Laughter, Tears, and Our Teen Years, by McKennaugh
I turned to the lady behind my mammoth cart of groceries and gave her an apologetic smile. I know how aggravating it can be to wait behind a person that has 99 items. She smiled back and burst into conversation. Tossing cereal and vegetables onto the belt, I tried to keep up with everything she was saying. She was talking about her son, who was six years old. He had just started school again a couple of days ago and I asked her how he was adjusting. “Oh, he’s doing alright,” she said. “He knows a lot of the kids from last year, so he was happy to be with them all again.”
“Well, that’s good,” I said, sliding a jar of sauce towards the cashier.
“And he’s glad to see his girlfriend,” she laughed, rolling her eyes, “he’s six and he has a girlfriend. I’m just like, ‘whatever’.”
I laughed, too. But I shouldn’t have. I didn’t want to. Because I was really thinking, how sad. He’s six and he already feels like he’s got be able to say, “I have a girlfriend.”
And his mom? “Whatever.”
I thought that she should have sat this little boy down and told him, “You know, when you grow up, you get to have a girlfriend. Right now, you can just have girls as friends.”
But that’s not the way the world works anymore.
At school, kids are pressured by their peers. They feel like they don’t fit in if they don’t have a girlfriend or a boyfriend. They think, I must be too ugly. Or, I must not be smart enough for anybody to like me.
Kids aren’t allowed to be kids anymore! Six-year-olds are supposed to watch Sesame Street, ride bikes with training wheels, and throw temper tantrums every now and then…but they aren’t supposed to have girlfriends and boyfriends. Now, when that boy is six, yeah, maybe having a girlfriend is all cute and funny. But, if he has one now, do you really think he won’t have some girl in fourth grade, too? Sixth? Seventh? Eighth?
It’s not so funny or cute in eighth. I was a volunteer for a pregnancy care center and by eighth grade there are a lot of kids who are in trouble. Serious trouble that will affect their whole lives. They are suddenly no longer kids anymore, yet they have not grown up either. And the same mothers who laugh when their kids had girlfriends in first grade, are certainly not laughing anymore.
I see parents that constantly watch their teens get deeper and deeper into trouble and still the parents shrug and sigh and say, “Yeah, I can’t stand the boy that she’s hanging out with, but there’s nothing I can do about it.” No? Nothing? If she’s nineteen, you’re probably right. A parent may not have much pull anymore, especially if their teen is no longer at home. But if their teen is fourteen they DO have the power to make change. If they simply say the same words that they said when that child was six, though, nothing will change. “Whatever” doesn’t solve anything. It tells a child or teen, “I don’t care. I can’t help you and, even if I could help you, I won’t, because it’s more difficult than leaving you alone.”
That attitude certainly can’t help any child. Children look up to their parents, especially at a young age. If Mommy says “whatever” it’s okay.
“Whatever” is a powerful word. It is powerful ignorance by choice.
Many times, homeschooled children don’t feel like they have to chase after a first love as soon as they’re out of diapers. Since school isn’t there, along with peers from very different households, the pressure is not present. They aren’t forced to hang out with a crowd all day that says, “Hey, Sarah, how come you don’t have a boyfriend?” Or, “Hey, Bobby, how come the girls don’t like you?”
We’re more sheltered sometimes, us homeschoolers. And that can occasionally be a good thing. Because I know my five-year-old brother won’t have a girlfriend when he turns six next year. I know my ten-year-old brother won’t have a girlfriend either, nor my thirteen-year-old brother.
For, in my family, we don’t look at girlfriends and boyfriends as people you just hang around with until they break your heart and you go looking for somebody new. When one of us has a girlfriend or a boyfriend someday, it will be a person that we might potentially marry. That’s what everybody else leaves out of the picture. To most people, a girlfriend or boyfriend is just somebody to have for the thrills of today. Tomorrow is not involved. Minus a few decades from our world and there wasn’t the girlfriend/boyfriend problems. There were kids that grew up, became young adults and got married. In that process, they probably didn’t go through 15 girlfriends as they went from age six to age twenty, like the people of today do. What has changed? Have the kids changed? Society? The parents? Maybe all of those?
My parents have taught us ever since we were little, that girls and boys are friends. They have also taught us that the word friend stays separate from the word girl or boy unless we meet somebody that we would want to spend our lives with.
Thus, I am asked about my boyfriend many times and my response is, “I actually don’t have a boyfriend.”
How people take that varies widely, but I get usually get a look that says one of the following:
“Now, how old is she?”
“Oh, she must have broken up with him.”
“I wonder why nobody likes her.”
“I haven’t heard that from a seventeen-year-old in a really long time.”
Or if they know I’m homeschooled: “Those poor homeschooled kids. Homeschoolers are so secluded.” (Actually, homeschoolers are really lucky…)
Do I mind having to say that I don’t have a boyfriend? No. I occasionally don’t appreciate the surprised looks I receive from people, but I’m hoping that someday I’ll be able to have a first kiss at the altar.
A real first kiss.
McKennaugh Kelley (email@example.com) is seventeen years old. She lives in Troy, Pennsylvania with a handful of crazy, creative, but mostly wonderful little brothers.