The trouble with teenagers is that they grow up and become adults.
Being a teenager is one of the most natural occurrences in the circle of life. Shakespeare wrote about that magical time in life (or at least he must have; the guy wrote about every other human failing) and for the past century people have been making movies about all the ridiculous, foolish, irresponsible, wonderful things we do as teens. We've all enjoyed laughs at Elizabeth Taylor, Dustin Hoffman, Matthew Broderick and Jason Biggs as they re-enact the youthful trials and tribulations that we have all experienced. Sure, some of the things that some teens do are bad or illegal or dangerous to themselves and others, but scour the adult population and tell me that the same thing couldn't be said for them in far greater numbers.
This all came to the forefront of my mind this week when Kelly Reis, a junior at Reed High School, who will be the editor of the school's newspaper in the fall, came to the Tribune looking for an opportunity to do some work to gain experience. I met her on Wednesday afternoon and she seemed to have her head screwed on fairly tight so I told her to come in the next day and we'd see what she could do for us. On Thursday, she spent about six hours learning the intricacies of putting together our paper and how to use our computer system. I handed the mouse over to her, since my preferred method of teaching is by fire, and stood back to give instruction as needed. She already knew a lot, though I could tell by her response to some of the things I showed her that she would learn quite a few new things by working with us.
Her level of technical skill and ability to learn quickly were not the things about Kelly that impressed me most, however. What struck me was her maturity. The Tribune newsroom is certainly not the den of locker room talk like many other newsrooms are, but we're a pretty laid back, sarcastic, close-knit group with an occasionally questionable sense of humor and it could take anybody a little while to get into the groove. In a few short hours, Kelly seemed to go with the flow and even throw out a fair bit of her own sarcasm. When she left for the day, I commented to commented to one of my reporters, "Kelly will be fine in this business."
After Kelly left, I started thinking about the budget cuts for education in Nevada that we've all been reading about the last few months. At last report, legislators planned to cut into a fund for textbooks by $48 million. Of course that's going to have some kind of tangible effect on what kids can do in the classroom. That $48 million isn't what made Kelly pick up the phone and call her local newspaper and say, "Hey, I'd like to come work for you." The thing that made her do that came from inside and you can't put a price tag on that.
Before I moved to Nevada, I spent some time doing private tutoring to make extra money. I helped kids of all ages with their homework and study skills. Through the course of this job, I worked with probably a dozen or so teens and in addition to teaching them, I learned a thing or two myself. It strikes me that by the time kids hit high school, a variety of factors have, to a large degree, already determined where a kid is headed. Either they have already developed good or bad study skills, or they have already established themselves with a social circle that will lead them either to trouble or the straight and narrow, or they have a home environment that has them on a path to either Harvard or a hard hat. Some kids take a turn for the better or worse after they start high school, but in my experience a young person is often just a slightly smaller version of exactly what they'll be like as an adult, and that's OK. Either we all find our places in this world, or our place finds us. It's inevitable.
I guess my point is this: Whether we take $48 million out of the state's schools or put $48 million more in, to some kids it's not going to make a lick of difference. If it is the former, kids like Kelly will still go out and make their own opportunities in this world. If it is the latter, other types of kids won't even notice that shiny new textbook on their desk. I just hope that both categories of teenager can find a balance between working hard at a young age and enjoying some of the youthful foolishness and irresponsibility that we're all entitled to. Thinking back on my high school days, I found some of that balance, but I'll tell you about that when you're older.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go watch "American Pie."
Nathan Orme is the editor of the Sparks Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.