Though now in my seventies, I remember what it was like to be a teenager. Also, I taught high school students for thirty-five years and was able to observe all over again, on a daily basis, that glorious and degrading period of being in one’s teens. They still have my sympathy and admiration for their living in a world that is changing even faster than it did when I was an adolescent.
Teenagers, as they stumble through the vast maze of learning the social graces, can be, in turn, both infuriating and hyper-sensitive. They don’t always learn good behavior at home, so we have to remember that they remain sometimes for long periods in a state of trying to imitate what they think is currently “cool” and that a confident and comfortable individuality, coupled with a true social conscience can take many years. What we like to call “grown up” behavior can often go on hiatus during parts of adolescence. A teenager’s world is often a fragile place with erratic extremes of inappropriate boldness from a fearless belief that there are no consequences worth noting, to feelings of terror at doing the wrong thing, taking the wrong step.
Our egos as teens are as delicate as they will ever be, assaulted on all fronts to grow up, be responsible, do homework, keep up grades, respect elders, choose better role models, wear the right clothes, fit in with peers, be more independent, and to address romantic yearnings without going too far. Boys are taught to take chances and then criticized if they fail. Girls are encouraged to play it safe by not taking risks. As teens we always like to believe that we know more about ourselves and the world than we actually know. Our confidence can shrink and immobilize us at parties or in classes where we are terrified of blundering and being overwhelmed by our greatest fear of all, not fitting in with our classmates. Or, we can delete common sense at times to soar in a dizzying but very temporary, wild abandon before being hurt or humiliated in our early encounters with cars, alcohol, or the opposite sex.
As teens we often feel the world’s critical and suspicious eye and the likelihood that we will not be respected or even tolerated for what we think. Not being taken seriously is the worst curse of being a teen. Adults often see us merely as hormones with shoes. Maybe that’s why finding a personal talent for doing something well means so much to us at that time of life. Sports, music (even our personal choices of music), clothes, are all elements of a teenager’s quest for personal identity, that terrible need to fit in while holding tightly to whatever turns out to be what makes us unique individuals, even if it turns out to be tattoos, spiked blue hair, nose rings, or other piercings or body modifications that at age forty will look absurd and regrettable. It is that ephemeral little world that teens inhabit, rejoice and suffer in, and spend all their adolescent energies trying to escape. JB