Summer-camp neurosis

I happened by a gaggle of kids today who appeared entirely mad — jumping up and down in place, hitting each other, hitting themselves, whooping and screeching pointlessly, blurting out nonsense. One kid, upon seeing me, slurred and swore at me. I thought it might be a day-care of sorts for children with mental disorders and asked one of their keepers what was going on. Nope. They were normal kids. This was summer camp.

It reminded me of this great Paul Graham essay where he says that most teenagers are so crazy because they have nothing real to do.

I’m suspicious of this theory that thirteen-year-old kids are intrinsically messed up. If it’s physiological, it should be universal. Are Mongol nomads all nihilists at thirteen? I’ve read a lot of history, and I have not seen a single reference to this supposedly universal fact before the twentieth century… Teenage apprentices in the Renaissance were working dogs. Teenagers now are neurotic lapdogs. Their craziness is the craziness of the idle.

Then I got to thinking about some kids I’d met several months ago while studying agriculture in Wisconsin. They lived on a farm and had real work to do. They helped build water catchments and could espouse the benefits of various designs. They helped shear sheep. The kids had a business separate from their parent’s too: they raised fish in an aquaponics setup they’d built and sold them to restaurants and grocery stores. The one I talked to the most, I think he was twelve, was also learning web design.

I called him “kid” but later felt like apologizing. Sure I’d been around longer than him but he seemed about as mature as me.