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One myth you can toss away right now is the idea that “youth culture” begins with the teenage years. When Abercrombie & Fitch sells thong underwear to 7-year-old girls – and when mothers buy the stuff – you can be sure it starts way before that.

The adolescent years are not adults' last shot at making a difference. But they’re our last best shot.
Why? Because during this time young people are growing and changing at a faster pace than they ever will again. And they’re taking part in more activities on their own, with people their parents don’t know, adopting patterns of thought and behavior that will accompany them for years to come.

Sometimes parents get so wrapped up in anticipating the next stage in a child’s development that they forget to enjoy the one he or she is in now.

Giving kids this freedom goes against every instinct parents have. But parents must learn to manage their own fears before their children can manage theirs.

Young people have never had so many choices. I’ve listened to 11th graders fret over the 15 different colleges to which they plan to apply - and 9th graders describe 10 different kinds of marijuana. In one of my stories, college coeds debated the proper number of sex partners before graduation. Was it 5? 10? 15?

So why do I write and talk about young people?

I do it because many Americans care deeply about this generation and those who don't, should. I do it to broaden public understanding, to influence policies and laws. I do it to give a voice to those who have no voice. Young people who are listened to and written about realize that they matter, that someone cares what they think, that they can help shape public discourse. They don’t get that opportunity very often.

Finally, I also write about youth because it’s fun. My subjects say irreverent and thought-provoking things. They catch me off guard, break in on my everyday duties and routine thinking.

Their first loves, first cars, and first exposure to big ideas jog my memory and more significantly, remind me that life moves forward.

Everyone should be so lucky.

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