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Teenage Wasteland Essay, Research Paper

The book Teenage Wasteland, by Donna Gaines ventures into the heart of a small suburban town in New Jersey to find out what the real sociological reasons were behind a suicide pact between four teenagers. The story made headlines across the country and the ideas behind the story were socially constructed through media and other areas of society. What was originally said in headlines as a reason that these teens did commit suicide were mental problems, drugs and alcohol. Author Donna Gaines looked deeper into what really happened. This was a completely different approach than what others did to construct what happened and why. Gaines looked at these suicides on a much broader level than most. ?From the beginning, I believed that the Bergenfield suicides symbolized a tragic defeat for young people? she writes. This was much more than just the lives of teens in Bergenfield, but everywhere else kids were getting blamed and labeled. What Gaines did to look into the heart of the real problem was much more valid than any other way anyone has researched what happened. Was this truly the best way to discover what really happened to these kids that could cause them to react in such an unusual manner?

Author Donna Gaines starts out by remembering her life as a teenager and how it was for her. She remembers what life was like in her teenage years and how it was for her. Gaines talks about being a young adult started after recovering from her average teenage life of drugs, family problems, and problems with the law like most other teens go through. She then tried to help out kids that had problems like she did. She first worked as a big sister for troubled kids in a junior high school. Then Gaines worked on a suicide-prevention hot-line. Eventually she became a social worker and did a lot of work to help out troubled teens and such dealing with abuse and welfare problems. Eventually she went back to her home town and worked as a ?street worker.? She would work the streets of the town helping the kids out in rough times when they needed her under their terms. ?We were there for the kids-like an older friend there to walk them through their wasted years.? As a street worker she would talk with teenagers that had problems and had no where to turn but for help. Since she was young and had experience, she was the most comfortable and best place for these troubled teens to go to. When she went into Bergenfield, she already had an idea of what might be the reality of the situation. She knew how hard it was for kids to mix into society well. Teens are too old to be kids and too young to be adults, so they?re trapped in this space for long enough to have serious problems. All of her past has a major affect on how she reacts towards the situations and how she settles in with the teens of Bergenfield. Of course, everyone was a teen once, but Gaines? personal experiences as a teen and how she personally overcame her situations help her to look deep into the facts and lives of the ?burn-outs? in this town and any other normal suburban town.

Gaines originally starts out investigating the suicide pact by assignment. She was already perfect for the job and her editor knew that. What she was concerned about was getting into people?s business and gaining their trust just to tell about it. She wanted to get more serious than just by writing about these kids. She wanted to be a part of their lives and defend their rights as kids so every other teen can be however they want without being put down like the teens of Bergenfield. However, she firmly believes in the ?rights of the researched.? No real names and descriptions would be used in describing these events she goes through. All that would be similar are stories told and ideas she had and wrote about. Her mind was set to go and make a difference, no matter what she had to sacrifice to correct the truth behind these deaths.

When Gaines got to the town, she did a little research of what the media had to say and what the town was like. The first time period she was there, she drove around the town, finding the kids of this ?burn-out? generation and observing how similar they were to any other teens in other towns. Gaines talks about some history behind the four teens that killed themselves and what they were going through in the time period before that. All of them were close to a young man that died one night hanging out by the cliffs. He was having a going away part when he walked close to the edge of the cliffs and slipped to his death. The two girls were especially close being that one was his girlfriend and the other was her sister. The other two boys she says were not that down on their luck to the eye?s of the public. Most people didn?t actually know what they were going through at that time with family problems and jobs, school, and other problems, too many to deal with for most people. There was never a mention of drug or alcohol abuse being a main reason to want to kill themselves. They all had futures planned and were working hard, no matter what type of future they were looking at.

Gaines gets into the lives of the towns teens. She gets to hang out with them and become one of them. What seems to happen is that she becomes the best of friends with all the guys and close with some girls, but not so specially. She even says it’s hard to get close with a group of girls, they don?t make friends too easily. The guys she really got in tight with and got to know pretty well, or so she made it seem. This was a good way to find out how these teens survived and lived their lives every day. She got to know what went on between some kids and what was going on in their home lives and schools. This makes one of the most valid ways to do research about a situation like this.

What was wrong with this was that she never stepped on the other side of the fence and saw it from the parents point of view. Maybe some things they said were wrong, but they still knew what the kids did to an extent and labeled them somewhat correctly by calling them ?burn-outs.? She also didn?t become one of them. She wasn?t a teen that lived there all of her life no matter what she did to fit in. She wasn?t exactly that close with the girls and who knows what they said about her behind her back and to the others. There were things that might have not been noticed by Gaines when she was there.

The teens that committed suicide were deemed as ?burn-outs? and social misfits. The truth behind this is that they were those things, but that shouldn?t make anyone suicidal in the least bit. They liked to party and did nothing all the time that they were seen, but no one can label them as destined to die. Who were these people that I keep referring to as the labelers? The parents, media, school representatives, the good kids, and anyone else not named that have any voice in the society but the ?burn-outs.? But who were to blame for the suicides? Parents blamed drugs, schools blamed parents, media blamed everyone. Gaines? reasons were all of them. The school had it’s toll by letting the kids slip out of the system and not offering clear help. Up to the suicides, no one ever knew there was a school sociologist. The media after the suicides nearly harassed the other teens trying to cope with the situation. They asked upsetting and labeling questions to other teens. When not treated respectfully such as being trashed with eggs and such, they started to create faulty ideas about the kids in this town. They never thought asking such deep questions could trigger such horrific emotions.

Gaines describes the town of Bergenfield as much different from her home suburbia of Levittown and most other normal suburbs. ?Bergenfield simply has this horribly oppressive geography that makes it different….It is just too f@#$ing close…. The town just moves in on you. After a while, it is suffocating you.? This is a very important quote. No one in the town seems to talk about this but the kids. She is seeing life in Bergenfield from the kids perspective. The families in the town have been there for generation after generation. Everyone knows everything about everyone. Her friend once tried to open a store there and was driven out by the people of the town. They do not easily accept new people and ideas. There is basically one religion, one race (for the most part), and one life dream. If something is out of whack, blame is automatically taken off of everyone and put onto different things. The town is basically a bubble and is nearly impossible to break free. She states that unless you have a car or you never leave the town you are under surveillance every minute you are outside. This is no normal life, it is something out of a fantasy book like George Orwell?s 1984. In that situation, there was no way to break free up until death.

I feel that the research Gaines did is a valid conclusion to what really happened on the night of the suicide pact. She really got into what the kids lives were like and what they went through being teens. A teenager is not supposed to go through such hard times. A parent is supposed to be there for them to make things better and not give them such a rough time surviving through their adolescent years. The town itself would have never been so explored and taken apart would it not have been for the experience and understanding of author Donna Gaines.

Gaines does have her weak points about thinking she had fully assimilated with them and their society. She has to remember, no matter how hard she tries and how she acts, she is always going to be older and wiser than these kids. She does not fit in as well as the actual teens in the story do into their lives. She was never born and raised in this society that drowns out the kids and problems with overwhelming socialism policies, maybe not stated but somewhat applied to the town. She never knew these kids that died on any sort of personal level and never would be able to. For all she knows, the kids she hung out with might have been pulling her leg the whole time she was there, acting fake every time she was there because they knew what she was about and why she was there.

In conclusion, Donna Gaines makes a very strong argument toward what really happened to cause these kids to kill themselves on a night that made headlines across the country. She might not have changed anyone?s opinion in the town of Bergenfield, but she definitely gave way for a change in peoples ideas about teenagers in general and the ?burned-out? generation of kids. Donna Gaines did not only do this time trial to make a book, but she did it to defend kids everywhere and to settle her own mind. She took it from a sociological standpoint and took a firm grasp of the reality behind the life and death of the kids in the suicide pact in Bergenfield, NJ.


Teenage Wasteland, by Donna Gaines

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