30-something is where you should seriously give earnest thought to no longer attempting to impress anyone else. Wear what the fuck you want, eat what the fuck you want, go to the bars you like not the ones you're supposed to be seen in.
I was going to ask you if you thought this was hormones. But it's not. I spent way too much time trying to fit in with the squares. It's a kind of survival mechanism because subconsciously you're terrified of what's going to happen to you once you become an adult and get to the "real world" so you feel a need to conform to what "the world" is, or at least seems to be. And conformity is good. The English language, aqueducts, shit like that. But "the world" is only as big as you can perceive.
People are only going to get as far as their own brains can take them. Due to the institutional separation between "youth" and "adulthood" there's a constant tension. You're moving through time on a cart. Your social existence is segregated by age group. You don't want to be cast out. You still mostly think about your "future" not "the present", even though you're technically living in the present. You peruse Wikipedia articles of famous people who died before you were born and try to look for a path. It takes a minute to begin trusting your own perceptions of the world.
So you get dumped into people. You have "friends" but you're constantly trying to distance yourself from them even if they love you. You want to wear what you want but again, you're not sure if "being yourself" is going to fuck up your survival strategy. You have fun but it's too much fun. You need to let loose because you're being too uptight now. Human existence is bouncing between these extremes. There's no flow.
I'm convinced eventually this ends not through some God-like level of insight but just out of sheer exhaustion. It's never gonna make sense. You love who you love, you're friends with your friends, you like what you like. Then you resent how much time you actually wasted worrying about this trivial shit. So I'm like half your age and I mostly no longer give a fuck what anyone thinks. But maybe I shortened the loop somehow. I nearly got kicked out at 17 and was still trying to impress the squares to get dates. If I was smarter I would have said fuck all that shit, dropped out at 16, flipped off my parents, moved cities out of the bayou, got an apartment, and enrolled at the European University of Lubajub in engineering physics.
And hormones, yes, vulnerability yes, but I blame institutions and basically geography. You can't sheep-herd kids into a square box on a tighter schedule than prison and expect anything better than Lockup Raw. That's why any good parent makes their kid get a fucking job at 16. It's non-linear. Here's ex-convicts, 20-something managers who you would call burnouts and I would call legends, customers throwing shit at you over the counter. Some old guy yelling at you because you won't give him change for $100. It's not trial-by-fire or trying to cure them through anti-fragility. It's diversity. It's leaving the playpen. It's exiting the cave. It's freedom, it's love, it's humans being honest rather than lying. Here's your first paycheck. You learned to code at 10 so go get some bitcoins with that kiddo. Now you're in the tenth grade and you just committed a felony. The world just got bigger.
Eventually your world gets big enough you start to feel semi-okay about yourself. Now I'm the adult and they're teens. I didn't work there for a bit, but during university I was back, this time managing that pizza joint part-time, still living in the hometown and at some point I went from subordinate to authority figure. The 16 and 17 y/o's look at me with googly eyes. They pay a lot of attention. They think it's crazy I'd ever make a pee-pee joke. They still constantly ask me to go to the washroom, and I give them the "da fuq?" reaction, except I did the same shit.
Their lives are so small. They're so fucking vulnerable. It scares the shit out of me. Which is fucking wild because that used to be me. And my instinct now is dad-mode but I can't. I can't fucking bullshit these kids. Someone has to be honest. So I decided to tell the truth, even if that makes me an asshole. "what were you like in high school?" Oh, I don't know. Sex, drugs, rock and roll, 93 average, toga party, calc, faking a suicide attempt, wbu? "have you ever done acid nil?" And of course they're all on fucking drugs but contrary to popular opinion a) they're good for your soul and b) are less likely to ruin your future than playing video games.
So yeah, people born after 9/11. I keep telling them kids to take Grade 12 Calculus so one day they can retire. No, don't major in fucking business. No, don't take a goddamned year off. Time is important. Your "friend" isn't going to return from his 2 gap years. And his mom is a shit-head. "My son is 17 and donating blood THAT'S A TREND YOU DON'T SEE IN TODAY'S YOUTH", well I did that too after knocking over 12 garbage cans you asshole. Okay, this one kid. CS major. I love you. Yes, computer science is good. Okay, this is an eigenvector. Okay, you're scared shitless but please don't give up. Believe. In. Yourself.
Don't let yourself fossilize in the culture.
I'm probably a better influence on most of these kids than their parents. Because in the end, there's no cure for stupidity. All that shit you mentioned, the terrestrial radio, the Jay Leno skits, the shitting on young people just because they're young, all of that comes from just general small mindedness. You'll never fossilize if you still give a shit, and some people are frozen at 17.
edit: fuck nirvana