One of the things I hate the most in our society is how we collectively dump on the Teenage Experience. If you want to insult someone, tell them they’re behaving like a teenager — watch as they sputter, indignantly protesting that whatever is happening is nothing like How Teenagers Handle Things. They’re so much wiser now, they’re adults.
And as adults, there seems to be a point in everyone’s lives where they become the Guru of Teenage Years, benevolently bestowing boatloads of wisdom to all peoples under the legal adult age, keen on saving them from emotional turmoil and foolish decisions. When I was a teenager, they’ll say, their voice tinged with enlightenment, this was my experience, so you shouldn’t do whatever it is you’re planning and just learn from my mistakes. After all, you and I are exactly alike; the same thought process, the same personality, and identical life experiences down to the last detail.
Then the teen receiving this boon of knowledge from the heavens nods seriously, returns to the righteous and intelligent path of life, narrowly avoiding emotional and social experience that would’ve otherwise scarred them forever if not for the grace of the Guru.
Wait, what? What do you mean that doesn’t happen? You can’t be serious; teenagers have the capacity for critical thinking and enough autonomy to make their own decisions? What kind of upside-down world are you living in? Am I living in? Gosh, I need a moment.
Teenage autonomy seems to be a foreign concept to many people; it’s an unthinkable, impossible idea that anyone between the ages of thirteen and eighteen is capable of making decisions based on their own analysis and perception of the situation. If a teenager makes a decision an adult finds questionable, it’s immediately excused — it’s your hormones, you’re too young, you don’t understand, you’re not thinking clearly, you’ll regret this when you’re older, what’s the matter with kids these days? No one takes you seriously when you’re a teenager; remember, they’ve already navigated through those awkward years and since it’s all a universal experience, they know what’s best for you.
Especially in matters of love.
I participated in a conversation last night where the opening poster — a thirteen year old girl — was asking for help with her soon-to-be long distance relationship. Now, very little information was given; she and her fourteen year old boyfriend had been dating a few weeks, were in love, but boyfriend was moving out-of-state at the end of the school year. They had already decided that they were not going to break up, and she wanted help with navigating the tricky seas of the LDR.
Predictably, several people replied with patronising explanations of how they weren’t really in love, they were “in lust”, and they had their whole lives ahead of them, why waste it on a long distance relationship that was bound to fail? You’re too immature for this, they told her. You don’t know what you’re doing. Save yourself the heartbreak, trust me, I’ve been there. It’s hard enough to be in a long distance relationship when you’re an adult, it will be impossible for you, you’re only thirteen.
When I posted in support of her decision, along with some advice that would help her handle being in a long-distance relationship and that it was okay if things didn’t work out, the proverbial shit hit the fan. How dare I give her the advice she asked for? I should be dissuading her from even being in the relationship at all! It will end in heartbreak, which is something to avoid at all costs! She shouldn’t even waste her time! The guy’s probably scum anyway, he’s dated other people before.
The amount of rationalisation for this mindset was astounding: teenagers aren’t suited for relationships like this because they get jealous and manipulative; she shouldn’t be in a relationship that might cause heartbreak; she should wait until she’s over 19 (how this number was decided, I’m not sure) so she can experience REAL love, not the teenage facsimile of it; because she’d spiral into a suicidal depression (because that’s what happens to teenagers nowadays who get heartbroken).
It hurts my head. When did teenagers become less than real people? When did their emotions stop being valid? Why are adults as a group so quick to dismiss any event in a teenager’s life as irrelevant and/or hormone-induced and not as “real” as those experienced by people ages 18 and up?
Look: just because something isn’t going to be relevant in a of couple years doesn’t diminish its importance in the moment. Just because the love you feel when you’re 13 isn’t the same as the love you feel when you’re 35 doesn’t mean it’s not love. Just because no one is going to care in ten years if Suzie and Celia showed up in the same dress during winter formal that one year doesn’t mean that it isn’t going to be mortifying and a socially ostracising event.
The teen years are a formative point in peoples’ lives. These are the years, in western society, that we begin to learn how to navigate through social nuances, how to deal with massive letdowns and disappointing relationships (romantic or otherwise). You learn how to love, how to be friends, how to be enemies, what your personal and social boundaries are. You learn how to juggle social minutiae in conjunction with daily activities. You learn how to have emotions while trying to keep a clear head. You learn how to lose your temper. You learn.
By shoving this holier-than-thou, adults-know-best pseudo-advice down teenagers’ throats, you’re trying to deprive them of learning experiences and relationships that will make their current lives and future selves fulfilling. By saying that their love is actually lust, you instil the thought that love and lust are mutually exclusive events, thus barring the opportunity to learn how to distinguish between the two emotions at all. You’re saying that they should listen to you even though you are not them, you are not in their now, and you don’t have to deal with what they face on a daily basis anymore (if ever). They’re not going to turn 18, 19, 20, whatever arbitrary you’ve deemed as being ‘adult’ and suddenly be one with the universe and therefore qualified to make decisions about their lives. They have to learn, have to go through the whole process of growing up — just like you did, and just like I did.
So stop hating on teenagers. Don’t forget, you were one too.