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A Cure for Teen Cynicism: Involvement

We all seem to think we know what’s wrong with the country. And our boss. And our neighbors, not to mention the white-haired gent being rude at the store.

We’re a nation of grumbling cynics, and the younger generation appears to be getting worse. My 16-year-old son has certainly been infected. With very limited success, I tried to instill a sense of optimism in him, faith in the future and all that.

Then a funny thing happened. On a recent morning, my son’s exceedingly grim impression that nobody really cared about others anymore was summarily blown wide apart.

On a recent Saturday, when they could have slept in, when they no doubt had lists of other things to do, a huge crowd of people descended on Griffith Park to raise money and public awareness for the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation’s ongoing research, participating in a walk to find a cure. It was an impressive turnout. From moms with babies in strollers to the elderly in wheelchairs, a rainbow of races came together in a show of support. Custom-made team T-shirts sported logos from corporate and small business sponsors, as well as shirts designed by groups of families and friends who had simply joined together to do their part.

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And as my son and I approached the starting point, as the band played and the crowd took off, I noticed a smile break over my cynicism-drenched teenager, which is when it dawned on me. Teaching him to care, to not lose all faith in the goodness of people, is a whole lot like what is supposed to be the maxim of a good screenplay: Show, don’t tell. I need to get my son out more to see people practicing what they believe, working for what touches their hearts.

When kids are small, it’s easy to pack them up and drag them off for a visit with old folks and shut-ins, to demonstrate that good people get out of the house and do things for others because it’s the right thing to do. It gets harder when they get older. Parents are worn down. It’s easier to throw up our hands in resignation.

In the end, my son accompanied me because his sister had just learned that she has diabetes. While manageable through a regime of intense personal discipline, the reality is that diabetes is a terrible, potentially maiming, sometimes fatal, lifelong disease. Not the sort of news a college coed on the cusp of adult life was happy to hear. So it was because of her that my teenager dragged himself out of bed and accompanied his mom in the crowd.

Every kid has a soft spot, however battle-weary they’ve become, something they care about beneath the layers calloused by modern living. It doesn’t have to be a family member’s illness to get through to them, to make them want to help. Kids can be nudged toward many areas of service. The list of groups desperate for help is a long one, but kids need someone to show them how to start. Then again, teenagers aren’t the only cynics around.

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M. Janine Wise lives in Camarillo.


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