Every six weeks, someone comes out with big, exasperated "sigh, kids these days" issue piece about the changing makeup of America's Youth. Today, it's actually about the makeup! And the kind of boys who wear it and girls that don't.
By now, most high school dress codes have just about done away with the guesswork. Girls: no midriff-baring blouses, stiletto heels, miniskirts. Boys: no sagging pants, muscle shirts. But do the math.
"Rules" + "teenager" = "challenges."
I checked in the back of the book and that's not exactly the answer, but Jan Hoffman's story in today's Times does come pretty close! It looks at teenagers who—for any multitude of reasons including sexual identity and the simple sartorial—can't wear exactly what they want to school because The Man's coming down on them. Why? Because Jimmy looks better in that shade of rouge than Jimmy's teacher does.
"It's hard enough to get kids to concentrate on an algorithm - even without Jimmy sitting there in lipstick and fake eyelashes," said Kay Hymowitz, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.
Okay, not just that. Issues of girls having wanting to wear tuxedos in their Senior Portraits are studied, progressive parents who try to help people understand and assist the cause of their kids' expression are discussed, and even, yes, emo (or "emo") kids get the once-over:
In recent years, "emo" style has moved from punk fringe almost to pop mainstream, with boys wearing heavy eyeliner, body-hugging T-shirts and floppy hair dyed black, to emulate singers like Adam Lambert and Pete Wentz. "The emo kids get a lot of grief," said Marty Hulsey, a guidance counselor at a school near Auburn, Ala. "Even teachers say things and I had to stop it. One child came to me who was an emo kid and said he was accused of being gay but that he had a girlfriend."
The only consolation that kid has, besides his counselor telling him he's fine, and to go off, wearing his clothing, is that (A) Pete Wentz still has to deal with the same thing and (B) this has been going on in smaller numbers without an acceptance movement for the last 15 years. What's the teacher do after that, though?
But really, this is a pretty solid Styles story that covers most bases, and doesn't attempt easy answers. After all, the "self-expression needs to be limited to what doesn't distract other students" party line will only carry this issue so far. Kids are assholes, and everything distracts them, but can you enforce tolerance? Then again, what do you do about this?
...Safety is a critical concern. In February 2008, Lawrence King, an eighth-grader from Oxnard, Calif., who occasionally wore high-heeled boots and makeup, was shot to death in class by another student.
The only point Hoffman failed to touch upon—and really, this isn't for most Times stories, anyway—is that most people don't look back on high school and see the best days of their life. Being a teenager absolutely sucks, often. How can parents answer for that kind of thing?
And teenagers are going to be insane hormonal assholes who also happen to be in their own coming-of-age stories no matter what, is the issue. Blurry lines between rebellion, expression, and the ability to shape positive character can't be restricted by doing away with Fall Out Boy and installing dress codes, can it?