Last year, I was in Gonzaga’s production of “A Chorus Line” and my favorite song from that musical is (by a longshot) is “Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love”. It is by far the best depiction of the absolute hot mess that is adolescence. I think adolescence is absolutely fascinating and hilarious like I’ve said before, and tonight in my Lifespan Development class we talked all about. So hence, i found it necessary to provide commentary, even if it’s just for myself. I don’t really know why I feel like I have to provide a preface for every post I make…whatever.
I never realized how much acne, peer pressure, changing bodies, and new awareness of sexuality could be an all-out traumatic experience until I found myself sitting and looking back on my own journey through it. I always have to stop myself from shaking my head in annoyance at the massive herds of frappucino-carrying, flat-iron happy, lipgloss donning young girls at the mall because I used to be one of them. As much as the girls giggle obnoxiously to each other and take too long to try on clothes and feel the need to travel everywhere in giant groups and as much as these poor young boys feel the need to prove themselves, they need that time. Everyone is always talking about “those damn kids” who don’t know what they’re doing and have no life experience and therefore no mature thought. But for Pete’s sake, these pimple-ridden poor things need a break and here’s why.
On top of dealing with the hormonal voodoo that is suddenly making their hips wider and their voices 3 octaves deeper, on top of becoming suddenly aware that that special boy or girl may not think they’re good enough, on top of the possibility that they may be growing faster or slower than their peers who hold divine power to accept or reject them into social groups, these kids are going through something pretty significant. I read in a book once that adolescence is just as much a mourning of childhood and innocence as it is coming into adulthood. I thought that was so powerful. We get sex education and are made hastily aware of the biological changes going on in our bodies, but no one ever makes it known that once those changes start happening, there is no going back. The realness of sexuality and gender roles and the responsibilities of adulthood are suddenly dropped into our laps. You can be a kid at heart all your life but you never really are a kid again after puberty hits. And that is pretty damn heavy if you ask me.
Psychologically, it is very normal for adolescents to be moody and isolated and insecure. Stress and biology contribute heavily. But I believe that the loss of innocence does too, even if we don’t know it. Adulthood is scary in all of its decisions and moral dilemmas and autonomy. I’m sure people like me who are 21 would agree, and I’m even sure that people who are 91 would agree. These poor things are suddenly being thrust with that idea, many times without proper warning because their parents were too uncomfortable or honestly unequipped to provide it. They are being told by their peers, teachers, and even their own bodies that it is time to say goodbye to the days where passive aggressiveness, deceit, and increased responsibility just didn’t exist. What a daunting task to ask of a child. No wonder I felt so lost. No wonder the fifth graders I teach are constantly asking questions and seeking reassurance. No wonder there are so many issues in so many people that just never get resolved, even into adulthood. Adolescence can be an internal grief process of a simpler time. And unless it’s dealt with properly, I believe it can be permanently damaging.
Knowing all this, I vow at this moment to have nothing but love and solidarity for the teenage girl I see at Sephora wearing too much makeup, the group of baggy-jeaned boys in the airport who dares their friend to come say hi to me, or the many desperate quests for attention I have to deal with in my dance class. I know I would have loved some as I dealt with my too-frizzy hair, too-curvy body and the social price I paid for being unwilling to submit to peer pressure at that age. These kids just need someone to understand what they’re going through, even if they’re not willing to show appreciation for that understanding. And I will. With my future students, and with my own future children. Adolescence is a rough time but a necessary one. So smile at the next group of awkward tweens you see at the mall. They need it more than you think.