It was an educational trip

Published 2:12 am Monday, March 24, 2003

By By Paul Keane
The morning after war broke out in Iraq, I had a chance to travel to Montgomery with members of both Leadership Atmore and Youth Leadership Atmore. It was the annual pilgrimmage to the state capital to see how our state officials operate and how business for the state is conducted.
It was an educational trip, to say the least, and not because of what I learned while viewing the State House and the State Senate operate. Instead, the education took place on the trip to and from Montgomery that day.
I had the pleasure of sitting with some students from ECHS during the trip. All three were females, and I could kind of relate to them because I have a daughter who is rapidly approaching her teen years. I won't name any names out of fear of embarrasing them, but all three were intelligent, bright and full of energy.
The conversation (if you could call it that, since I mainly kept my mouth shut and my ears open) quickly turned to all those things that teens talk about – cars, friends, members of the opposite sex, etc…. There was very little talk about the conflict occurring in Iraq, although my seatmate did confess to having an uncle serving in the region, and she expressed concern about his safety and well being.
As the conversation continued, I learned quickly that I am not in touch with today's teens. I may have thought I knew what was going on, but I quickly realized that I didn't have a clue, nor do I now after the lenghty trip.
For starters, the prices of toys and accessories has increased exponentially since my days in high school. The three students talked about having cars bought for them, and they seemed surprised when I chimed in that I bought two of my first three cars with money that I earned on my own.
Then there is the plethora of cell phones. Everywhere I looked on the bus, there was a teenager with a cell phone attached to his or her ear. I remember my parents giving me a quarter to call home with, and I usually stuck that inside my shoe so that I wouldn't spend it.
At one point, I made the observation that as you grow older, you find out that cell phones and beepers are nothing more than electronic leashes, and you tend not to want to have them in your possession. That statement didn't make a dent on the three females sitting in my area. Someday, they will learn the truth in that statement, though.
And the accessories that young people need today, especially for the females. There's hair spray, sparkly lip gloss, makeup and on and on. I asked around to do some price checking and found out that I don't want my daughter to accessorize nor wear makeup. I think I'd have to take a second job just to afford for her to look her best.
The group was also worried about Spring Break that began Saturday morning. Many of them were heading to the beach to spend a week in a condo, or there was an array of parties to attend. Some also spoke about graduation and what they planned on doing once they got out of high school.
I didn't have the heart to tell them that I worked every Spring Break up until my sophomore year in college, which marked the first time I went to the beach for a week in the second semester of the school year. Mom and dad kept me pretty busy during most of my Spring Breaks, either with a job outside the home or with a myriad of projects around the house.
It would have been easy to preach and slip into my "old fogey" mode, telling them about how hard times were in my day and how we walked eight miles in the snow uphill – both ways – just to get to school. That would have been easy, but I learned so much more by just listening.
I came to the conclusion that this group of teens pretty much resemble the group I grew up with. About the only difference is the price tag. We had our gadgets and toys back in my day (remember Atari and the hand-held electronic football games?), and our parents couldn't really afford them back then. Now, my generation struggles to provide Playstations, cars, cell phones and the like.
But, all in all, I came to the conclusion that our future is probably in pretty good hands. Sure, this generation has plenty to learn, but most of it will come from the school of hard knocks, just as my generation and others before me learned. Isn't that pretty much what it's all about?

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