Let me start with this axiom: Nobody wants teenagers around.
Oh, we tolerate them and even cheer for them at certain times and events.
But do we want them hanging around with pals in our houses, malls, restaurants, backyards or basements?
Not a chance.
Now we can add schools to the places where teens aren’t wanted.
And there’s a simple reason nobody wants them hanging out: They’re not kids and they’re not adults, but they can cause kid trouble, do adult damage, make foolish decisions and reproduce.
And spread viruses.
Forget all the good things they can do.
I thought about this because I was particularly moved by a recent letter to the editor in the Sun-Times written by a 16-year-old girl named Tova Kaplan. She’s a student at Whitney Young.
In the letter, Tova decried the way teens and their opinions and needs are casually dismissed by city and state leaders who make all the plans during a crisis, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
”Any discussions on schools are held as if those schools are devoid of students, as if the only opinions that matter are those of parents, teachers unions, the school board and the governor,” she wrote.
And the saddest line was this: ”Young people have also had to deal with terrible mental health outcomes, social isolation, lost jobs, even lost parents, and heartbreaking pessimism as we realize that the adults we rely on have failed us.”
We should not shrug off this complaint, we adults. Everything Tova says rings true.
I was able to call her at her home, where, of course, she is isolated. I found her to be a delightful, smart, thoughtful child/adult who said right off the bat: ”Our [teen] brains are literally developing. I know that. This isolation will have long-term impact on our development.”
Public schools in Chicago are basically shut down. New rules come and go as the pandemic ebbs and rages.
So if you want real teen angst, think about being a high school senior this year. Last fall, there was a disruptive teachers strike. Last spring, COVID closed schools. And now those students are told to get their education and social upbringing online.
Tova’s just a junior at Young, but she shares in the mess.
”From 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. every day, we stare at a screen,” she said. ”If you’re even a few minutes late, the teacher gives you a half-day-absent report.”
Though she never has been a jock, Tova recently has learned how important the realm of jockdom is to those in sports.
”I’m 5 feet tall and very tiny,” she said with a chuckle. ”But somebody said I might like powerlifting. So I started it last year, going at 6:30 in the morning to the basement at school. It was so much fun. I loved it! Lifting twice your body weight made me feel so accomplished!”
Of course, that sport is kaput. But the lessons learned are not.
”I can understand what sports mean to kids,” Tova said.
Let’s be clear: There are no easy answers here. But it’s a fact that high school football, which has been postponed in Illinois until next spring (with luck), is the biggest participatory sport in the state and the entire nation, for that matter.
Take it away and give nothing in return, and what do you have? Frustration, anger, anxiety, depression.
Moreover, without exercise, young people become physically unfit. Reports have predicted a dramatic surge in youth obesity in America with the cutback in sports and the resultant unwanted ”pandemic eating.”
The United States ranks 47th in children’s fitness in a study of 50 countries, according to the British Journal of Sports Medicine. And inactivity makes kids even more susceptible to the potential ravages of COVID.
All the states around Illinois are playing high school football. Maybe that’s stupid. Indeed, Wisconsin, with its laissez faire attitude toward social distancing, mask-wearing and the like, has become the bubbling cauldron for COVID growth.
President Donald Trump may have tweeted, ”Feeling really good! Don’t be afraid of Covid,” four days after contracting the disease. But what does he know?
Herd immunity is not the answer, as Trump suggests. Unless we don’t mind millions more getting sick and hundreds of thousands more dying.
It’s a conundrum, for sure. And it brings me back to Tova’s plea: Just let adolescents have some say in whatever is decided for them.
”There’s a saying I like from Shirley Chisholm,” she said. ” ‘If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.’ ”
Somebody set ’em up.