When Teen Rebelliousness Becomes a Spectator Sport

What if they gave a generation gap and nobody came? Pop culture continues to depict teens as a rebellious lot, but you’d be hard-pressed to find an empirical basis for this stereotype. A new USA Weekend poll adds to the body of evidence showing teens get along fine with their parents. Most of the teenagers said their parents are supportive of them, whether “always” (52 percent) or “usually” (42 percent). While 15 percent said their relationship with their parents has “worsened” over the past two years, they’re outnumbered by the 43 percent saying it has “improved.” A majority said their parents “understand the problems and situations you face as a teenager” either “very well” (26 percent) or “somewhat well” (47 percent); just 10 percent called their parents “clueless.” When teens do find themselves at odds with their parents, they don’t assume the latter are to blame: 48 percent of the teens put the blame “mostly” on themselves. Asked to assign a letter grade to their parents,55 percent give an A and 31 percent give a B; just 2 percent handed out an F. Have parents defused teen rebelliousness by means of appeasement? It doesn’t seem so. Many teens said their parents restrict them from watching certain TV shows (37 percent) or wearing certain clothes (39 percent); 24 percent had been “grounded” in the 30 days before being polled. Further evidence that kids have adopted their folks’ values: More than half attend religious services with their parents “regularly” (38 percent) or “sometimes” (25 percent). Given such facts, what accounts for the invincibility of generation-gap mythology? Perhaps the teens themselves are entertained by it, in much the same way that white suburban kids are avid consumers of gangsta rap. And the baby boomers who run the record companies, TV networks and movie studios are glad to sustain a stock narrative that treats their own coming-of-age memories as the model for all subsequent human experience.