JULY 5, 2010 7:26PM

Kids (Yet Again)

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The Kids Ain't Alright — But Neither Are They Impaired

            It's really neat that the 2005 BBC/HBO Rome TV series cast the historical characters at about their historically-correct ages, so the conniving young Gaius Octavius was played by a 15-to-16-year-old, and his older version, Octavius Caesar, by a 24-year-old who could pass for younger. The same youthful casting held true for Octavius Caesar's friends and advisers Agrippa and Maecanus, also played by 24-year-olds.
            The younger women, too, were cast young, although not as young as their historical counterparts: Livia, who was to become Octavius Caesar's empress ("Mrs. Augustus," so to speak), was in her middle teens when she became a political player, a bit young for an actress.
            Such casting decisions remind us of the youth of these very competent Roman politicians — Octavius wasn't yet 20 when he seized a share of the Roman empire — and that competent young people aren't all that unusual. Alexander of Macedon was 20 when he inherited the throne, and he soon became "the Great," the ruler of much of Eurasia, and then dead by 33. Cleopatra of Egypt was in the queen business at 18, as was Victoria of Great Britain, if with less power. The Tudor girls, Mary and Elizabeth, were of more mature years when they came to power — about 37 and 25 respectively — but to get to power they had to get through their teens politically significant, and alive.
            The reminder of the youth of these royal politicians is important because we Americans are again being asked to accept scientific studies — brain development this time — reinforcing the teen-bashing idea that teens don't think well because they can't: their undeveloped brains aren't up to the job.
            I won't question the brain studies, but obviously some young people can think and plan and scheme very well, thank you, and if the famous folk I cited sometimes did foolish things while young, they sometimes did worse when older: Alexander was about 28 when he and his friend Cleitus got into a drunken row and Alexander murdered Cleitus. 
            And not just the famous and powerful: when in high school I was president of a charitable foundation, and I was and remain nothing special; I was one of a line of 17- or 18-year-old presidents, and the entire operation was run by Chicago teens.
            We kids ca. 1960 also ran our own sports leagues and dances, with the teen-run sports leagues surprising some 1990s college students; my students knew nothing but little league and school athletics; they'd been taught well how to play games but taught more deeply that they were incompetent to organize even games.
            I belonged to a high school fraternity and to a year club: S.A.C.'s, "Social/Athletic Clubs," with the fraternity (fortunately) illegal under the laws of the State of Illinois, so well-meaning adults left us alone.
            So I'd say that nowadays the kids are not all right, but that doesn't mean The Who was wrong to assert otherwise in 1965 or that kids are necessarily messed up.
            American kids are often in arrested development not because of age-determined brain impairment but because loving and sympathetic Americans adults fairly often mess them up. Too many American kids have been over-protected and over-controlled, and far from becoming all they can be they've become very large children.
            So back off a bit, grownups; If Octavius Caesar could run a hefty part of the Roman Empire at 20, American kids can run a softball team.

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Boy are you paying attention.