My generation grew up with some fears. We were taught to fear Soviets, nuclear war, and, for some reason, quicksand.
Seriously, I really grew up thinking quicksand was going to be something I would have to be mindful of.
Without diminishing the worry of nuclear war or the soviet threat, which was somewhat of a fatalistic worry- I grew up in a town with a big Navy base, a shipyard nearby, and Boston was right across the harbor) which is to say that we understood that if it happened, we weren't going to know much about it, being at ground zero, so why worry? In retrospect, that was fairly reasonable.
As I got into my late teens, the hole in the ozone layer, radon, CFC's, overpopulation, and global warming all filled the gap left by the Russians... but by then, we had fearmongering fatigue, and that helped too. We were tired of being told to be afraid, with the 'big one' already behind us, realizing that a lot of time and energy had been wasted.
Teenagers today, however, don't get a break. At school they receive a barrage of fearmongering. They are taught that we're living in a dangerous time where violence, hatred and greed are destroying everything. The environment is irreparably damaged. Global warming is going to make it worse. Overpopulation. Racial disparity. Income inequality.
The media they consume is even worse. I suspect that the spike in interest in fantasy movies and superhero TV is an escape valve from this.
I talk to my kid about being afraid. About the difference between reasonable and unreasonable fears. About how much easier it is to manipulate people through fear than via any other emotional medium, and that for the most part, this is a conscious decision on behalf of those who hold or grasp at the strings. I hope it's enough. My kid is sarcastic, and this gets him in trouble at times. I've gotten phone calls. It's been a good lesson in power dynamics. I've also learned where I have to caution my kid about repeating lessons on critical thinking and the nature of behavior- on being sure the juice is worth the squeeze when it comes to sharing ideas that people don't like because they're true. The role of instinct in virtually all behavior. Altruism. Class and culture. Those are volatile subjects, and while my kid enjoys a certain amount of leeway in talking about certain social topics because he's not caucasian, he also is vulnerable to accusations of 'acting white.' I mean, what the hell would I know about that? There's not much I can do there except note that ignorant minds can't distinguish between color and class. It's not an easy subject.
My son is more aware and concerned about these issues listed above than I certainly am, and I suppose that's inevitable. Where I have rational arguments against a specific issue, I'll talk to him about it. The power of critical thinking is such that it's relatively easy to turn the tables on someone merely by asking questions about their platform, which also leads to being able to disagree with less conflict, unless one is dealing with a fool or a zealot, and there's no angle on wasting time on either.
Trying to balance teaching a young man how to be strong, how to never back down, and how to be discreet... that's a challenge. My kid can and has been called out on being religious already. That's a fight I can't fight for him. He'll have to make his own way there. Pretty much all I can do is talk to him about it and be the best example I can manage. I worry about it of course- virtually every teen suffers a loss or dimunition of faith at some point, but if we laid a good foundation, he'll have that to build off of, once life screws him over a few times.
Being rootless, being afraid and being discouraged- these are the lessons that my kid is being taught, for all that schools talk about affirmation and support. For the most part, I learned 90% of what I needed at home. Trivia and details were available at school, which helped. But I'm not there nearly as much as my own father was. He was already retired when I was in grade school, I could talk to him every morning and night.
No, I don't have that luxury. All I can do is to teach my son to be confident in his ability to judge, to be fair and strong without being brittle or a bully. Above all, I hope to teach him to be optimistic for his future, for achieving his goals. More than anything else, our culture of fear steals that away from our children. They might be taught to strive for success, they might be encouraged, but that gets measured and balanced against the other, darker lessons, the rampant nihilism and fear for the future that is being jammed down their throats in these jumbled mixed messages that our poor confused kids have to deal with.