The Road to Whatever, by Elliott Currie
Reviewer: Mark Lamendola, author of over 4,000 articles.
What does "whatever" mean in this title?
A sizeable number of today's teens are so frustrated--like rats who get
shocked no matter what part of the cage floor they step on--that they
just give up on themselves. They "can't do anything right" or
can't be perfect (as demanded by parents or others), so they give up.
Their situation is like that of a wage earner caught in the machinery of
the IRS: a culture of punitive attitudes supersedes practical
considerations, common sense, and even basic human decency. In such a
situation, the only possible outcome is destruction. And it's this
culture that many teens must deal with. Because of the intense
frustration, they grow apathetic. A resigned "whatever, dude"
becomes the new mantra.
The key to motivating people is the same as the
key to having a good relationship with anybody: treating that person
with dignity and respect. Yet, we find a total absence of dignity or
respect in the way many parents treat their children. Elliott Currie
brings us one chilling account after another of troubled teens. In these
accounts, we can see it's not a "lack of toughness" or a
"life of privilege" that drives kids into drug abuse and other
self-destructive behaviors. It's a lack of respect and dignity. The cure
degreed social workers normally offer for this is often disrespect
The social (governmental) institutions that our
hard-earned tax dollars support tend to compound the problems, with the
attitude that the teen is the problem and/or the problem is within the
teen. The philosophy is that if the teen can would correct his/her own
behavior, everyone can be happy. These people don't realize a
fundamental point upon which psychologists base talk therapy:
self-destructive behaviors are often coping behaviors. Until you correct
the environment a teen is in, the teen is not going to successfully
correct his/her behavior. This, also, comes out clearly in accounts
Currie brings the reader.
Another attitude that comes out is that all sins
are equal. So, a kid gets into minor trouble--perhaps a string of
things. A bad grade, sassing to a parent, staying out later than agreed
upon, forgetting a chore--and suddenly, this teen crosses the line from
human to evil incarnate. There's often little distinction between
typical teen problems and real problems. I went through this myself, as
a teen. I had long hair, and my dad wanted to throw me out of the house.
Forget that I had straight As, held a job, was active socially and in
church, and was an athlete in school. Of course, I could have simply cut
my hair--but, I needed to make a statement and that was my statement.
Both of us were stubborn.
Sometimes when parents encounter one small thing
they "can't abide," the kid is "no good." Or, they
get frustrated over many minor things and see their child as
"lost." They forget their kid isn't out selling drugs or
robbing liquor stores. This myopia is prevalent, and it's causing
massive destruction. This is what Currie shows us in account after
The book does contain a couple of odd threads. One
is Currie's negative remarks about the Reagan era. He doesn't make clear
what part of ending Jimmy Carter's malaise, producing the longest
peacetime economic expansion in history, ending the Soviet nuclear
threat, or massively increasing job opportunities he objects to. Another
is he proposes that we entrust our healthcare system to the same
"geniuses" who use our hard-earned tax dollars to purchase
$750 toilet seats and $900 hammers--he wasn't clear on how this would
benefit teens or anybody else.
But if you can set aside the minor sprinkling of
outdated left-wing politics, you will find this book is provocative and
insightful--even helpful. If you have teens, you may find that reading
this book to be one of the best uses you've ever made of your time. If
you have bought into the simplistic theories of "tough love,"
"teen boot camps," and other half-baked measures that
humiliate teens instead of accord them respect and basic human dignity,
then you are on a path to failure. Thinking through what the kids in
this book have to say can help you go forward with your eyes open.
This book doesn't expound yet another behavioral
theory. Instead, Currie looks at real situations and takes us inside the
minds of the teens. He reminds us that teens are basically good. They
are people with feelings. Teens are not equipped to handle the demands
placed on adults, and that puts some responsibility on the shoulders of
adults. Teens have their own needs and if we will simply listen to them
and try to understand, then we have a good chance of providing teens
with what they need to succeed. Understanding these few facts--on the
part of parents, neighbors, friends, mentors, employers, teachers, and
social workers can help--can help adults involved with teens do a
remarkable turnaround. And help nearly any teen from becoming
"troubled" in the first place.