SPECIAL REPORT

THE YEAR FOR KIDS

Faced with a bewildering mix of both the good and the bad, teens nurtured their friendships

NANCY WOOD,PEETER KOPVILLEM December 21 1992
SPECIAL REPORT

THE YEAR FOR KIDS

Faced with a bewildering mix of both the good and the bad, teens nurtured their friendships

NANCY WOOD,PEETER KOPVILLEM December 21 1992

THE YEAR FOR KIDS

SPECIAL REPORT

Faced with a bewildering mix of both the good and the bad, teens nurtured their friendships

NANCY WOOD

PEETER KOPVILLEM

Grunge rock and hip hop; Beverly Hills 90210 and baggy jeans. Worries, and lots of them: about AIDS and teenage pregnancy, the future of the rain forests, Canada’s economic future. Those were only some of the elements in the vast and often bewildering world of Canadian teenagers in 1992. Kids faced a heady mix of the very good and the very bad: at times, it seemed, every fresh trend, fashion or band was matched by the emergence of some new worry or fear. Some teens masked their doubts with the insouciance of fashion, whether the scraggly hair and tom jeans of the grunge rock scene or the aggressive athletic wear favored by rap artists. Others hid behind humor. When asked what worried him the most in the world, one Halifax teenager replied, “Religion—because if it’s trae I better clean up my act.” But beneath such flippancy lurked deeprooted concerns that, in many ways, reflected those of older Canadians. “What worries me the most is the recession,” said one 12-year-old student at Quilchena

Elementary School in Vancouver. “If I am going to stay here all my life, I better get a job—and that is hard in Canada.”

Canada’s troubled economy was only one of many things that made 1992 a trying, even scary year for teens. Maclean ’s surveyed 65 students between the ages of 12 and 17 in three schools across Canada. Their responses showed that the threat to national unity, the worldwide environmental crisis, famine in Somalia and civil war in the former Yugoslavia—all left their mark on youthful psyches. Like previous generations, kids continued to grapple with the mysteries of sex—although the issue became increasingly overshadowed by the threat of AIDS. And, also like previous generations, they sought solace in their music. But that music had jagged overtones. From the tough-talking lyrics of rap artists to the hard rock of Seattle band Nirvana, rock in 1992 offered not so much an escape as a reflection of a confused and troubled world. As Soundgarden, another Seattle band, sang in Outshined: “I’m feeling that I’m sober/Even though I’m

THE THINGS THAT MATTER

Maclean’s informally surveyed 65 students across Canada between the ages of 12 and 17 about their likes, dislikes and concerns. The rankings indicate that Canadian teenagers have a wide range of tastes—and worries.

FAVORITE MOVIE ACTOR:

1. Kevin Costner

2. Arnold Schwarzenegger

3. Jean-Claude Van Damme

Runners-up:

Jennifer Connelly Tom Cruise James Dean Robert De Niro Madonna Keanu Reeves Julia Roberts Winona Ryder Robin Williams

Top five overall concerns:

1. War and suffering

2. The environment

3. Death 4 AIDS

5. Racism

Most cherished items of clothing:

1. Jeans

2. Athletic wear

3. Dr. Martens shoes

Top five Canadian concerns:

1. The economy

2. National unity

3. Prime Minister Brian Mulroney

4. The environment

5. Violence

drinking/I can’t get any lower/Still I feel I’m sinking.”

Movies offered some cheerful notes. But while lighter fare such as Beauty and the Beast and Home Alone 2 attracted large teenage audiences, so did darker films like Dracula and Single White Female—a thriller about a young woman who advertises for a roommate and ends up with a psychopath. And some television shows popular among teenagers, including Fox TV’s Beverly Hills 90210, focused on the many problems confronting kids, among them the agonizing turmoil of personal relationships, sex and drinking.

Faced with an increasingly bleak world, teens turned towards their friends. For many, the sense of belonging to a group was all-important— but also problematic. Complained one 16-year old student at West Carle ton Secondary School in Dunrobin, just outside of Ottawa: “Peer pressure is too hard to handle.” The rise in gang activity across Canada further attested to the darker side of group membership. But for many teens, friends represent solace. “Life would suck without them,” remarked one Grade 11 student in Halifax. Noted Goody Gemer, president of Generations Research Inc., a Toronto-based youth-market-

ing research company: “Friendship is tremendously important to teens—what they are looking for is security, and they get that from the group.” She added: “Kids have not changed over the 20 years I have studied them—but the circumstances of their lives have.”

In spite of the troubled year, some teenagers managed to remain optimistic. Increasingly, many took pleasure in simple things, reflecting a general move in Canadian society away from the materialism that marked the previous decade. When asked if there was anything that she would still like to acquire in 1992, one West Carleton Grade 11 student had a simple response. “I have nothing I really need—I am happy with what I’ve got,” she said. Another said that the most cherished item she had received over the past year was a “picture of my papa as a teenager.” But all too often it was concern—tinged with frustration—that shone through. Declared one 17-year-old: “My main worry is how the world is deteriorating in every aspect—and people who can do something about it don’t.” Among Canadian teens, that was an all-too-common theme in 1992.

NANCY WOOD and PEETER KOPVILLEM

Students in Halifax: welldefined tastes and a host of worries in a year that was trying and even scary for teens