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?

 

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.

A Mother and Teacher’s Perspective on Supporting Our Schools

Join me in welcoming guest blogger, Molly Doss to Things I Teach My Children! As a public school teacher and mother of two kiddos, Molly offers her perspective on the debate surrounding public education in the United States.
 
As a mother and a teacher I am scared of where our country’s education system is heading.
 
In truth, I’m terrified.
 
I went to public schools, teach at public schools, and have all intentions, should things not go to hell in a DeVos handbasket, on sending my two children to public schools as well. However, with President Trump’s new policy being discussed, the changes to our system would mean public funding will be pulled from our public schools and given as a sort of “scholarship” for families to send their children to charter, magnet, and private schools, depleting our already neglected public schools further.
 
Regardless of your stance, you must realize that our public schools, whether you plan on backing the national school choice policy or not, are in danger. And let’s be brutally honest—in the wake of standardized tests and curriculum that does not take into account shifts in our society or the evolving job market that will be available to our children after they graduate, the last thing our educational system needs is another detrimental hit.
 
So, having insight on both sides—as a mother and a teacher—here is what I suggest we do to help our public school teachers.
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Everything Starts at Home
First- everything starts at home. Parents need to be involved. Not only with academics, but also in communicating with the teachers and having a firm handle on discipline and behavior of their children at home. I believe some parents see teachers as miracle workers or babysitters, and often a teacher is left to correct and redirect behavioral issues that not only interfere with the specific student’s education but that of the class as well. Before a child begins school, he or she should already have a foundation for behavior expectations that has been set by parents. This foundation should then be built on as the child ages, with the help of parents and teachers alike. There also needs to be a steady stream of communication between a parent and the teacher, especially when that student is struggling academically, emotionally, behaviorally, or otherwise.
 
The Blood, Sweat and Tears of Teaching
Second- teach your children how much energy and emotion their teachers put into their jobs. I have had my son come home from preschool and complain about how mean his teacher is. As a momma bear, I immediately go to blame her. As a teacher, though, I think about how much time this teacher has put into lesson planning; assessing my child’s and twenty other children’s work; cleaning up after crafts, activities, or worse, accidents; juggling twenty wildly different personalities while differentiating her methods to ensure she reaches each child; struggling to find three minutes to use the bathroom for herself; contacting the director and parents for any number of reasons; writing incident reports; observing and making notations of each child’s growth and progress in hitting milestones while planning parent meetings to discuss progress; preparing special gifts for the parents on the children’s behalf; sticking to a structured schedule despite any and every wrench thrown into her plans; and, most importantly, I think about how at the end of her day, she goes home and worries about her students.
 
She thinks about things she could have done better, things she can’t fix and with a broken heart accepts that, she stays up figuring out how she can make her day better, her students happier, herself more efficient, while also trying to maintain a healthy family dynamic of her own.
 
Students and children should be made aware of how much blood, sweat, and tears truly goes into teaching. I have felt, on numerous occasions that teaching is a thankless job. Teachers do not teach simply because it is a means of income. We do it because it is in our hearts. Everything we have goes into this profession because we are highly aware that we are responsible for helping shape the children who are our future. That is not a job that is taken lightly, nor is it a job that is checked at the door when the teacher leaves the school building. We carry that with us, everywhere we go, at all hours of the day.
 
Teachers Are Human Too 
Third- everyone must remember that teachers are human, too. We have bad days. We have cracks that show like everybody else. There is a lot of pressure for a teacher to be continuously and enthusiastically happy, bubbly, punctual, understanding, tolerant, structured, and accommodating. Do not get me wrong—teachers should be these things, and then some. But it’s also important to realize that your History teacher may have just stopped crying on his lunch break because his father is in the hospital or that by 8th period your English teacher might be snappy because she has been battling migraines or didn’t sleep because her baby was sick all night. Sometimes I feel there is no exceptions for teachers to be less than perfect. But we are not, try as we might to appear so.
 
Get Involved!
And lastly – support our public schools. Get involved. Volunteer at your local high school, buy goodies from the neighborhood kid who is doing a fundraiser, save your box tops and give them to a friend who has a child in public schools to bring in. Do you have any spare school supplies, clothing, canned foods, or even extra money? Public schools need these things. We need support from our communities. We need eager students to fill our chairs—students that yearn to learn so they can change our future. I have taught students in the public school system that I know will change this world. Help them. Help the teachers. Help our schools.
 
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The last thing our educational system needs is for money to be taken away to support
political agendas. Regardless of where things are headed, though, we will still have public schools, teachers who put their all into them, and students who are excited to be there. Our educational system is an integral part of our society and we need, for the good of our country and our future, to help support that and the teachers that help make it what it is.
 
Molly ProfileMolly sheds a humorous light on the joys that melt your heart, the dirty mishaps, and the many tears and laughs that motherhood brings on her blog, Tales from the Crib. You can also follow her on Facebook.

How I Wasted My Education When I Became A Mother

I was that young woman who graduated college and had my first baby a year later.

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This meant I spent four years working my way through university, keeping down jobs, interning for no pay, and pushing every limit I had to graduate summa cum laude…

Only to become a stay-at-home mom.

Among all the marks against an educated woman, the choice to seemingly do nothing with one’s education ranks pretty high. In those early years of motherhood, I’d frequently be asked if getting a college degree was worth it, since I was “just” staying at home with kids. Did I really need to attend a university to be a stay-at-home mom?

These inquiries were framed as harmless curiosity. But I knew better. And like so many other women, it was all too easy to feel diminished and insecure. However much I wanted to defend my choice, when I was honest with myself, I didn’t know how to answer.

Being a stay-at-home mom wasn’t the intention of my education. And although I never believed it, motherhood was often presented as a hindrance, even a barrier to advancement in many of my courses. Could all the resources, time and money that went into a college education really be justified when my days consisted of diaper changes and the alphabet song? Or was it actually a waste?

As time passed, however, and more of my friends became mothers, it became obvious that this scrutiny wasn’t exclusive to women who stayed at home with their kids. This same test of worthiness and adequacy was being pitted against every woman who had a child. I’d listen to the frustrations and tears of working moms and stay-at-home moms and hear the same insecurities.

You see, when it comes to women and education, our society loves to put us under a microscope and carry out an inquisition.

Will this woman, by virtue of her ability to be a mother, be productive, profitable, ground-breaking, reliable and ambitious enough to merit her education? Will she put it to good enough use?

Or will it go to waste? Will she just pop out babies?

Our society worries a woman will sacrifice too much for the sake of her children. She may prioritize care-taking over time dedicated to her profession. Her thoughts may be too wrapped up in a teething baby to make the same contributions as man.

And regardless of a women’s childcare choice or commitment to her profession, she spends an insane amount of energy fighting against these insinuations of inadequacy.

As these sweeping pressures became obvious, I realized I was in fact wasting my education.

I was wasting my education by allowing this destructive nonsense to have any hold on me whatsoever. Because it’s this constant testing against women that is the waste. Not our choice to be mothers.

So here’s how women everywhere can ensure that we are putting to good use the education we receive.

We need to redefine exactly what society sees as “waste”. Because caring for children, or any human for that matter, is certainly not waste.

We need to confront false ideas that women only be mothers and pressures that women cannot be mothers if they seek real success. Advocating equality in the office, lab and legislature is half the battle. The other half is elevating the value of care-taking to the same level as salaried pursuits. Young children need educated caretakers, and unless we value that care, we’ll go on committing the same injustices that have been perpetuated upon humans for millennia.

And ultimately, we need to acknowledge that raising children is a task worthy of a woman’s – or man’s education. Not only will our education enhance our ability to nurture and teach children, our experiences as parents furthers our knowledge of the world.

A short while ago, I was contacted by alumni relations of my alma mater. They wanted to know what I was doing five years after graduating.  When I was a new mom, I would have shrank from that question. But in light of my education, I stated without hesitation that I was a stay-at-home mom.

So what are your thoughts? How do you put your education to use as a parent?