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Saturday, April 14, 2007

Unintended Consequences

“There was a sign in the elevator that said, ‘Do Not Urinate in Elevator’.”

…quoth two close acquaintances of Bruck. They shall remain nameless, don’t even ask, and no, neither of them was your faithful editor. The setting was a condominium complex in sunny Florida, and the time was long ago, during Bruck’s chronological adolescence, which, along with any applicable statute of limitations, has long since come and gone.

As far back as I can remember, indoctrination has played a substantial role in the communications between well-intended adults and younger audiences. It is delivered through the various cultural media, including school, TV, radio, movies, and print, and over the past several years, it really seems to be racheting up. Self-appointed social engineers avail themselves of every captive audience to do battle with the bogeymen du jour including racism, sexism, “homophobia,” smoking, drinking, bullying, all forms of harrassment, “unsafe sex,” intolerance of anything they would prefer that you tolerate, and tolerance of anything they’d prefer you didn’t.

And I’m here to report that it’s not working. It didn’t work back in the good ol’ days, and it isn’t working now. Young people are far more perceptive than we give them credit for. Aside from endowing them with endless fodder for locker room humor, the only benefit of these heavy-handed attempts at thought control is greater levels of sensitivity and precision in the calibration of their BS detectors. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not in favor of destructive attitudes and actions, I’m just saying… I’m just saying, if you have so much as a shred of understanding of the teenage mind, you’ll easily comprehend the futility of merit-based proscriptions against a moving range of objectionable behaviors.

Such as urinating in elevators.

I would never be so naïve as to claim that I have all the answers, or even most of them; I sure don’t, but one advantage I do have over most other adults of my generation is my own failure to attain significant emotional maturity beyond that of a 17-year-old. This is also why I’m really looking forward to my children reaching that age, which, for the oldest, is right around the corner. Meanwhile, like I say, I think I do have a leg up on understanding the mind of a teenager.

Not to worry, I’m not going to digress into a tedious discourse on teenage psychology, nor am I going to tell you how to raise your kids. The fact of the matter is, parents don’t have anywhere near as much influence as they think on how their spawn “turn out.” Some teens never did have any inclination to do anything wrong, then when they don’t, you have to endure smugly-dispensed “wisdom” from their sanctimonious parents on how they managed to raise such angels, while other teens can drive their parents, neighbors, and local law enforcement nuts, independent of parental input or lack thereof.

Let me just offer a few pointers from the perspective of my own suspended adolescence. What doesn’t work: nagging, preaching, arguing, and excessive prohibitions. What does work: respect, listening, articulating standards and expectations, listening, giving them opportunities to succeed, listening, and setting a genuine good example (kids’ ability to detect hypocrisy and double standards starts at a very early age).

One thing that definitely doesn’t work: social engineering.

Bruck’s acquaintances continued:

“If we hadn’t seen the sign that said, ‘Do Not Urinate in Elevator,’ it would never in a million years have occurred to us to urinate in the elevator.”

As I said, I did not personally violate the elevator, but in the spirit of full disclosure I can’t honestly say that at the time I would not have succumbed to the temptation. In fact my inner adolescent wants to go back to that condo complex in Florida right now…

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