No Incentive for Today's Teens
Darlene Zagata

In our society we tend to point the proverbial finger at the negative attitude of today's youth. While it may be true that cold, hard attitudes define many of our teens and young adults, they stem from many sources other than just a natural badness. If we take the time to look beneath the surface, we may discover the underlying cause. The reflection that is mirrored back to us may reveal insight into our society and ourselves. When we take a long hard look at the whole picture rather than just one negative at a time, we have to ask "Where is the incentive for today's youth?"

We are constantly bombarded with the negative behavior , attitudes and habits of our teens but often the underlying causes are swept beneath the societal rug that is laid down to cover the dust of truth. We hear more and more statements regarding our teens such as:

"They don't care about anything but drugs these days."

"They're always in trouble."

"They don't want an education. They'll end up dropping out."

"She'll end up pregnant. You'll see."

"He doesn't want to work. Kids today are too lazy."

"Look at the way he dresses. You can tell he's a little criminal."

Such statements are completely unfair and stem from a very narrow-minded perception. People should never be labeled or stereotyped like that for any reason. Unfortunately, this is a common occurrence in our society.

All too often, the majority of us are guilty of some form of judgmental discrimination. We don't always give today's youth the credit they deserve. Although there is a large amount of abusive and destructive behavior spreading rampant through the ranks of our teens, it is neither all-pervading or irreversible. Not all young people can be categorized because of the music they listen to, the slang their speech relates or their manner of dress. There are teens who are intent on getting a good education, working for a living and making a career for themselves. And in many cases, the only incentive these kids have is the fire that burns within them. There is no incentive from the outer world of society but the societal pressures that overwhelm rather than support.

For example, my own sixteen year old son is a teenager who listens to rap music, speaks with today's slang, wears baggy jeans and gets his somewhat long hair braided. His appearance and demeanor are enough to deter some individuals. Yet, this same sixteen year old goes to school faithfully everyday and gets good grades. Not only does he go to school but he also goes to work at the fast food restaurant where he is employed. His usual daily routine finds him arriving home from school by three in the afternoon and has him leaving for work by three thirty. He doesn't have a car. This somewhat inappropriate looking teen walks to and from both work and school. He will have a vehicle of his own someday, but only after working and saving. He knows the value of a dollar and he knows what it is like to work for a living.

When my son spoke to his guidance counselor at school to see if he could be put on a work study program, he was told no, since he is only in his junior year of high school rather than his senior year. Whether this rule changes year to year or according to school district, I am unsure, though I have known other teens as recent as last year who were on work study programs in the eleventh grade. Such a negative response would prompt some students to either quit work or quit school. Shouldn't we, as a society be more prepared to support our teens who are striving to be and do the best they can?

This is not to say that the educational systems of our country are totally insensitive to our students. No system is perfect. But there is usually an element of negativity found even in the best of circumstances. We must continue to strive to put forth the most positive, supportive environment possible for our youth in which we can maintain and develop the attributes that are in need of cultivation.

Another example of undermining that which we seek to uplift came in the form of a response from a teacher to a school project my daughter had done a few weeks after her father's death. Grief still fresh in her young heart, my daughter had chose to use a picture of her father and herself in the project. On evaluating the project, the teacher found it necessary to tell a young girl that her project was juvenile and not worthy of her attention. Once again I ask, "Where is the incentive?" I was surprised to find that one girl was sent home last week because of a slogan on her shirt yet other girls with the same shirt went by virtually invisible to their educators. What was the reason for singling out one girl? The question remains unanswered. The parents of the girl in question did not demand a satisfactory explanation. Perhaps, they should have.

If our youth are not given any incentive to strive, they will slack. If they are given no credit or positive feedback, they will learn negativity. If they are judged by the music they listen to, the way they talk or the clothes they wear, they will learn to be judgmental. We have read and heard the words, "Judge ye not, for ye shall be judged," but have we learned to live those words. If our teens are treated unfairly, they will learn to treat others unfairly. Perhaps, parents and educators alike should assume more responsibility for the manner in which the world's future leaders are molded.

2004 - Darlene Zagata - All Rights Reserved