Caught in the Crossfire: Kids, Politics, and America’s Future. By Lawrence Grossberg. Paradigm Publishers, 278 pages, $23.95.

“You don’t get our music.” That’s what a sixteen-year-old male told Lawrence Grossberg back in 1995 when the professor of communication studies tried to describe his research on youth culture and music to the teen.

So Grossberg asked him, “Why can’t I understand your music?”

“You think being young is a good thing, but really, being young sucks.”

It may be easy to chalk up such a statement to adolescent discontent (or hormones) and move on with life. But not for Grossberg. He wanted to know if being young really does stink.

The result of that curiosity is Caught in the Crossfire: Kids, Politics, and America’s Future. And no, Grossberg says, he wouldn’t want to be a kid in today’s America.

“We may joke that it is hard to be a kid,” Grossberg says, “but I cannot help but think we have made it infinitely harder for kids today.”

Consider, Grossberg says, some of the recent headlines from national news outlets: “Killer Teens,” “Teen-Age Time Bombs,” and “Demon-Seed Children.” Or consider some of the descriptions of adolescents: “remorseless, vacant-eyes, sullen;” “deeply troubled;” and “violent, reckless, hyper-sexed, welfare draining, obnoxious, and ignorant.”

Sure, Grossberg says, all generations worry about the generations that come after them. But such media hyperboles, Grossberg says, reflect such a spike in ephebiphobia — the fear of teenagers — that Rolling Stone described today’s adolescents as the “most damaged and disturbed generation the country has ever produced.”

Yes, we should be concerned about today’s kids, Grossberg says. But not because they’ve changed all that much, but because the way we treat them has changed.

America, he says, has been undergoing a political struggle for the past fifty years as liberals and conservatives, capitalists and feminists, and other political and social groups struggle with each other, attack basic assumptions about America, and try to gain their footing in a changing world.

Amid the struggles, the definition of America has changed. And in the process, a sense of childhood has been lost.

“We no longer know what it means to be a kid,” Grossberg says.

Through schools, medicine, and law — with zero-tolerance policies, psychotropic drugs, and the criminalization of misbehavior — we treat kids as something other than those depicted in the nostalgic Norman Rockwell paintings. Sure, life might never have been as rosy as the Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, but at least there was the dream that life could be that way.

But those dreams don’t exist in today’s world, where schools ban Pokémon cards, where Ritalin is as mainstream as penicillin, and where a ten-year-old boy faces an eight-year prison sentence for hitting a kid in the eye with a spitball.

What will happen to today’s kids, who grow up among widespread ephebiphobia? Though he can’t be sure what the future will look like, Grossberg fears that “We are raising cynical children who will grow up to be cynical adults who cannot understand the possibility of social unity and a common society.” We are raising kids, he says, who don’t believe in a better tomorrow.

Grossberg recognizes some of us — adults and kids alike — will roll our eyes and go back to life in headphones. But then again, maybe some of us won’t.

“My description of America going through a redefinition is what I want to put out there,” he says. “And if people would like to disagree and offer other explanations about the state of kids, then that’s fine. Let’s talk.”

Cherry Crayton was formerly a staff writer for Endeavors.