When my husband and I lived in Virginia, we went to a few high school football games of our friend’s cousin (who is now playing for Yale). I wrote the post below a little over 5 years ago, but I felt it still spoke accurately about teenagers today.
I hope when my daughter is at this age and stage of her life, I recall what it was like to be a teenager, and not only view her through my adult eyes. I have a feeling she’ll need more support than ever.
This was originally published September 12, 2009:
I went to a high school football game last night. The neighborhood was similar to that of my high school’s neighborhood… similar student body demographic. Initially I was excited (I loved high school and potentially want to be a high school teacher), but after a few minutes there, I had a different view of what was going on.
I saw not young adults, but children. Students aged 14 looked like they were still in elementary school. The girls, no older than 17 (most here were very young) were decked out in makeup, teeny jeans, and tank tops. It was about 65 degrees outside, and raining. For comparison, I was in jeans, a sweatshirt, and a huge North Face rain jacket.
Every student I saw had a cell phone. I had a pager in high school. That’s just what we had. That was how our parents got a hold of us. I remember seeing someone with a cell phone and thinking, ‘Goodness, why would he want to be able to be contacted wherever he is?’ My parents got me a cell phone when I was 16. This was over 10 years ago. I didn’t know what to do with it. Now I have two. But just thinking of being in high school with cell phones seems overwhelming to me.
I placed myself back in high school. My brain was not as developed as it is now. My mental capacity was not as it is now. My ability to comprehend emotion is not as it is now. And while yes, those come with age, remember how you felt at that age? I remember feeling that I clearly knew what was going on, that I was capable of making my own decisions, that I was an adult, and that I was on top of the world.
Part of what I feel creates a distance between adults and high schoolers in terms of rule-making (parental advisory music, parental controls on tv stations, no this, no that), is that we are looking at them through our eyes. We expect them to know what we know, and because they don’t, they obviously do not act according to our rules and standards. We expect a lot out of our youth, expect them to make fully thought out decisions, to understand the consequences of their actions, and to act like, well, us.
Looking at these high school students, I felt a huge divide. I felt confused, disoriented, mostly because I remember how I felt at that age, and I was now looking at these students through a filter that they don’t have access to. They won’t have access to that filter until they’re 10 years older. It’s just something that comes with age. Even experience is a different filter. There’s a guy that works with me who is much more experienced in certain aspects than I am, but is three years younger and acts it in terms of entitlement, self-absorption, and conceit. I know there are people older than me who have not grown out of these traits, but despite those few people, there is no substitute for time on this Earth.
High schoolers are trying to navigate the world with what they have. They are trying to learn how to communicate with other people their age, other cultures, other personalities, other people they wouldn’t normally hang out with, and this, on top of the education standards we are constantly pushing higher and higher, can be a huge pressure. They are trying to become well rounded adults, to understand what we understand, to understand themselves, to understand others, to experience life, to increase their knowledge.
No wonder it’s a hard time in life. Adolescents think they know everything they need to know. And at the time, they do. They do not need to understand mortgages, marriages, corporate jobs. They do need to understand respect, gratitude, humility, honesty. And I think they’re all just wading through that. Trying to find their place and trying to see where they fit in.
My point here is that until last night, I didn’t remember how young high school students really were, and how unrealistic some of the expectations that are put upon them are. I think it’s important to look at them, and everyone around us, as people who are constantly learning, evolving, and changing. We are (hopefully) constantly meeting new people, being put in new situations, learning how to maneuver our way through this world too. We in that sense are no different from a 14 year old. We may have more experiences and more history from which we can pull our potential reactions, but we are really no different. Learning is life long, and all we can do for our youth is remember they are still learning too.
Adults should also remember that even though we’re older than them, they can still teach us. Their outlooks are fresh, different, and youthful. Maybe they can show us a perspective we’ve never seen before.