Q&A: Lincoln High School's Peyton Chapman

The veteran principal on youth culture, smartphones, and her own teenage misadventure

By Michael Zusman September 3, 2013 Published in the September 2013 issue of Portland Monthly

What do you love and hate about being immersed in teen culture? It’s never boring. I love seeing their range of intellect, interests, and abilities. The negative: it’s exhausting. At 47, there is no way you can keep up with 1,520 teenagers. 

What makes today’s kids different? Being exposed to adult culture and behavior so young. There’s really a whole wide world to navigate. Some parents say they should drink at home to learn responsibility. The family next door says absolutely not. So, there isn’t one right way. I think that’s progressive, but it’s also confusing. Kids today are excellent communicators. They can organize things faster than any other generation. Given autonomy, they can start nonprofits, build schools in Africa, and plan events. 

So: smartphones? Not in class, unless it’s part of an assignment. It’s hard to monitor because of all the legitimate uses. I am nervous about the whole culture. The messages are that everyone has to be beautiful and have a ton of friends on Facebook, which is causing a lot of depression and anxiety.

What can be done? Take them and their friends out to the Gorge for a hike. Have family parties with different ages so it’s not just the same age group looking beautiful together. Vacation somewhere remote, with no Internet or cell reception. Do things with your kids.

Lincoln is historically a bastion of Portland’s upper middle class. What goes with that? The book The Price of Privilege argues that relatively privileged kids are more at risk for depression, suicide, drug and alcohol use. Other research shows these students are far more likely to listen to their peers than their parents. We’ve trained kids to know when a friend is suicidal, and our data show that we have less drug and alcohol use than average. Lincoln students meet or exceed the international averages on the International Baccalaureate tests. They are getting into great colleges. We set the bar high—and kids usually rise to the challenge. 

What’s the dumbest thing you did as a teen? I told my mom I was going to sleep, but instead I snuck out to see The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I put my mom’s Volkswagen Jetta in neutral and slid it down the driveway, picked up my friends, and we had a great time. On the way back, we ran out of gas, and I had to call my mom to come pick us up. I was completely busted.

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