Bruce J. Gevirtzman uses his 34 years of experience working with high school students for the ultimate good in his book, An Intimate Understanding of America’s Teenagers: Shaking Hands with Aliens. As a high school English teacher and coach of both the debate team and sports teams, Gevirtzman’s many opportunities for working with teens in a variety of situations is realistically captured in his book and written in a form for all to understand. From their rebellious stages to their need to “fit in”, the paradox of athletes, the habit of not thinking before they act, sexual experimentation and the wicked toll of peer pressure in so many different venues, Gevirtzman unlocks the doors that teens slam in our faces in their pursuit of freedom.
Gevirtzman uses stories based upon his experiences to allow his readers to see into the lives and minds of teenagers. What results is often a shocking ride into a world that it may be hard for us to remember. However, it would have to be a truly callous adult who does not feel some of the past rise to the surface as they read of the exploits of the teens with whom Gevirtzman has worked. The drugs and the temptations may have changed names, but the pressure and the opportunities are the same, regardless of age. The major difference is in the age at which the temptations are face (teens must deal with adversity at a much earlier age) and the extent of the consequences (which has increased proportionately).
A key component of Gevirtzman’s book, in my opinion, is the method he uses to wrap up each chapter. After sharing his experiences, he offers words of advice for the three most crucial elements of a teen’s life – their parents, their teachers, and themselves. These sections are entitled, “Mr. G’s Home-Grown Advise” and they provide an intimate look at the lessons he has learned via his experiences and hopefully ones from which we will benefit without having to engage in intimate experience ourselves. For example, in the chapter on snitching and a teen’s loyalty versus the need for truth, Gevirtzman explains to parents how it is necessary to help a teen understand that secrets/loyalty are fine as long as it does not lead to or cover up someone being hurt. If someone is being hurt, the loyalty must shift to the need to protect. Lectures are not the style recommended for parents talking with teens, but rather a use of illustration of possible events, which helps a teen realize a potential situation by keeping him/her from tuning out of the conversation. Teachers are cautioned about the emphasis placed on loyalty and the destructive nature of blind loyalty. The use of examples of blind loyalty in history (Hitler, Pol Pot, Hussein) to illustrate the damage that results from misplaced loyalty is an excellent method of explaining how to distinguish when and where loyalty is warranted. For teens, Gevirtzman includes a list of ten declarations on loyalty and snitching. These declarations advise teens to examine their own values and suggest exercises for deciding whether they are on the road to being the person they want to become.
Whether your children are tween-agers, “new” teenagers, or well indoctrinated in the world of teenagers, this book will be beneficial to all parents who are willing to read and implement Gevritzman’s advice. I highly recommend this book for all parents and am placing it on my own personal list of top ten books all parents must read. Thank you, Bruce Gevirtzman, for sharing your experiences and opening my eyes to what has changed – and more importantly, to what has not changed – in the lives of America’s teens. May all adults takes heed and realize that there is a ridiculous price to our shift in priorities in the rat race we call success. That price is the lives of our children. It is time for us to re-examine those priorities and realize that what our children need more than the money we make is our time and our guidance.