“What’s it like to be a 12-year-old these days?”
“Well, let me tell about a day in the life of me,” Lindsey Grant responded. Beaming with enthusiasm, unabashed to share a story, a day, a viewpoint—a look on the inside of 7th grade complications.
“I get up at 5:45 to go to school at 7:40. Because to a 12 year old you need a lot of time to get ready. Or at least 12 year old girls need that much time to get ready.”
Grant is that self-described 12-year-old girl. The one who after spending all that time getting ready “spends 6 hours on my iPad at school” (said with the roll of the eyes). She is a high-achieving 7th grade student, busied with homework, after-school extracurriculars, and a social life to always be on top of.
She sat down with me for an interview and allowed me to follow her through her Thanksgiving holiday which she spent with her mother and her older siblings.
Pre-interview she toggled around her iPhone and showed me an intricate Thanksgiving message she sent to a friend made up of about 250 emojis carefully arranged to look like a road and some turkeys. She sat tall and talked loud. Earlier in the day she asked us if we knew the nae-nae. Or the dab. Or something else I can’t remember.
The crowd was all older than 25. No one knew. Grant rolled her eyes. Again.
“I was the bonus baby,” she said, “as my mom said.” She’s 13 years younger than her closest sibling and admitted to growing up much like an only child—a category she’s quick to defend as not all self-obsessed and catered to. She admitted her growing up was easier than others and her relationship with her family strong because she had the atypical generational mismatch.
“I only saw my siblings every so often. So we didn’t fight,” she said. “I think that’s taught me to not fight with others too.”
On top of school requirements, Grant plays lacrosse, practices the viola, sings in the school choir, reads teen fiction, and watches TV shows on Netflix. Often all in the same day. Her calendar is busier than mine, and most of the adults I know.
When I asked if this weighs on her, she was quick to brush it off. That’s what gives me energy, she said.
No kid these days is safe from a discussion about technology. Grant keeps her iPhone close. She picked it up more than a few times during our chat. She can scroll and glean with hardly any attention or energy. Such is the way of our youth—they’re very good at not paying attention.
Grant has a grasp on her generation and its ties to the smartphone. She laments the loss of the personable communication she might have seen from her parents or siblings’ generations—and pokes fun at those tangled in the technology.
“I mean c’mon,” she said. “We spent, what, like, 10 years without phones.”
Fair point. But 10 years ago, Grant was 2.
And yet it’s not just the technology itself, it’s the derivations of it. As she explained, “the problem with social media is you see exactly what you’re being left out of.”
For her part, Grant tries to limit the extent of her technological reliance. This isn’t easy—homework, like the work done during the school day is done entirely on an iPad. Grades are posted in near real-time, and are checked much the same.
Any friend is just a text away. Her world exchanges information not through newspapers, but on Instagram updates, Snapchat snaps, and text enjambments of hieroglyphic emoji sequences.
She, however, only has seven apps that are not entirely pertinent to some specific cause. She won’t download more. And if she does she needs to remove one of the current seven. It’s a surprisingly disciplined system for a young girl with all of 16gb storage. We’re not used to see children keep such rules; it seems to be the exact opposite of the way we color the boundarylessness of youth.
And yet Grant is happy with her self-limiting. There are still books to explore. An outside world to “play in” and creative projects to begin, abandon, and begin again.
Grant talked about coming into her own. “I used to be shy,” she said. It’s hardly believable the way she communicates so confidently.
She spoke of her transition. Earning her confidence. Speaking her mind. “If you asked me five years ago, I was not as outgoing as I am now. When I was younger, I didn’t have as many friends.”
Grant’s sister spent time as an actress who encouraged a love for the theater. “If you’re willing to go on the stage, you can be who you want.”
Through this, she says she became “more” herself. Confident. Consistent. Loud. It’s an interesting paradox, becoming yourself by thinking about others being someone else.
12 years in isn’t exactly a marathon, so there’s a lot to look forward to.
What exactly is it that Grant wants from her future? I asked her point blank.
“Well,” she began, “as you can tell I’ve thought about this before.”
On her list?
Go to a good college. Have a decent-sized family. A job like a teacher…. Or a reporter….Or work at Google. (“Because have you seen their office?”)
“I just have big hopes that I’ll be someone people can rely on,” is how she ended that thought.
The future will have to wait. For now there are assignments to finish and grades to earn.
Grades are what Grant calls her “biggest problem” these days, and though she recognizes the pettiness in that idea, there’s no escaping the call of duty for grade-schoolers. So much conflict and torment tied to a single letter.
“We all just want to make our parents happy,” she said in regards to grades.
Certainly Grant’s parents must be happy. Her last report card was filled with A’s and she speaks at an intelligent and mature level about her life.
And Grant insisted her classmates, and those of her generation are keeping up with the times and educating themselves just the same.
“We know what’s going on,” she said of her peers, making one feel the incredulity our adult-selves put on children as ignorant to the passings of the world. “Half the kids in my school keep up with the political dates. And we actually listen to the news. And care about what’s happening.”
Perhaps we’ve forgotten to exclaim that children are the future. Even if it’s a future we imagine with artificial intelligence, global warming, and the sphere of influence moving toward the developing world.
The way Grant tells it we have much to look forward to. That we’re in good hands.
But what’s the limit of what one 12-year-old girl knows anyway?
I found one when I asked a high-level question about “people” in the world (a reflection on 7 billion). She started her answer with “well, in my school” (a junior high of 300). And then you remember that her scope is small and limited. but perhaps that’s not anything to write of.
In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance there’s an exercise in which a writing teacher asks students to describe their hometown. One pupil struggles. She can’t think of where to start. Her hometown is large and abstract—hard to pin down in a writing assignment.The teacher’s instruction was to start small. Think about City Hall, he said. Think about just one brick in that building and start describing that. Once you have, go bigger. The next brick. The row. The building. The street. The town. And there you have it.
Grant is still young and although she keeps a thumb on the larger world, it’s hard to allow her to speak for the entire population. On a daily basis, after all, she doesn’t converse with anyone who has gone to war, paid into social security, or refinanced a mortgage.
And yet there’s something to be said about the more immediate focus. The seeing of herself amongst her class and her peers of 12-year-olds—maybe there’s something to it. Maybe that’s the starting point we miss out when we diagnose our species of its ills and wills. Maybe.
That question will have to remain sitting there for now. It’s time to practice the Viola and then math homework and scrolling through the new posts on Instagram and then it’s time for sleep because 5:45am comes around early and there’ll be decisions to make before school starts.