Teenagers have more skill than children and more time than adults, and they tend to get intensely into odd pursuits. For my sister, it was learning the choreography from Newsies. Jeff’s cousin is in a chain-mail stage and spends family gatherings clinking in a corner with pliers and a lot of metal rings. When I was 13 I spent a lot of time making Princess Leia costumes. (Laundry softener sheets were the only material I could find that suitably mimicked the fabric of her Cloud City over-robe. My mother was not pleased when she learned this is where all the softener sheets were going.) Jeff’s father can still play the guitar parts to Simon & Garfunkel songs he learned in the 70s – he hasn’t added to his repertoire since then, but the motor memory is still there.
I was kind of boggled to hear about the time and mental energy that Scott Alexander spent with his friends constructing societies in an imagined world. I think that might be the most intense, long-lasting, and awesome teenaged occupation I’ve ever heard of.
This all makes me wonder how teenagers could best use their intense interests. If you’re going to put a lot of hours into something, maybe it should be something that will help them later on. Maybe being able to play the run at the beginning of “The Boxer” is a skill you’re going to use more than your ability to recreate Leia’s awards ceremony hairstyle, especially after you turn 17 and realize that three feet of hair doesn’t look good on you. Getting into something like debate club or world-building probably helps you a lot later in life.
Of course, intense interests are hard to steer. I’m not sure that teenagers can really choose their passions. But it does seem worth mentioning to them.