So, I’ve been thinking about this for such a long time. I’ve worked with teens for years and I’ve raised teens and am doing so still. Teens are unique. They need a voice and adults who will raise their voices.
First, teens are different than children. In my experience, children are “easier.” They’re an easier sell because they’re small, they’re cute, they’re funny. They can’t make decisions for themselves. Their parents, guardians, teachers, and others make decisions for them. As long as they’re safe and can play, they’re usually happy. They have many advocates. Expectations for them are flexible and their path to happiness is varied. They are allowed to try many activities and are praised for their efforts.
Teens are not children. Do they have things in common with children? Sure. They no legal standing until they’re 18 when nearly all adult responsibility is dropped on them in one fell swoop. Unlike children, they’re not willing to accept “because I say so” as a reason anymore. They have way more responsibilities. They can drive, choose some of their classes, decide on their career and college interests, and have sex. They are big. They sometimes smell bad and sometimes say ugly hurtful things that they really mean. They have very few pure advocates and they face multiple gatekeepers in every aspect of their lives.
Second, teens are not adults. They can’t truly make decisions for themselves. They have increased responsibilities, but their freedoms don’t increase at the same rate. They’re told that they have to have their whole life’s path figured out by the time they turn 18, and at the same time face the pressures of high academic and social expectations. They have complicated families and family responsibilities. They’re not usually free to do what they want or to say what they want because their spheres of expression are usually limited to home and school. They don’t have their own spaces.
The usual response to the challenges that teens face is something like, “Ugh, everybody is miserable in middle/high school.” The greatest expectation people have for adolescence is that a kid survives it to actually “start their lives.” There’s no transition period. A kid goes from the fun and play of childhood to the control and stress of middle and high school to the freedom and dangers of adulthood/college with no gradual release or official expectations for increased responsibilities.
How can we be surprised when they struggle? Why do we just accept that they will struggle as a matter of fact?
I really want to change the way we view adolescence. I want to do it by working with teens and asking them what they need. I don’t have any interest in telling them what to do. It’s time to be an advocate and an ally, not an authority.
I need your help to get there.
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