THis first professional trip I took was to Jersey, where I interviewed a teenage skateboarder. He was supposed to win some big competition, but I’m afraid I can’t tell you if he was or what his name was. I remember standing at the skatepark next to his mother in this strange low island light as he repeatedly crashed to the ground and got up again.
His elbow was bleeding soon – but his mother assured me it was an old wound, so it opened most days. He pushed it away – he didn’t seem to notice – along with every new brutal encounter with physics and gravity. “Well, he’s 14,” his mother said. “They’re bouncing at that age.”
He skidded my mind this week as news was on fire about the mask’s English mandate back to school. Educators were (and are) rightly upset because they received this message – that all 7th and older students should wear veils in the classroom – long after the media had been informed.
But disgust at the absolute distraction of government standards was nothing compared to the anger of libertarians against masks. It sounds like a specialized band, but includes many conservative backbenchers and their supporting commentary.
Teenagers, these anti-masks claim, have suffered enough. Face-masking impairs their learning, prevents them from communicating with peers, numbs them to the daily joys of life, and reduces them to slavery (of course, I saw the latest statement on Twitter, where the collective resolution of 2022 seems to be “be crazier”) .
The thing is, my house is lousy with teenagers, and I’ve stupidly agreed to stop writing about them. But I am still allowed to make the most general observations (I think). I saw them forget their masks, tried to eat over the mask, took the mask off the street and put it on and disguised each other. But I’ve never heard any of them complain about wearing it.
Please do not leave with the impression that this generation has stopped complaining. They constantly hurt because of stupid things, such as having to spend the whole day in the same class instead of moving from one subject to another. “What’s so much fun walking down the hall?” I thought out loud more than once. It is a path, not a destination, they say wisely. Corridors are where everything happens. Staying there and waiting for the teacher to come to you feels like elementary school. Will it tolerate public security? Yes, but they want management to know it’s not ideal.
They don’t complain, yet their behavior shows that it takes away their life force when they have to go to school from home. He absolutely hates it when forced businesses are forced to close. They weren’t wild from the bubble phase, when they had to isolate themselves after a positive test result for someone they didn’t even like. In 2020, there was a short period when they were only allowed on some buses; it was a real attack on their human rights. But they adapted to the masks perfectly smoothly, without complaints, faster than the child adapted to the sock.
There are many plausible explanations for why teenagers can moan about masks less than adults. They have better hearing, so they don’t rely on hearing without knowing it. They tend to have better cardiovascular health, so they keep asking why the stairs are harder.
In principle, however, they are only more adaptable. We are constantly talking about all the ways in which adolescents’ brains are like an adult’s, only less good – more volatile and impulse-driven, less able to predict consequences – and we are hardly talking about ways in which teenagers are better. Their whole day is structured according to the unreasonable demands of life and they just acclimatize. This unbridled tenacity and psychic elasticity – or bouncing, in the language of skateboarders and mothers in the 90’s – suddenly looks much more mature than what can be considered adulthood.