Rebel with a Cause: Teens and the Throw Away Youth Culture

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I’ve been hearing murmurs on the internet about recent changes to Teen Vogue. The publication is apparently now offering articles which discuss politics and current events. This is big news because it’s a departure from the kind of fluff material often geared toward adolescents.

So I took a gander at Teen Vogue’s Facebook page. I found articles on make-up, a comical amount revolving around Jenner and Kardashian family drama, a few helpful hygiene tips, horoscopes and a sex act “how-to guide”, which failed to disclose its serious health risks, but did manage to highlight a grossly inaccurate diagram of the female anatomy.

Well, that was a waste of life, I thought as I closed the page. Perhaps there were some articles of depth buried amidst the trash, but the trash clearly outweighed anything of substance. If Teen Vogue is being championed as a bastion of American adolescence then my heart goes out to teens. Their potential and capabilities are being underestimated in tragic proportions.

But before going further, I want to clarify that this article is not a rant about “young people these days.”

It’s a criticism of how we as adults frequently underestimate the capabilities of teenagers. It’s a harsh condemnation of those grown-ups who profit by promoting a reckless and superficial youth culture (here’s looking at you, Teen Vogue). Finally, it’s a reminder that we can never start early enough in affirming young people of their self-worth and capabilities.

The Teenage Brain

Developmentally teenagers are still in the midst of brain maturation. Amazingly enough, the human brain does not finish maturing until approximately age 25. This should evoke compassion and understanding from parents and educators when we encounter choices and behaviors that seem reckless or ill-conceived. The desire for a teen to be an adult before he or she has reached full maturity is certainly a legitimate cause of teenage angst.

But the level of teenage angst and drifting that our culture now experiences is a recent phenomenon. Certainly teenagers have always felt at odds with the older generations. Young people have always tended to act without the inhibitions of older people.  It’s only been in recent decades, however, that being a teenager has been defined by a rampant material culture, entertainment geared exclusively toward their age group, and an educational system which confines them together in close quarters without the normalizing influences of the outside world. The extreme pressure for teens to participate in extracurricular activities also consumes more time they could otherwise spend with other age groups.

As an adult, when I think of being a teenager in those terms it sounds like a ring in Dante’s Inferno.

Aren’t the teenage years meant for so much more than this?

Rebel with a Cause

I do not have teenage children. I’m actually about as far away from my adolescent years as my children are close to them.

Regardless of age, each of us can still vividly remember those emotions and thoughts which defined our adolescence. What did we crave as teenagers? Often we craved meaning and opportunities for self-expression, but felt confined. Confined by our educational environment, confined by the petty pressures to have whatever was trendy and popular, confined by the limited responsibilities entrusted to us by a society that saw us more as children than adults.

Is any of this avoidable? We have to hope that some of it is.

When my children are teenagers, there’s a few things I hope that they hear from the adults in their lives.

I hope they know that we *see* them. We see that they are young adults, not older children. Their desire for independence, self-autonomy and self-expression are good desires and should be received with respect and encouragement.

I want them to know that adults cannot fully understand the pressures they face. We didn’t grow up with social media. The throw-away sex culture has only intensified since we were teens. If they tell us we don’t “get it”, we’ll need to be honest and say we don’t completely understand.

When they seem focused or bogged down by petty youth culture, I hope there is a continuous discussion that they are worth so much more than the nonsense. I hope that educators, counselors and others help me in ensuring they have time for genuine immersion into a world beyond teen culture.

I hope their community presents to them with pride and respect, examples of teens who are living authentically. Teens who are utilizing their emotions, idealism, and energy toward self-discovery and change.

Finally, I hope they’ll be encouraged to be rebels with a cause. They can be countercultural. They can rebel against those elements of youth culture which do not resonate with them, as well as the injustices they see going on in the world around them.

The sky’s the limit. With their lives ahead of them, there’s no reason why they must wait to begin truly living.

After all…

Joan of Arc was 17 when she took a commanding role in the French army.

Alexander Hamilton was 13 when he was entrusted to run a trading charter.

Mary Shelley was writing Frankenstein when she was 19

Louis Braile invented the Braille System when he was 15.

Soccer phenomenon Pelé won a World Cup at 17.

Malala Yousafzai was 11 while fighting for girls’ rights to education

Teens, just like all of us, have hearts ready for deep love, minds searching for discovery, souls thirsting for God, and bodies made to reflect their inherent dignity.

How have your experiences as a teen influenced the way you parent your children? Do you think there’s an alternative to the way teens are frequently portrayed in our culture?