An Interview with Beatrice Smith, My GrandmaJanuary 8, 1992
Beatrice Smith celebrates her 72nd birthday this month. She lives in Verona, Wisconsin with her husband of 45 years. She writes children's books and is a mother and grandmother (mine). She has been an elementary school teacher and continues to tutor people of all ages and several nationalities in English literacy.
I'd like you to address the changing societal values from the viewpoint of a teenager in the family unit today in comparison with what they were when you were a teenager and later when your children were teenagers.
Bea: The social climate is much different. Of course, we are all products of our time. When my children were teenagers in the 1960s, it was different. Drugs were just starting, so there was none of the fear that everyone was out doing the wrong thing. Except for marches objecting to something, there was no violence. People weren't afraid to go out at night for fear of being hit over the head. There were no people shooting one another for their tennis shoes or leather jackets.
When my children were growing up, we didn't have TV for a long time. Television has had a big effect on teenagers today. Especially, I think the ads are bad. It's making younger people more materialistic. They're more interested in acquiring things instead of thinking ideas.
Many teenagers now are not motivated because they don't have any self-worth or self-esteem. Young people who are not interested in school seem to have no goals in mind.
How a kid gets self-esteem is very important. The unusual child can withstand almost anything because he has the brains to see that he can handle anything that's tossed at him at school or at home. He knows he can figure it out. He knows when he can answer more quickly, and he catches on more quickly than other kids. That kid will have his self-esteem built in, so to speak, because he knows within himself what he can do.
Kids without that, who aren't self-motivated, need a lot more help from parents. Unfortunately, either because they want to, or because they have to, some parents are too busy making a living, or both parents are gone all day. They come home and they're tired. They don't have time to inspire or talk with or enthuse about anything the kid has done. If this kid has friends who feel little self worth themselves, who have no ambition, no common sense, no aptitude for learning, then this teen will sink to peer pressure, which is unfortunate. If they don't have parents or friends who have goals, I think it's very hard to have self esteem.
I think teachers can make a big difference. Of course I'm speaking from a teacher's viewpoint and might be a little biased. Really good teachers, I think, are invaluable in putting the desire to learn into a kid. Just a teacher's enthusiasm can inspire a kid to go on with whatever it is, even when he or she didn't think it was a subject that might interest him. Just having a teacher be excited about something can do the trick. I know it happened to Peter (one of Bea's sons). A 7th grade teacher told him what she thought he was capable of doing, and that she expected him to do it. She expected all kinds of things of him, had faith in him, and that gave him an inspiration. His music teacher was also an inspiration, and I personally, feel a great debt to those teachers.
You spoke of lack of self esteem and some teens being more interested in things than in ideas. Do you think that the lower self-esteem is due to more value being placed on materialistic things rather than friends?
Bea: Well, I think teenagers put a lot of store in peer pressure, and I think material things mean a great deal more than they should. Your dad was more interested in ideas than in things and always has been. Of course he wasn't exposed to a lot of commercialism on TV. Things just weren't advertised in front of his face like they are now.
Now, it seems if you wear the right shoes and the right jacket, and have your gold chain around your neck, that makes you big stuff in school. I think that's a really terrible thing. I think it's unfortunate, but it's true, that material things seem to be a big deal. Why else would they shoot one another for tennis shoes or a leather jacket?
Many teens today have jobs to buy things for themselves, like CDs or clothes. In past years did teens work to help support the family or to earn money for school?
Bea: There were some families where teens did have to work to help the family, but as now, many worked to earn money to buy things for themselves. I think that this cutting down the hours that teens can work during the school year is really a good idea. What good are fancy clothes if your head isn't learning anything? I don't think that everything one buys needs to be for himself. It's too bad they don't think of more disadvantaged people.
Do you think there are more unmotivated teenage students now than there were back then?
Bea: Well , of course, you have motivated students and unmotivated students no matter the time, but I think there are more now because they are not getting the backing they need, and those kids who aren't self motivated are having a hard time. They are having a hard time principally because everybody's too busy making a living to really give the kids the time they need, to encourage them in any way.
I remember, I taught remedial reading for a while, and I had kids who were having problems, and this one kid, he would just sit and diddle. I said, "What are you going to make of this class? You can go as fast or as slow as you want. You're just doodling." And he said "Oh,.... I dunno, I'm just going to give up. My folks have just given up on me." And I think that was the big problem. It comes from home, and it comes from a teacher, and it comes from many places to motivate kids to get going.
What if a their family life is so unhappy, and they have other problems that are bothering them? If they're afraid to walk home at night, if they're afraid of having gangs after them, if their father gets drunk and beats up the mother, or their parents are gone all the time? I think that takes away a lot of self worth because the kids just feel, "This is what life is, why should I bother with any of this?"
Television, particularly, can be so much of a teenager's life today. Do you think that now we are not as sheltered, and that the media corrupts us?
Bea: I think it does, I think it truly does. I think many kids are just to influenced by the glitz there is on TV and they think, "You drink all the beer that you can, and wear the jackets and shoes, and roll around in fancy car." Then that's it? You know that's your goal? My word, that's a terrible thing. TV is there all the time. I'm not saying that TV is all bad, because in a way, without it. Our worlds were quite small when I was a teenager. Life was well... well... it was more manageable. We just had a smaller environment. We didn't see what was going on with the rest of the world. We never saw a war firsthand, for example, on TV. We didn't go to movies very often, even though they were quite cheap.
TV can be for good and for bad. Now, the TV has just exposed us to everything, and in some ways, this makes the world a faster, more difficult environment. When you see how everything is on TV, and want to have what they have, it is corrupting.
TV is not all bad, certainly. In a way it is broadening.