Anyone who has reared, taught, dated or even sat beside a teen on a bus ought to read the full article, but here's a summary: like the rich, teens are different from you and me.
They have more fun.
Citing "The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist's Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults", by Frances Jensen with Amy Ellis Nutt, and "Age of Opportunity: Lessons from the New Science of Adolescence" by Laurence Steinberg, Colbert limns the neural differences behind what you always knew: teens and young adults feel invulnerable, hence their fun is, as my own then-teens said, funner.
What crazy shit did you do?
Several newly-minted drivers and their friends would drive way out onto the frozen ice of Lake Michigan on a subzero evening and tie toboggans onto the rear bumpers of the family cars. We'd pile on those toboggans, and the drivers would go real fast. (For those unfamiliar with the Great Lakes, they freeze in jagged moon craters of snow-covered ice, not glassy, like a skating rink.) No one died.
Not everything we did for fun was dangerous to us. My classmate Dick was fooling around with a hunting rifle, in his room. Unlike the tragic incidents in which a careless kid hurts someone, Dick merely discharged the rifle into the wall—but that wall was the boundary of his parents' clothes closet, so Dick shot through every one of his mother's dresses, blouses and coats, murdering her entire wardrobe.
Oh, there is more, much more. But the point is, if you could lure me out onto a frozen lake today and offer that wild, moonlit ride, I would say, Are you crazy?, and also wonder, Where is the nearest bathroom? What if I lose my glasses? Don't I have a geometry quiz tomorrow?
That's because, according to the neurologists, the executive function of my prefrontal lobe is now firmly and fully on duty. When the brain matures (around age twenty-nine), fun grows up too.
We know a couple who moved to a retirement community in Florida called The Villages; it's an Epcot of the Elderly: a zillion golf courses, all kinds of themed restaurants, plenty of edifying classes and lectures, travel provided by motorized cart, vodka-and-sodas cheaper than Coke, and ample casual sex, if one desires.
Mary and Mike admit that problems of excess can arise, but say most residents balance sybaritic pursuits with responsibility. But I cannot even think of signing on for packaged, deliberate fun; amusement parks have never delivered for me.
I'm culturally Canadian now; we don't grab our gusto, we sip. I tried to complete the sentence, "My idea of fun is...". The results were embarrassingly mild: a friend and I have real hot chocolate at Juliette et Chocolat after yoga. What, I wondered, happened to the exhilaration I felt at sixteen, when the folks' car pulled out of the driveway and Susie came over for a marathon of fudge-making, soul-baring and belting "Downtown" while we nipped at the mickey of Jack she stole from her brother's gym bag?
I realized that, just like a trip, a key component of fun is its anticipation; that hour before Mom and Dad left was exquisite as a pitcher's windup.
Another memory rises from the two years when I lived, from nineteen to twenty, in a sorority house at a Big Ten American university.
It is Saturday, early evening, and everyone's getting ready. Dates announce their arrival on the house phone; study buddies debate where to get the best pizza after the library closes; Mary Kay waits for her boyfriend and his cousin to drive from Detroit to go dancing. ("Anybody want to come along? Stu's kind of cute.") "Suzy Q" blasts from the stereo, a nimbus of steam, hairspray and fragrance floats from the communal bathroom; Jeanne walks by in a killer outfit: her roommate's miniskirt and my sweater.
I have never again experienced that fizzy anticipation, supercharged by a liberal shot of autonomy, a restrained Midwestern glamour (false eyelashes, falls), and the rich certainty that the evening ahead would deliver fun. We knew it and unreservedly leapt in— and so it was, indeed, funner than nearly anything I have experienced since.
What's fun for you, these days? Does it differ from 'then'? Are you still open to risk and excitement, or is playing with your cat or grandkids amply satisfying?