Teenagers love themselves and all are, to some degree, self absorbed. Seriously. If I had a $5 Arby’s gift card for every time a student made some self-important comment I’d be rolling in Beef ‘N Cheddars.
But I don’t fault them. That is the perk of being a teenager, right? Living without consequence or fear or responsibility. Yet, because of their narcissistic view, they often struggle to see the big picture because they struggle to see outside of their immediate lives. This certainly causes a problem for interpretation. As a teacher of teenagers, I feel it is my duty to make them more self-aware and ask them to evaluate who they are and what they believe and where these values came from, which will allow them to better evaluate a text.
Coming-of-age novels are typically brought into the classroom for students to relate to and learn from. Reading a novel in this genre allows students the opportunity to place themselves in the situations and scenarios and consider how they would respond if they were the main character. Yet, it is important for us to not just keep the self-exploration limited to the text itself. For some students, it is impossible to connect to a character from the 19th century, regardless of the similar traits they possess. Therefore, providing contemporary essays and articles about their generation as a supplement to the coming-of-age novel allows students a great opportunity to examine themselves and their values in the guise of fiction.
Below are a series of essays/articles that explore the current nature of the teenager and would serve as nice supplements to pieces of literature.
- A Generations vanity NYTarticle by John Tierney-NYT: This article examines the lyrics of songs popular with contemporary teenagers and deduces that the narcissicism encourages a sense of isolation and loneliness. This article might be a nice supplement to a song/text comparison, which allows students to discuss how music becomes an indicator of a group’s mentality. Even though this article addresses the narcissistic nature of teenagers, due to its discussion of depression it can be appropriately be connected to pieces like Hamlet, Catcher in the Rye, The Chocolate War, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower.
- “Demon Denim,” op-ed by George Will from The Washington Post: This conversationally constructed opinion piece is a fascinating look at the moral degeneration of today’s teenagers and their inability to “grow up.” Ask students to study the root of Will’s argument and evaluate the extent to which it is true today. While it might not always align with the main character, consider pairing this op-ed with many of the pieces stated above as well as This Side of Paradise, Lord of the Flies, and A Separate Peace.
- “Amusing Ourselves to Death Postman,” excerpt from Neil Postman book: Critic Neil Postman is known for his clear and often biting opinions. In this piece he critiques the way in which culture has created an ill-informed society that has a difficult time thinking for oneself. While this piece is centered around media, it can be used as a study of how teenagers are ultimately shaped by their environment and the manner in which they bend to fit into various cultures. Ask students to examine the consequences of Postman’s argument and then compare and contrast it with the fictionalized characters in pieces like Never Let Me Go, Atonement, and The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.