05. October 2006 · Comments Off on Reflections on Foleygate · Categories: General, Pajama Game

The one thing that does rather upset me about Rep. Foley and his apparent inability to keep his hands, metaphorically speaking, off the junior help is how it messes up mentor relationships between teenagers on one hand, and their chances of having a good relationship with an older person not their parental unit. We’ve always known there was an occasional unhealthy or potentially exploitative relationship… and sometimes it was not the older person bringing that to the table, too. Lately it seems like any cross-generational friendship is being looked at with suspicious eyes, and that is not an especially good thing.

Bur it’s good to have boundaries, and it is good that (as it would seem from news reports) that Rep. Foley’s reputation was quietly known amongst the Capitol Hill pages. My high school drama teacher had a quiet reputation like that, too, back in the dawn of time. Snappy dresser, lived with his mother, middle-aged bachelor, flamed a bit obviously. A little worldly wisdom is a good thing; the pages themselves seem to have been sharp enough, and efficient enough to have protected themselves… just as the boys in my high school drama class made sure that if they stayed after school to work on a drama project that there would always be at least three or more of them.

But it does worry me that now we are to the point of viewing every apparently friendly overture from an older person as potentially the first move of a chickenhawk. This just has to poison the pool just that much more, and add one more smidgeon of crappiness to a teenager’s lot. It’s an awkward age, for a variety of reasons; being physically nearly an adult but emotionally nearer to being a child, craving respect and responsibility but not given much of a chance for earning either, the utter pointlessness of much that is taught in school… and then add to it the fact that you are stuck with your peers, for much of each day. Stuck with inane conversations, pointless rivalries, bitter feuds, bullying and mind-games. Feeling ill and over-grown, flushed with too many hormones, and no outlet, and even if you get along with your parents… they are, after all, your parents.

For a lot of teenagers, a friendship with an adult not their parent is a lifeline, and an anchor to sanity, a connection to a real world outside the confines of high school and their peer-group, a reassurance that they can connect with the real world. I remember very clearly thinking that most of my teen-aged peers were total idiots. Many of Blondie’s teen-aged friends also appeared to be idiots. Therefore I conclude that idiocy is rampant between the ages of 13 and 18, and if one doesn’t want to drown in idiocy at that age and go so far over the edge as to see a Columbine episode as a viable alternative , one has to have friends outside one’s immediate age group.

I have always had a conviction that teenagers, in order to get through the worst of it, need more than anything else, friends who are not teenagers themselves, but who have common interests and enthusiasms. It tends to take them out of an insular round of strictly teen-approved interests, encourages them to connect and to get away from that sour view expressed in my youth of “not trusting anyone over thirty.” One of our joint enthusiasms when my daughter and I lived in Utah was a regular meeting of the Salt Lake City Dr. Who Fan Club. About thirty or forty “Whovians” met socially once a month at a member’s house to watch an episode of Dr. Who on video and chat about their mutual liking for the series. I rather liked the “Whovians” by the way; they were much more cerebral and grounded than the Trekfans. One felt that they had fairly successful and interesting lives, and their appreciation for The Doctor was merely an amiable eccentricity, not an overwhelming obsession. Anyway, it gratified me as a parent to notice my daughter’s social assurance, as well as that of some of the other younger “Whovians”. At fourteen, she was much the youngest; I think the next youngest was sixteen, and the ages ranged well up into the seventies. But everyone always had a wonderful time at meetings, interacting as equals and friends, and I thought it was marvelous for the youngest fans, being reassured that there was a way over the walls of the teenage ghetto, and interesting friends on the other side. And at the very least, that one wouldn’t be stuck there forever.

There’s the mentoring aspect, too, which is just as important: How the heck… and from whom are you going to work out what being an adult really is, if all you have is your teenaged idiot peers, and the crazy-house hall of mirrors that is the media? Who can you pattern yourself after? What if your parents are dysfunctional and you do not get along with them? I had friends in the military that were able to find another mentor to pattern themselves upon; I have mentored a friend of Blondie’s whose parents were perfect studies in rotten parenting skills, and any number of young female airmen along the way. Such friends are the fallback position, the rescue, and the second chance at becoming a well-adjusted and functioning adult. That predators can inject themselves into this situation, can extend a pretend hand of friendship and respect and all the while be looking for their own sexual interests… ugh.

That might explain some of the fury about Foley and his ilk; not over what actually happened, but at what he seemed to be trying to do, in exploiting the general interests of the community in the welfare of prospective members of it, and those who might have had very real needs (or not), just for his own personal jollies. In this instance, the sort of teenager who gets to be a Congressional page may be just that more worldly, socially confident, and slightly more adept at recognizing that particular sort of predator. Other teenagers are not so lucky, and consequently, less able to evade that kind of exploitation.

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