Some years back, I was standing next to my mother as she chatted away with another lady, when the woman turned to me and asked, “So, how old are you? Twelve?”
“Thirteen,” I had replied happily. I was slightly proud of my new age and it felt good to say it out loud. The woman’s response startled me.
“Oooooh,” she said, rolling her eyes at my mom in a knowing way, “a teenager.”
I stood there wondering what the amazing difference between twelve and thirteen was. Obviously, it was huge. And, if I believed that lady, it was hugely terrible. “I wonder why adults believe all teens are rebellious, awful people,” I thought. That was my first “personal” experience with the way adults view us. In many of their eyes, we are druggies, door-slammers, and backmouthers. All of us. It doesn’t matter if we’re standing there smiling pleasantly, or scowling and slumping against the wall. We are the child enemy. The sole cause of a mother’s rants and rages. We were something to be feared.
Why? Because we turned a digit.
Everybody expected us to be terrors. And, when we did fly off the handle, it was excused by, “Oh, the teenage years…”
There’s articles on it, books on it, talks on it. Everybody has their own theory about how to “survive the teenage years.”
We are expected to fail. We are almost ENCOURAGED to fail.
“My daughter doesn’t listen to a thing I say…”
“I hardly ever know where my son is…”
“It’s those teen years…”
Nope. Not quite. Everybody’s going to rebel and see how far they can get, if they’re allowed to. Adults are sending us a mixed message somewhere between “Shape up!” and “It’s the teen years, we’ve just got to get through it!”
One hundred years ago, the age 13 didn’t mean we turned into little monsters that were out of control. For some reason, today people seem to think it does. So, what do we do? We live up to society’s expectations.
Perhaps parents are tricked when they hear talks and read material that seems to tell them that their teenager is acting “perfectly normal”–it’s just the “teen years.”
Actually, we’re people, too — individual people that shouldn’t be classified into one big group with the label “troublesome teens.” I often hear, say, on a Christian radio talk show, someone who claims to know all about raising teens in a godly way. And, yet, I hear them make comments about how we are dumb, make no sense, never want to listen, and the like. Honestly, that’s not fair. We shouldn’t be viewed as one, because, when we hear these words, we think, “Why does everyone expect us to act like that? Are we SUPPOSED to?”
Maybe you remember one of my past columns in which I lamented about the fact that adults criticize the way young people dress, what they read and what they watch–for adults don’t realize we’re looking up to THEM. The clothes in the stores, the books on the shelves, the videos on Netflix, they’re all designed, produced, written and manufactured by–you guessed it–adults. So, to those older people who point their fingers at us–go ahead. We need it sometimes! But, remember, it’s often your peers that we’re modeling after. Ouch, huh?
Many of us teens are off of the path that we should be following. I wonder what would happen, though, if we were treated like PEOPLE, not weird, rebellious, strange, crazy teenagers. What if adults told us our potential to change the world for good, instead of treating us like the devil’s pawns? Because I know that as I stood there smiling at that lady with the excited words, “I’m 13!” on my tongue, her response made me have a sad, odd feeling inside that I had never quite felt before. I wanted to say, “I’m not a bad person. I wish you could see me, not my age.”
So, please, America, don’t expect us to fail. Just show us how to succeed.
McKennaugh, age 17, has never been in a classroom and she’s proud of it. Homeschooled in the mountains of rural Pennsylvania, you can often find her following an ovenbird that’s slipping among the trees, leaping into the freezing water of Rock Run, or stowed away in a corner with her typewriter as she records her adventures, imagination, and beliefs. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or let her know what you think about her work for Homeschooling Teen by leaving a comment at homeschoolingteen.com/category/laughter-tears-and-our-teen-years.