These days it seems almost impossible to avoid the torrent of news stories and real world, real time testimonials on the subject of teen stress and angst. Whether it’s a glance at the New York Times (recent headline: ‘It’s Life of Death: The Mental Health Crisis Among U.S. Teens’), or a carpool ride home at 8pm after volleyball practice (“I have SO much AP US History homework, I’m not gonna sleep tonight”), we are being forced to confront a troubling question: how did we get here and what should we do about it? There is no shortage of evidence-based interventions, from mindfulness to CBT. But rest assured, the next two paragraphs won’t include a mention of a single anti-depressant or a gap year. Instead, I’d like to talk about an often overlooked but sneakily important facet of teen life that seems to be at risk of going the way of the compact disc or combustion engine — FUN.
This was my first week at BTC. The empty building during the morning hours presented a shocking contrast to the hustle and bustle of my Grand Central office at BHS. I started bringing Squanchy, our 90lb Bernedoodle to the garage to keep me company. Each day, I slowly let him interact more with the middle and high school members. By day three, Squanchy was being followed around by a gaggle of teens with frisbees and nerf footballs. When Squanchy interrupted a heated pickleball match by trying to steal the ball, the laughs and shrieks echoed off the walls of the teen center basement.
A few weeks ago, I led a dozen teens through the beautiful urban wild of Hammond Woods. Someone accidentally appointed me to lead the hike, and inevitably, we got lost. (My wife calls us the “BHS/BTC Outdoor MISAdventure club”). Our trail dead-ended at a 15-foot wide swamp. I jokingly said “Well, we can either turn back, or try a swamp crossing.” Before I knew it, in a teen-version of “Hold my beer,” one gangly sophomore, who had stripped down to his bare feet and rolled up his pants, said “Hold my phone.” We filmed him wading out halfway across, until the quicksand-like muck at the bottom was up to his mid-thighs! Everyone on that outing will be laughingly recalling that moment for decades.
There will be lots more of the same happening soon at the Brookline Teen Center. Competitive Taco Bell eating, slam dunk contests (yes, I am installing a 9 foot rim!), and a 64-person field March Madness Table Tennis tournament. These hijinks won’t cure depression, alleviate college application stress, or serve as a panacea for teen angst, but I’ll gladly debate anyone out there who claims they won’t help. Amazingly, I found a second job in a row serving a population with a maturity level identical to my own. Let the fun begin.