Yesterday a shocking new Stats Canada study surfaced in the media. It found that lots of Canadian teens aren’t exactly hanging out at the pool hall, smoking pilfered cigarettes while wondering who to ask to the prom.
Instead, an incredible amount of them are a bit more like Michael J. Fox’s Alex Keaton in Family Ties: hustling around the locker-lined halls carrying attache cases crammed with important papers.
Get this: 39 per cent of surveyed teens “felt under constant pressure to accomplish more than they could handle.” A whopping 16 per cent considered themselves workaholics.
Workaholics. At age 16, 17. Fifteen, even.
It’s not that I don’t get this. When I was a teenager, I was the founding editor of the high-school’s first newspaper, in a couple different bands, on students’ council, in school plays and doing a few other extracurricular things. I remember being tired. I remember catching the early bus and the late bus and walking home, exhausted.
And now that I’m nearly in my mid-30s, nothing much has changed. Well, the clarinet has gone by the wayside, but I’m still hustling to make a living while planning several projects to humanize my city and not taking much time to feel happy about it all. It was the same in my 20s: working, trying to get my writing published (and to get editors to follow-up on their promise to pay for said writing), all the while postering nearly every single night for various activist campaigns. I lived off coffee and cigarettes and rice and beans. My adrenals were held up by scaffolding. And the word no was not, well, is not, in my vocabulary.
Today’s teens don’t know how to say no, a quoted expert said yesterday.
I’ve been thinking long and hard about this lately. Finding myself exhausted much of the time, I’ve been contemplating this longtime trend of being too busy. For me, it isn’t so much that I’m doing too much. It’s that I’m not recharging my batteries. I’m not going inside myself. I’ve forgotten how to day-dream. Poetry has been swept into the corners like a floor-full of dust.
This, I think, is the problem with today’s teens, a problem that no study in our current system will ever point out, a problem with society in general. It used to be that people worked all week and then recharged on their sacred day, the day when they contemplated their relationship with something larger than themselves, or ran off into the woods to catch frogs or sat with their family or embroidered or went fishing. These days, we don’t get that. We don’t stop. We keep on going. We are always external. We work to get, instead of to give.
And that kind of busy can never, ever last.