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?

 

My Son, This is What it Means to be Southern

My son,

You asked me today what it means to be ‘southern’.

It’s good that you asked. You are being raised in the South, and you will be shaped by its meaning. Now you are very young and were given a simple answer, but as you grow this meaning will grow with you.

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Being southern means being tied to the land – overgrown and luscious, maddening in density. Our land is fragrant, and always resisting cultivation. The slopping fields, deep woods, and coursing rivers bear the names of British monarchs, founding fathers, and peoples long ago stripped of the land they alone had loved. We utter all these names and thus give them power to shape us.

Being southern means enduring our summers. The heat and humidity make us a little wild. This wildness permeates our language, our posturing, our emotions, our very ideas of life, and meaning. We often straddle a desire to be both gracious and raw in authenticity.

We’ve created literature, music and cuisine celebrated the world over. We’re a land of celebrated authors and musicians, as well as countless women and men who had to leave their work nameless.

We recognize that “y’all” is the single most satisfying phrase to utter.

We crave porch sitting and tea sipping.

We showcase in no quiet or subtle ways the very marrow of human nature. We as a people have loved intensively and hated in tragic proportions. Our language is spoken with meandering poetry, and with arresting derogatoriness. We are renowned for our hospitality and made infamous by our segregation. There always seems to be a war brewing. It will be your generation’s job to finally bring peace.

Southerners claim the most paradoxical of heritages. A heritage that birthed modern ideals of liberty and freedom while simultaneously enslaving many of its members. Some people liberated while still oppressing. Some people lived in chains, but never stopped dreaming of freedom. We have tended things that should have been left behind and neglected many thing that only propelled us toward justice.

We southerners are not a melting pot, but a boiling stew, in which the influences of countless civilizations are colliding and marinating with one another. You must remember those who still yearn to taste true freedom.

My son, you must one day come to terms with the paradox of your heritage. You will be proud, but you will also feel anguish. You may love, but only after knowing that loving something doesn’t make it perfect. You can speak of your experiences, but you must also listen and learn from voices of those who have not shared your experiences.

For you, being southern will mean carrying on traditions that bring beauty to the world and embracing changes that make our culture worthy of the land which nourishes us.

 

 

A Woman for All Seasons

Join me in welcoming guest writer, Allison Aylward to the blog! A PhD candidate and new mom, Allison explores the birth pangs of early motherhood and her growing confidence to navigate the changes it brings.

I am a new mom, currently juggling the needs of my one year old son, my husband, and my PhD. My husband and I welcomed our son during the second year of my PhD; my Annual Progress Review was actually scheduled the day before my due date. Sweating out a progress review by panel (literally) at nine months pregnant was one of those life experiences I’ll never forget or not mine for laughs.

Prior to getting pregnant, or even as we woke up each morning, wondering if that would be the day I’d go into labour, I had not considered how I’d feel about my career path as a new mom. I had not considered the fact that I’d be pulled towards, and be completely satisfied with, a much more slowed down pace and direction for my professional life. As I approach the final stages of this PhD, my priorities are with my young son and my husband, and making sure my family’s needs are met. My desires for the trappings of an academic career have faded into the background, almost like a dream. Thanks to the wisdom of a kind friend, I now realize I’m simply moving into a different season in my life, and there will be other seasons in the future for new opportunities.

I struggled with accepting this while at the same time relishing the rebelliousness of this realization. Part of this discovery was a natural result of the PhD process. As an aspiring academic, I see academia for what it is – warts and all. Inside the ivory tower, all is not dusty old tomes, tweed jackets, and erudite conversations with leading scholars (though there is a bit of that!). It’s full of people who work incredibly hard, pushed beyond reasonable professional expectations, to deliver for the university and their students. It’s full of people who are expected to maintain a grueling research output schedule, while still handling a full teaching and administrative load that only increases each year. Academics work in uncertain conditions, knowing that their jobs could be ended without much notice.

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Allison finds parallels in the landscapes surrounding her home and her own life journey

As PhD candidates, we see all of this. And, in its own way, it’s useful. We are confronted with this reality and have to ask ourselves – do we want this for ourselves? Knowing what we know about the realities of academia in the 21st century, do we want to joint this relentless cycle of publishing, admin, grant writing, and if we are lucky, the odd bit of truly satisfying teaching and mentoring?

This process of professional planning was only compounded when I found out I was pregnant. We live in a society that tells women we can truly have it all, if we just ‘lean in.’ But, what society also tells us, is that if we don’t succeed in every single way at work, if we don’t embody the ultimate in domestic goddess, and if we don’t kill ourselves for our children’s well-being, then we’ve failed. Well, the truth is that no one can do this alone.

As a Type A person, recovering over-achiever in school, and having grown up in a very competitive area, I struggle with this dilemma. I’ve learned a lot about myself in this post-partum period. I actually can function on zero sleep and I have learned to make peace with clutter and laundry that was done and folded weeks ago, but never put away. A grimy bathroom doesn’t give me nightmares anymore. In a previous job, on one annual review, I was told I was a ‘pillar of patience’ when helping my colleagues learn to use a new filing system. I was amused, thinking if they only knew how short my fuse really was. Now, I own that title. I can handle a willful, angry, baby that is wrecked but doesn’t want to sleep and takes an hour to settle. I can get up again and again in the night, with a smile and a cuddle, because my son needs me. I accept that everything will take longer than it used to, and that’s ok. That’s just where my life is right now.

And it is in this current season of life, learning so much about myself, that I realised I don’t want to remain in the ivory tower. I don’t even know if I want an academic career. My priorities have shifted, my interests diverted. I know I want to continue working after the PhD is finished, but it’s not on the original path I had thought. And that is ok. Maybe later on in my life, but for now I am satisfied where I am. And in accepting this desire, I feel free. Free of the relentless pressure that society places on women, particularly mothers. Free to say that I am in the season of my life where my family takes priority. Perhaps later, in a different season, I will return to a more career focused outlook.

I want my son to see all of this. To see a mother that is confident in her choices in life; who can keep evolving and developing as she grows in years and experience. I hope that this inspires him to realise his own life will be made of seasons, and to weather their passing with confidence, just as is mother is weathering her own.

Many people experience liberation in letting go of the pressure to “have it all”. Have you experienced seasons in your life? How can children learn from these experiences?

Allison bio

Allison is a PhD candidate in the UK, researching the Colombian peace process. Her work focuses on confidence building and negotiations in the context of ongoing violence. She enjoys spending time with family, traveling, swimming, yoga, and writing. Brand new journals, full pots of coffee, and soul music make her happy. All opinions and thoughts expressed on this page are her own and not affiliated with any organisation.

Things A Photo Cannot Capture

I caught a glimpse of my baby girl as she stood by her favorite spot in our home – a wicker bench near a window which overlooks a ridge of trees. The sun was setting below the tree line on what had been a beautiful early spring day. There was something about the way the dusk light cast a gentle glow around my daughter’s profile that made my heart ache. I reached for my phone in hopes of taking a photo of the moment. After snapping a few shots, my eyes left my daughter to review the pictures.

Dang it, I thought, something is missing. So I adjusted the brightness on my camera settings and took a few more. Still not it, I thought and continued on. Finally, with slight disappointment, I realized the moment wasn’t going to be “captured.” The phone was put down.

My eyes once more looked for the ethereal glow of fresh baby skin only to see that she had scampered away from her spot on to the next attraction.

My heart sank. The moment – so fleeting and beautiful – had been once more interrupted by my desire to capture it with a photo.

How many times in my life has this happened? When would I learn?

I love taking photos. I love surrounding my home with images of the memories my heart holds dear. In laughing with friends, it’s frequently remarked that our photos are our best anti-depressants. When I’m feeling down or had a rough day, a scroll through pictures of my kids usually sets me aboard the happy train.

Our world of parenting is inundated with the availability and convenience of taking pictures. And although it may be met with cynicism at times, I know that we are taking and sharing photos out of love for our children.  We’re proud and in awe of these tiny humans who make us see the world anew every day, and it’s a good thing that we are able to document so much of this time.

But when I’m really honest with myself, my main reason for taking pictures is something a bit more melancholic. I take pictures because I cannot stand the heartbreaking reality that I can never have this moment again with my babies. Our children will always be our babies, but they will only ever be as they are now for the briefest of moments before growth and change carries them forward.

How incredible, bittersweet and at times painful is this?

No picture will ever truly “capture” everything that makes up the moments that matter. And let’s face it, amidst the good, the bad and the ugly, every moment matters. There are not enough Shutterfly products, Instagram filters and photography sessions in this world to change the fact that all we have is this present time.

When I look back at those photos I took of my daughter, I now know that even with a few pictures on my phone, I’ll never see the same light cast a glow on my baby’s cheeks. I’ll never hear the same sweet exhales from her button nose, never feel her soft wisps of hair just as she was on the evening.

On that evening I should have let the phone alone and had the courage to take it all in, realizing that this was it – this was all there was and all I would need as her mother.

If I can just have the courage to embrace this reality more often – the tenderness and the heartache – how much more authentic and powerful would this journey in motherhood be?

Perhaps I can show my daughter that pictures have a time and a place, but life is not meant to be captured, but experienced.

Perhaps I can help her realize long before I did that in both the ordinary and extraordinary moments of life, our best bet is to allow our senses, not a device, to take it all in.

Whether it be a morning walk or a walk down the aisle, a trip to Europe or a trip to the grocery store with her baby, she should take it all in with her senses and trust that it will be enough just to live in that moment.

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It’s so tempting to constantly snap pictures of our children. How do you find a balance between living in the moment and ensuring you have keepsakes for the future?

Go Ahead and Rebel Against “Success”

Our culture loves a success story. It’s this love of achievement that pushes us to perform well, collect accomplishments, and have results that indicate our efforts have been worthwhile. This pressure to excel doesn’t wait until we’ve reached mature adulthood, but rather begins when we’re kids.  

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Although we’re now grown, it’s not too hard to remember being immersed in our youthful scuffle to achieve acceptance in our academic, social and extra-curricular pursuits. Now that we have little humans of our own to nurture, it can be daunting to discern how best to encourage their success. There seems to be an almost constant call to raise talented, over-achieving success stories. And children at the earliest age can be so critical of their own abilities, quickly feeling frustrated if they’re not preforming as well as they think they should.

But as the framework around parenting continues to center around helping our kids “get ahead” in life, we need to take a step back and consider what exactly is being perpetuated here?

When we hear that children of this age feel more stress than the children of the Great Depression (the Great Depression, my friends), and that more minors are now taking their lives than previous generations, it becomes clear that we desperately need to change some things. We need to let them know that the pressures they feel do not define them.

I am fully prepared to rebel against our culture’s obsession with success and am doing so for the sake of my children’s well-being.

One of the ways I’m battling this is by…playing piano. Let me clarify, by playing the piano badly.

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I have attempted to “play” the piano for over half my life and continue to be terrible at it. You’ve never played piano? It’s still possible you’re better at it than me. I took up piano as a young girl around the same time I fell in love with classical music.  Within a year or two it became obvious that there was no greatness in store for me. Even mediocrity would be a dream unrealized. The years have passed, the playing has continued, but the result remains absolutely dreadful. I was and remain just plain bad at it. There is nothing tangible to “show” for all the time.

Except that I still really love to sit down and play.

The thing is, I believe I’ve loved playing all these years partly because of how poorly I perform at this. As the limits of my musical ability settled in, playing became a glorious relief and a reminder that there was more to life than striving for success.

Playing this instrument would not be a part of any success story, but rather, a love story for simply living. There was nothing that could be derived from this time at the bench and fake-ivory keys, except the joy of living in the moment. There’d be no one to impress. There’d be nothing else to gain. It would heighten an appreciation for those who did possess talent, but would never include my membership in their rank.

As a mother, playing piano has continued to be a tremendous reminder that life is more than being good at things. It is meant for experiencing and relishing the moment at hand. It’s amazing how necessary that reminder is on a day-to-day basis.

My children are growing up hearing some mighty poor performances. Right now they happily kaplunk alongside me, with only a minimal differentiation between adult and child. One day they’ll realize that their mommy ain’t that great.

But hopefully they’ll also learn that sometimes it’s okay to be bad at things. It’s okay to seek out time and activities without thought of productivity or achievement. Amidst the pressures to succeed, we are all entitled to love things intensely and not lose heart if greatness isn’t a part of the story.

And if my children can learn these things, it will help them live more authentically, humbly and joyfully.

Children should be encouraged from time to time to rebel against this notion that they must be a success. Not everything is about achieving excellence or exceptionalism. Life is meant to be experienced not achieved, and often times, the way to true “success” is to love something without fear of failure.

So what’s something you love to do that you’re no good at? Are your children getting in on the fun of this as well?

What We Have Is Ours To Share

Join me in welcoming guest contributor, Lauren Hidalgo Gassman to Things I Teach My Children for today’s post!

“This ain’t no one’s house but God’s.” These words have stuck with me since I went to Lynchburg, VA for a Workcamp service trip years ago. Our project was to scrape and paint the siding of an older couple’s home. Unfortunately, the backyard was too steep and our ladders were too short to complete the job. They welcomed us into their home all the same. They knew of the work our group was doing around their community and were thankful for our efforts. When I reflect on the homeowner’s words, I am humbled. His simple greeting reminds me that nothing is really mine because it has been entrusted to me by God.

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While raising a toddler, the word “mine” is said, whined, and cried several times throughout the day. This bottle? Mine. This toy? Mine. This other kid’s toy? Mine. It is a difficult thing to teach a child what mine is: what is his, what is his to share, and what is someone else’s not meant for him. As he gets older, my hope is to teach him that most of his things are his to share.

My husband and I daily reflect on the life we have. This often includes our most valued things: our house, our jobs, our dog, Harley, and our garden. But we love these things not just because they’re ours but because they’re ours to share. I want my son to remember that nothing we have is really ours. The house we live in is a place where friends find comfort and companionship. It’s a place others can call home. Our jobs supply an income but also allow us to do what we love, to share our time and talents to make a positive change in the world. Our dog is not just ours to own. She constantly teaches us to greet others joyfully, to forgive quickly, to observe carefully, and to cuddle tenderly. Our garden is not just to feed our family. The plants sustain the bees and other pollinators. The produce we yield are made into acts of love we give to family, neighbors, and coworkers for nourishment. The scraps are given back to the earth to repeat the cycle.

None of these things were acquired in a vacuum. A realtor (and my talented mother-in-law) helped us find our house. Our parents, teachers, and mentors gave us the tools to earn our positions. Harley was rescued by a caring foster agency. Our garden was built by the previous owners and the soil, seeds, water, and sunlight are not ours to claim. God gave us each other to appreciate, recognize, and better ourselves to continue His good work.

So yes, while we bought that bottle or he was given that toy, its existence is defined beyond our ownership. Many people had a hand in their creation and many hands will benefit after us. As my son grows older, I want him to remember that toys are meant for sharing. Knowledge is meant for teaching. The gifts and talents he develops are not for his amusement. They are meant to serve others. We are meant to serve others.

Gassman Photo.jpgLauren is a wife, mother of one, and Fitness Specialist. Perpetually in gym clothes, you can find her teaching group exercise classes, training clients, gardening, baking or running her online health coaching and personal training business at www.LGFIT.co. She enjoys game nights, road trips where she can sing loudly, and every kind of cereal.

 

You Are Worth More Than Your Busy Schedule

I made a resolution a few years back to not be “busy”. I decided I wasn’t going to use the word and I wasn’t going to seek out the security that came with it.

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When You’re Left Feeling Unworthy

When I first made this resolution, I was coming out of a period of my life that was utterly unbusy. There’s no need to go into details; suffice it say, I was a first-time mom in the midst of frequent moves, a tight budget and an unreliable car often out of service. I was at home. A lot. Like, almost all of the time.

Along with those homebound days came feelings I couldn’t seem to shake. I felt lonely and isolated. I loved my baby and knew taking care of him was important, but I struggled with feeling inadequate in a world that idolizes productivity and busyness. My worries or my desire to find friendship were difficult to express. Who had time to make for me, and why should someone like me ask for it?

There are specific circumstances that make up my personal story. But when we’re honest with one another, most of us face these same fears of inadequacy. We live in a society that equates busyness with value. Who we are is often synonymous with how much we do.

When we’re asked how we are doing, or what we do “for a living”, there’s that lingering pressure to prove our worth to others – to spout off a long list of responsibilities or achievements. We worry that if we don’t appear to be adequately performing in life we may be judged as unworthy.

Our children often have this same weight on their shoulders. They’re told to be “over-achievers” (whatever that means). Those who are recognized as “good” students must perform well at school, seek out extra-curricular activities, and promote how much they volunteer (which, let’s face it, sends conflicting messages on why we should be helping others).

In the pressure to achieve, it’s no wonder that in almost every basic interaction we have the following exchange:

“How have you been?”

“Oh, busy.”

It’s a reply that is almost as safe to say as that other go-to response, “fine”. Fine and busy make up our safety net. They are socially acceptable. They also do not reveal how we’re actually doing. It is an odd kind of game, where we all must be busy to be fine and fine if we’re feeling busy.

Saying No To the Busy Game

After a few years, circumstances made it possible for me to have a fuller schedule. I relished the activity and the ability to form community. But I found my heart still ached over those dark insecurities. And there was a growing awareness that others around me were going unnoticed in their struggle to feel worthwhile.

I also started wondering how to best help my children form healthy self-images. Was there something I could do to relay to them that they should be seeking an authentic life, not necessarily a busy one? Could they value what they did as an extension of who they were, but not let it define them?

I made a resolution to just say no to being “busy”. And it’s one I renew each year. Life certainly gets chaotic, messy and overwhelming, but the “b” word is not a part of my family’s culture. Here are some things we’ve learned along the way:

You Realize That Being Busy Doesn’t Add Value to Your Life

When you opt-out of the busy game, quantity doesn’t determine quality of life. You’re not trying to be the busiest or most important person in the room. Your kids do not have to be the busiest kids in the room. Your family’s activities are extensions of the people who make it up, but you value those around you for being who they are more than what they do. And you become proud of the time you’ve carved out to not be busy. It’s liberating and gratifying to reinforce a mentality that values people both big and small as human beings, not human doers.

You Become a Better Listener

I learned first-hand that when you don’t have a lot to say about your life, you use your time to better listen to others. That’s not something that has to stop with having a full schedule. When you take the pressure to appear busy or impressive off the table, you can be more present to others. The word “busy” can at times come across as too busy to be present. But there’s a way to merge the relaying of your life with others in compassionate listening.

We Are All Worthy

Let’s face it, most of our lives are made up with the things that just need to get done. We do our best to pay the bills and put food on the table. We all have hopes and dreams and are doing what we can to make our lives happy and meaningful.

We’re also all different. We have different things that make us stressed or proud, excited or overwhelmed. Our differences make comparisons or the need to out-busy or out-perform one another futile. I want my children to pursue their interests and work hard in life. But it would break my heart to hear they are doing things to escape feelings of insecurity.  I want them to know that no matter what they do, they always have value. It doesn’t matter how much they achieve – they will always be worthwhile people.

In all sincerity, I’m not trying to make anyone feel guilty for being “busy”. It’s often our reality. But for anyone struggling with “keeping up” with it all, and especially for those who are feeling less than adequate, this is a reminder that you are worth more than a busy schedule.