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Foreword This issue begins in the CivU War and travels to the present, making several stops along the way. Its focus is on young adults, people at or near the dividing Une between childhood and adulthood—their struggles, their tragedies, and their heroism. Why do their elders ghettoize young adults? Why do we so often think that the latest generation is categoricaUy different, both more dangerous and in a more dangerous condition, than previous generations? Why does the chronic suspicion of some form of cultural dystopia, led by our valueless, nihUistic youth, flicker at the edge of our consciousness? Why do the parents of eleven-year-olds so often hear the sardonic comment, attended by the knowing smUe, "Just wait. The best years are ahead of you?" I beUeve that we have a distrustful, often negative feeUng toward teenagers as a class for a tangle of reasons: the Ungering fear of chaos that has always accompanied our unusuaUy free and mapless society; trepidation over the fact that adolescents and teenagers, during this century, have gained such a high degree of physical and mental mobUity—cars, telephones, now computers; our own dread of growing old and being set aside in a culture that shuns old people; the mindless idolatry of youthfulness as imperative to happiness; also, the advertising, to which we subject ourselves in hefty doses, which turns young people and their icons into giants, demons, monsters, fools, pornographic chimeras of sexiness—anything to appeal to the hormones, the raw pugnacity and desire for power, of the young and the arrested. Should it be surprising, after watching a couple of hours of ads for beer, nachos, and soft drinks, that one wanders away with the vague sense that teenagers are out of hand? Cover articles in major magazines teU us that the current crop of young people is a "Generation X," that they are cynical, ahenated, self-destructive, and resentful beyond aU previous generations. A recent issue of Utne Reader pictured a suUen ensemble of teens on the cover, describing them as "DISSED, MYTHED, AND TOTALLY PISSED." Every generation has its crosses to bear—whether poUtical uncertainty , economic dislocation, war, plagues (yeUow fever, influenza, AIDS), or cultural ennui—and I somehow doubt that young people as a dass—changing manners aside—are much more dissed, mythed (whatever that is), or pissed than when Life Magazine was running "shocking" photo spreads of reefer-smoking Beatniks and I was crawling under my school desk in preparation for the end of the world. Or, for that matter, when Scott Fitzgerald wrote stories for Saturday Evening Post about morose young adults feeUng cheated by history and yearning for an order that they assumed their lucky parents enjoyed. In his 1934 story "No Flowers," a young woman protagonist says to her mother, "You were young in a golden age, Mom, and I am young in a tin age." The popular profile of teens and young adults in the thirties was similar to the profile one sees so often today. Truly, for the entire decade, most of them did face low-paying jobs if they were lucky. Therefore, the story went, their generational temperament was muted, dispirited, resentful of their parents and of the twenties. But I am skeptical of generation profiles. With aU of their generalizations , they seldom seem to describe an individual person. I have not met many young adults who see much relevancy in the Generation X profile, either for themselves or their friends. Nor have I observed the grungy, cynical, hopeless, embittered attitude under which this weU-advertised and much advertised-to generation is supposed to suffer. The fact is that young people and their parents have long yearned for and simultaneously resented what they imagine to be each other's condition. And they have long had their differences, thank heavens. But the basic needs of young people remain the same. They want to be genuinely valued; most of them want to cooperate in some way with the rest of society and find a place for themselves in the adult world. I think, too, that they want their condition (youthfulness) to be exploited less and themselves to be respected more as individuals. The...


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