AMY LAWSON’S BEDROOM WALLS AT LIGHT BLUE. At least, they were. Now they’re plastered with 200 pictures of the Backstreet Boys. “I love the Backstreet Boys,” she declares passionately. “I don’t care if they’re gay.” (Amy and her friends often explain that gay does not mean, you know, gay. It’s just a generic insult.) She becomes indignant. “The other day, I was watching the Backstreet Boys on The View and they cut it off because they had ‘breaking news.'” She shakes her head disgustedly. “There was a stabbing or something. Dude, you can’t wait two minutes to tell me that?”
Amy lives in the blue-collar town of Norwich, Connecticut, where her parents own a small business, Colchester Quik Print. Asked to describe herself, she hesitates. “I guess I would be … strawberry blond and chubby. And short. Definitely short.” She is actually of completely normal weight, has a sunny, frequent smile and usually wears her hair back in a ponytail. Amy has already ordered college catalogs – Notre Dame, UNC-Charlotte, Yale. Her most pressing worry, she says, is “the future, and I don’t mean Star Trek kind of crap. There are people in my classes who are ranked higher than me. I’m just scared I’m going to fall through the cracks.” Growing up, she says, is frightening. “I just don’t want to do my own taxes,” she shudders. “I see my mom doing her taxes, and I just don’t think I can sit down and concentrate on all those numbers.”
Amy explains that although she has dated, sex is not an option. “The responsibility,” she says. “The consequences. Pregnancy. STDs. AIDS. Oh, God, just everything. And what if you have sex with someone and they never speak to you again? What does that do to you emotionally?”
On weekends, Amy moves from one controlled environment to another, like most of her friends in Norwich: the mall, the movies, fast-food joints like Friendly’s, the nearby casino where they have a club for kids. Amy has been riding her bike around the neighborhood lately. “You don’t see a lot of that anymore,” she says, shrugging. “It’s like, ‘It’s a nice day, let’s go to the mall.'” Mohegan Park is nearby, too. “I think it’s a pond,” she says. “Or a lake. I don’t know. It’s a body of water. The only people that go there are parents with little, little kids. There used to be a zoo there, but now it’s gone; I don’t know why.” She buries her head in her hands. “This is sick! I don’t know anything about my town. Look, I really do have a clue.”
In many ways, Amy’s life is easy. She does not want for anything, except maybe a separate phone line. She has not lived through a major war. She will not have to fight the feminist battles that her mother did. She takes for granted that she will one day be a journalist. “Anything guys have an opportunity to do, girls can do,” she says, citing the example of women’s sports. She is not a feminist, exactly, but she’s supportive of the cause. “There’s not much we need to really fight for or argue for,” she says. “I think generations before us have done more work than we have – they worked for everything we wanted, and it’s the same things we want.”
The main difference between Amy and her generational predecessors is that Amy resembles nothing so much as a miniature adult. She wakes up at 5:30 a.m. to get ready for school. A typical day is classes, then a meeting and some ad sales for the school paper, then a few hours of homework. Then bed. “Sometimes I get stressed, but I can handle it,” she says. “Sometimes when I’m about ready to jump, you can look on my books and you can tell when it’s Friday, because I’m writing ‘down time’ on the covers.”
Stress? Down time? Intense worry is a right of passage of adolescence. Why am I so gangly/horny/zit-riddled/awkward? But Amy is part of a generation that carries around much heavier concerns: money, AIDS, social diseases, lack of time. The adult world holds no mystery for them – through the electronic media, kids are directly plugged into the outside world, and their homes no longer provide that necessary buffer. They know all about sex, for instance, but are often reluctant to try it. They are all too aware of the risks, which makes them slightly fearful. They are part of a generation that knows more but does less.
When they are not in school, most spend their waking hours with one form or another of electronic equipment, sometimes simultaneously: the Internet, the TV, the VCR, the stereo, the phone. Very few books adorn the rooms of Amy and her friends, save for the stray Mary Higgins Clark. The hum of electronic equipment has replaced the teenage standby of daydreaming.
“I always have something going, like my TV,” says Kaitlin Twomey. “Something. I hate silence.”
“I don’t spend a lot of time in my room,” says Sara Franklin. “I couldn’t; I’d go out of my mind. If I’m in my room, I put on music, and I read a magazine. Just being in my room for that long, I need to interact.”