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Teen Geography

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Wherever boredom originates, it often locates almost anywhere teenagers congregate with adults. Restaurants are boring, hotels are boring, vacation resorts are boring, suburbs, small towns, city neighborhoods, and everywhere else are boring. Parents, teachers, camp counselors, indeed almost all adults familiar with teenage views encounter boring frequently. It sometimes seems not a favorite adjective, but the only adjective teenagers use to describe space. But it is applied rather fairly, perhaps more fairly than many adults realize.

Nearly all adult attention and nearly all tax money focus on spaces intended for everyone but young teenagers.

When asked to detail their perceptions of "hometown places," high schoolers and university undergraduates often produce essays that unnerve anyone concerned about planning issues. Two decades of reading such essays (in summer term I teach high school students in university courses) produce the following conclusion: In the United States adults create landscapes for themselves and for children. Nearly all adult attention and nearly all tax money focus on spaces intended for everyone but young teenagers.

Certainly school districts spend fortunes on high schools, and municipalities build teen recreation centers, but most of the national landscape sticks teenagers into a kind of limbo, a limbo they deal with surprisingly well, if only to wait out their sentences. Between sixth grade and freshman week at college lies a vast wasteland of good intentions gone wrong. American teenagers know almost nothing about the wider environment beyond their immediate pedestrian neighborhoods, and what little they do know strikes them as narrow and monotonous, justifiably boring. ...

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