Quite honestly, I think the biggest struggle of being a teen today is just that: we are teenagers. And so, we are viewed as teenagers. We have become our own group, different from adulthood or childhood, and so we are often treated that way. In society, teenagers are given their own stereotypes as being rebellious and troublesome, and so by hearing these stereotypes, we almost come to believe them ourselves. The only reason people still hold these stereotypes is because we, as teens, hold them ourselves, and in many ways fulfill them, if only because they are there for the sole purpose for us to fulfill. If we grow up hearing that we will be a specific kind of person, we will eventually expect to become that kind of person, like a form of self-prophecy. Having this “teenage culture” is honestly a very difficult challenge because things are expected of us and we are considered social outcasts if we do not fulfill these expectations.
With this category of “teen” already set out for us, others who are outside the realm of “teen” tend to treat all those within the realm of “teen” a certain way. We are not children, so we are expected to have a certain level of knowledge and responsibility, but we are not quite adults, and so we are not expected to be able to know or do many things that an adult can do. And in many ways, this is true; we are not ready to be adults. But that does not mean we can’t start trying. The very word “adolescent” comes from the Latin verb “adolescere” meaning, “to grow up.” But we cannot grow if we are not pushed. We may not like being pushed, and sometimes we might push back, but that is how we, as teenagers and as humans, grow.
Another thing to consider is that the very idea of “teen” didn’t exist until quite recently. The Wikipedia article on “adolescence” (an article that I find to be quite insulting and derogatory and I should hope many other teens do as well) states that G. Stanley Hall, a turn-of-the-century psychologist, is credited with his “discovery” of “The Adolescent.” In 1904. So, for the better part of history minus the past 100 years, teenagers didn’t even exist. There was no stage between child and adult. However, Hall’s “Adolescent” was misinterpreted to be a kind of “transition stage” between childhood and adulthood. In fact, Hall’s “Adolescent” was just a term applied to children who commonly rebellious and emotional, which thus led to moodiness, and eventually high risk-taking behavior. He used the term “Adolescent” because he saw that many children who were close to adulthood displayed these behaviors as they grew. So, I don’t know about the rest of teenage society, but I am not really cool with this. It’s actually quite derogatory. We, as American teenagers, are classified by a once derogatory term, and not only do we embrace it, but we allow adults to embrace it by treating us as inferiors.
Now, that was a bit of a tangent, but I had to get that out. I am not, however, going to rebel against adult supervision. Unfortunately for we American teens, we have actually earned ourselves this status. Generations of previous American teens have brought us to where we are today, and psychologically, I do not think we are ready to break away. And perhaps the idea of a “teen” is not a bad one at all; a transition stage between childhood and adulthood has always been present in human history, but not until recently has it been treated as its own stage. So, as consequence of our own human actions, we must accept that we may have fallen off track a little bit by creating this idea of “teen.” Yet, the greatest danger we can fall into is embracing “teen” and furthering this deterioration of humanity by self-fulfilling the stereotypes of “teen.”
So, I guess what I’m really just trying to say is this: for people who work with teens, I suggest trying to treat them less as the stereotypical “teen” and more as adults. A person cannot grow if some one is telling them not to. Dumbing down subjects and trying to make everything “fun” and “teenish” is only making it worse. Instead of presenting a challenge to teens and trying to encourage them to grow, it’s just telling teens, “It’s okay to be rebellious and we embrace you as such and you can do what is fun and easy and we’ll take care of everything else.” If any one good thing has come from the development of “teen,” it’s that the “teen,” by nature, is constantly looking for adventure and a challenge. We’re done with mediocrity and simplicity and everything easy. We want something deep and challenging, yes, even things that require some work and effort. Your average teen goes through some form of emotional heartbreak or injury due to an important relationship at least once throughout high school. And it’s no fun at all, we can all agree on that. But we learn from it. As humans, we are designed to learn from our mistakes. It’s like that line in Batman Begins: “Why do we fall? So we can learn to pick ourselves back up.”
If adults keep picking us up for ourselves, we’ll never learn to do it ourselves. If adults keep treating us as intellectually inferior, that’s what we’ll be. The very definition of “teen” is to be growing up, and as such, our minds and emotions are very vulnerable and easily molded by outside influence, even if we don’t like to admit that publicly. Yet the power to mold a mind should not be taken lightly; it is an important role for an adult working with teens and one that should not be taken for granted.