Thursday, February 8, 2007

Respecting Teens

Do adults remember what it was like to be a teen? I'm rather at an advantage, because I'm not that far removed from my teenage years. I haven't had time to forget what it was like, and to a great extent I find myself relating more to teens than to "real" adults. I won't consider myself a real adult, you see, until I have my own house and am thus financially independent from my parents. This feeling of being not quite adult puts me in rather a unique position as a young adult. In many ways, for example, I still feel the tension teens do with their parents for autonomy and respect, and to be quite truthful I read many more young adult novels than real adult novels.

So perhaps it should not have been such a surprise to me that I still related to a lot of the teenage attitudes explained in Peter Zollo's book. After all, I was still a teen when some of those surveys were done. And I have to say, for those who might read this and think, "Are teenagers really like this?" YES. His surveys and insights very accurately reflect what I myself was like as a teen and (what sort of scares me) what I still feel like to a certain extent as a young adult. Reading his book, I was completely transported back to my 16-year-old self.

In my opinion, one of the most important points he brings up is the need teens have to be respected and taken seriously. I think adults, including myself, have a tendency to forget the actual maturity level of children of all ages. I remember reading some books about kids my age, thinking, "I don't think like that. That's dumb." Adults tend to forget how mature a 9-year-old, 12-year-old, 16-year-old, really are, and they tend to think of them as younger. This isn't always the case, but I've found that it's often true in my own experience. The fact that college-age kids play teenage kids on just about any sitcom doesn't help, because then a girl who looks her age is mistaken to be younger. Talk about embarrassing!

This isn't to say that adults are entirely at fault for not taking teens seriously or respecting them. Sometimes teens read into what adults are saying. One argument I've had with my mother was and is when she reminds me to do things: "Don't forget to load your dishes in the dish washer," she'll say as I'm on my way to do it. Why does this annoy me? Isn't she simply reminding me so that she won't have to clean up behind me? Well, yes...and no. Yes, because there's nothing innately disrespectful about what she's saying. No, because what I'm interpreting is, "You're just a child who needs to be reminded. You won't remember on your own." This is why I answer, "Mom, let me forget before you remind me!" In her book You're Wearing That?!, Deborah Tannen discusses the caring vs. criticizing dynamic between mothers and daughters in conversations similar to this. Though she's mainly discussing adult daughters and their mothers, this dynamic applies to teens and parents, too. Apparently innocuous comments like "Load your dishes" or "Are you sure you want to wear that on an interview?" can become an argument out of nowhere because a parent thinks it's a caring comment, and the teen thinks it's criticism. Really, there's an element of both. Add to this a teen's desire to not be treated like a child, be respected, and be independent, and you've got yourself an argument in the grand parent-teen (or parent-young adult) tradition.

I think this need to be respected and taken seriously is why teens want to be older than they are. I found it really interesting that young teens want to be 17 and even 18 and 19-year-olds wanted to be 20. These numbers match up almost perfectly to the desires teens have for their future -- getting their license for young teens and graduating and going to college for older teens. The age teens want to be ranges only from 17-20: old enough to be responsible, independent, respected, taken seriously, but not old enough for "real adult" responsibilities.

Works Cited:
Tannen, Deborah. You're Wearing That? : Understanding Mothers and Daughters in Conversation. New York: Random House, 2006.

1 comment:

Linda Braun said...

Very well said.

One thing that I'm always thinking about is the fact that I think most adults don't want to be reminded of their teen years. So, they choose to forget. That means that they don't want to deal with teen realities because if they do then they have to remember how hard it is to be a teenager. It's a catch-22 in the whole teen/adult dynamic - at least how I see it.

What I've found in my work with teens is exactly what you are talking about. If I sincerely listen to what a teen has to say without pre-judgment. If I talk to teens as regular old human beings then they are willing to talk to me, listen to me, and simply be.