Happy Birthday: Hello teenager


When I became a teenager in the early 80s, we listened to Rick Springfield sing about Jessie’s Girl and Diana Ross and Lionel Richie sing of their Endless Love; played Pac-Man and Centipede in a downtown arcade, read George Orwell’s 1984, went in droves to see The Empire Strikes Back and spent our free time trying to figure out a 3-D combination puzzle called the Rubik’s Cube.

We worried that the Soviet Union — including Russia — would one day nuke us, cheered when the Iranian hostages came home and the U.S. launched the first space shuttle, and watched amusingly as a rich, young billionaire named Donald Trump made headlines in his bid to take over Manhattan.

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Welcome to the crazy years

Fast forward to today. My son officially becomes a teenager this week and the news sounds eerily similar. We still worry about the always powerful Russia. Instead of nuclear war, we worry about them tinkering with our elections. Instead of hostages in the Middle East, we worry about ISIS bombers terrorizing our cities. Whether you like him or hate him, now President Trump, is still making headlines.

Gamers have moved on from Pac-Man, but electronic video games remain just as popular with titles and graphics as varied as the hours in the day. Like the early 80s, movie goers again raced in droves to the theater last year for a Star Wars related movie, this time Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Popular music has taken any number of twists and turns in the decades since, but pop artists are still singing about the joy and pain of love.

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And once again, teenagers continue to play with trendy items like the Rubik’s Cube. Where I had one cube in the traditional white, red, blue, orange, green, and yellow, my son has four or five. They generally look the same, maybe a different color or size, but he can tell you instantly the positives and negatives of each cube.

“This one has more rows, that one over there is smaller and colored differently than the original, but here Dad try it,” he says. “Feel how easy you can twist it, all the easier to solve.”

I’m dumbfounded as he twists and turns the cube and puts it back together in solid colors in under a minute. He and his friends challenge each other to speed races. His record so far is under 30 seconds and the lil’ bugger likes to remind me of it too. In my day, I was fortunate if I could solve the darned thing at all. And when I did, we’re talking hours and sometimes even days, not minutes, or even seconds.

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Dawning of a new day

In any event, time has marched on and yet isn’t all that different either. I hear from a lot of parents about how they worry for their children today. I do too. The teen years bring a lengthy list of dangers that seem to be just around every corner. They range from drug and alcohol abuse, especially nowadays via the use of opioids; to sexual predators and child abduction; to eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia; to becoming the target of bullies.

While the challenges seem bigger and scarier than ever, for a parent with an already active imagination, I’m excited too for my son. He’s facing a brand new world and he’s got a coolness and self-assuredness that kids my age never seemed to have in my day.

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He knows that if he keeps his head down, remains focused on his goals, there’s nothing he can’t accomplish. In fact he’s convinced that with a little practice and reviewing a few algorithms, he’s going to break the 25 second record any day now.

I start to correct him, but it hits me that maybe that’s exactly the way to go. And with a little luck, he and I might survive the teen years in one piece.

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