My daughter was sitting at the kitchen table recently, overwhelmed with school work and keeping up with her many tweets and texts when she had a revelation: “Mom,” she said, “I think it’s much harder being a teen today than it was when you were my age.” I replied, “Yes, I couldn’t agree more.” Between the rigorous demands of schoolwork and extracurricular activities required to get into any respectable college and the relentless intrusion of social media that prohibits teens from ever unplugging, it’s rough being a teenager today. Young people feel the pressure to be perfect that they see manifested in Twitter feeds that show everyone else having a great time. Media image of coifed models greet them at the persistent click of a button. Online bullying has become commonplace. All of this is taking a huge toll on our teens. I repeatedly speak with other parents who share their stories of children in desperate need of mental health services. High school was once a time to be carefree. But so many teens spend these years engrossed in worry. It’s no wonder that many indulge in dangerous alcohol abuse as a response to the pressure. My daughter, an editor of her high school newspaper, plans to write an article about how teenage life today compares to that of a generation ago. I hope, in doing so, she’s able to shed some light on what we’re doing wrong, so we as a society can figure out ways to do it right before our youth are further compromised.
I wanted to stand up and shout a resounding “amen!” after reading Tim Kreider’s article in The New York Times that exposed the way publications try to get experienced writers to offer their services for free. This was also exposed by Nate Thayer, who blogged about being approached by The Atlantic to write an article without being compensated even one penny. In an e-mail, Thayer told me his post received thousands of responses. It clearly struck a chord. This is a huge pet peeve of mine as well. Like Kreider, I’ve been approached numerous times by publications – including many upstarts – to write a blog for free. Like him, it astounds me that journalism is one field where editors feel no qualms about exploiting labor. There’s no question that so many publications are taking full advantage of the fact that there’s a plethora of inexperienced writers out there, many of whom are eager to see their name in print. And the promise of “exposure” is a great lure. As Kreider does, I also use the offers as an opportunity to enlighten editors on how I earn a respectable living as a freelance journalist and can’t possibly afford to work for free. The one exception is blogging for The Huffington Post, which I do feel reaches a large audience. Still, I oppose in principle their model, which does not compensate bloggers, so I don’t contribute often to the site. I also go a step further. When an editor asks me to research an in-depth article and offers a meager amount of money, I don’t hesitate to turn them down. I let them what a fair rate is for such an article, written by an experienced writer, I know that my responses often fall on deaf ears, as there are plenty of other writers out there happy for the work. I was intrigued by a recent discussion of freelancing on the Diane Rehm Show, which discussed a freelancers union. It will take some formal measure like this to get freelancers to unite and challenge the slave labor trend.
I’ve been enjoying the plethora of recent articles — as abundant as the vegetable harvest — that look back nostalgically on the simple summers of a generation ago. This is yet another area where technology has encroached, killing creativity and imagination in its wake. I recall entire days spent immersed in reading Gone With the Wind or Little Women, only stopping to eat. When my friends and I got together, we did not sit side-by-side staring at our iPhones, a favorite pastime of my daughter and her pals. One close friend and I spent numerous days giving each other manicures, playing board games, biking to the neighborhood pool, or just hanging out, where I would routinely utter the words “What do you want to do?” and she would respond “I don’t know. What do you want to know?” This back-and-forth could go on for an hour, though at no point did we complain of our boredom to a parent, not matter how desperate we became.
Flash forward to the present summer, where there is a never-ending supply of screen activity. Even when my daughter is alone, her community is with her: on Twitter, Instagram and through relentless texting. The texts can be overwhelming, but when they abate, it results in a feeling of rejection. Reading a book is often looked upon as a quaint pastime of a bygone era.
It doesn’t help that middle class children are overscheduled, their days dictated by parents who find intellectually challenging activities for them, be it exotic vacations overseas or day camps to explore the fun of physics. I feel like a rebel at times, but I’m finally at peace with the unscheduled summer. My children either take the initiative or — heaven forbid — they’re bored. It’s frustrating, but, faced with an endless day before them, they eventually become adept at figuring out how to fill it. I also insist that they pay for their expenses and get a summer job. My daughters ran a preschool camp in our backyard starting at age 11. They quickly appreciated earning money that they could spend without having to constantly ask my permission for something they want to buy. Now all teenagers, they’re gainfully employed. I am constantly amazed how few parents of teens encourage their children to look for a job. They fear it will unduly burden them, that it’s wrong to require a middle class child to be employed and that they should be focused on activities that bolster their college applications. But already I’ve seen the benefits of this experience. It’s taught my children to be resourceful in finding the job. They they’ve had to interact with adults — no easy task for today’s teen. They’re now more responsible and assertive and have gained exposure to all different types of individuals they wouldn’t have otherwise encountered. But perhaps the biggest benefit to me, as someone who works from home, is that once their shift is over, they’re so exhausted that they rarely utter the words, “I’m bored.”
In these days of sound bite journalism, being given the chance to write 5,000 words delving into a topic for a mainstream publication is a privilege. When I’m asked to contribute an article for The Ann, a magazine based in Ann Arbor, no word length is discussed. The idea is that I should submit a piece that’s long enough to do justice to the topic and to include all the important aspects so the piece is fair. So I dove in to the meaty subject of whether the city of Ann Arbor needs a new world class hotel and conference center. The result is this article. To those who don’t live here, the subject may seem trite. But for the many who have been pushing for a luxurious place to host meetings, those recruiting for the university and others seeking to boost tourism, it’s a big deal. In researching this article, I was able to learn more about local government and the role that the University of Michigan and private industry play when it comes to a decision like this. I found that there is no easy answer to why the city does not have a four star hotel. But at the very least, I hope the piece shed light on the issue and will become the launching point for further discussion.
The Halpert/Edelson clan gathers to celebrate my daughter’s college graduation, May, 2013.
Gathering at our lakeside cottage to celebrate my daughter’s college graduation, May 26th, 2013