having a live-in encyclopedia and life manual with sass.

These kids have access to an incredible amount of information, for better or worse, and while they may lack the experience to know how to use it wisely, they are surprisingly articulate at communicating concepts and sharing bright ideas. If only we would listen.

The teenager is the undersung blessing (and occasional bane) of society. They make us want to drink because they approach problems with a childlike creativity and naiveté filtered through an egocentric lens that has laser focus. There are benefits to a not-fully-developed prefrontal cortex. The incessant noise of adult impossibility and rational and responsibility is the flame retardant of these young minds.

I am reminded of this time and again when I hear them discussing pertinent social issues, dragons or Doja Cat. I am almost relieved when I hear them just being kids because there is so little space left in our rapidly changing world for childhood as we knew it. Which every generation before us probably also said.

The thing is, I trust them. I want to hear what they have to say because they see the world so differently. I want to hear what it is like to be the future. They are wiser than we give them credit for. Just ask one. They’ll tell you so.

Ammi Midstokke can be contacted at ammimarie@gmail.com.

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