DISCLAIMER: I wrote this post on Myspace when I was 19, and angry. There is a lot of coarse language. Today I read the most profound article that I have read in a long, long time. Psychologist Hana Estroff Marano is my new hero. Here's why:
"Teens are more competent than we assume, and most of their problems stem from restrictions placed upon them." Bingo. Somebody finally hit the nail on the head.
Now granted, I am 19 years old, no longer placed under many restrictions, but I really felt something when I read this article. I don't respect all teens, but I do respect those who earn it, and those who demand it. A lot of "adults" don't. Why? Because of their age? Or their supposed "incompetence?" Realize that a hundred years ago people were accepted into the "adult" word at a lot younger age and our nation was not nearly so morally bankrupt as it is now.
Marano believes that adolecence is an artificial extension of childhood. We call our children "children" long past puberty. Now childhood extends into the 20's! They say 30 is the new 20, and that is very sad to me. I proudly consider myself an adult at 19. Yes, my parents do send me money when I need it, and I am still in school, but I am goal-oriented, driven, able to take care of myself and experience things without dissolving into a pile of marshmallow fluff, I like to think my state of mind is way past the "teenybopper" mentality.
Marano also brings up the likely consequences of extending childhood. Picture this: your own mind and body telling you that you are an adult while the older adults around you insist you are still a child. This causes anger, depression, aggression, suicide. Why are teens so "fucked up?" Maybe because we expect them to be, maybe because we treat them with little respect. Teenagers are herded around in high schools like cattle, kept from working in any meaningful way, restricting them from having any form of power in the world.
In nonindustrialized societies, teens are integrated into society as soon as they are done with puberty. There is no sign of the "teen turmoil." Some societies don't even have a term for adolescence. When this was brought up in the article, I was taken aback yet unsurprised.
Teens have basically no more rights than infants or small children. IF they spend their own money on a toy, it isn't really theirs. Their parents can take it away at any time. A young person cannot own anything or sign contracts without parental permission. Statistics have shown that the more teens are infantilized, the more restrictions put on them, the more psychopathology they show. Well, DUH! I get Ms. Marano gets a lot of angry letters about this article.
More statistics: Marano and Psychologist Diane Dumas worked out what makes an adult an adult. They came up with 14 areas of competency, including interpersonal skills, handling responsibility, and leadership. They administered tests to adults and teens in several cities around the United States. They found that teens were just as competent and if not, nearly so as "adults" in all 14 areas. Yet when adults were asked to estimate how the teens would score, their estimates were sadly dramatically below what the teens actually scored.
Ah, another question. Marano was asked "If teens are so competent, why do they not show it?"
Some of the things she brought up included:
"What teens do is a small fraction of what they are capable of doing. If you mistreat or restrict them, performance suffers and is extremely misleading." Of course. You beat any person down long enough and they will eventually feel like a failure.
"The teens put before us as examples by say, the music industry tend to appear to be highly incompetent." Good point! Have you seen and HEARD the crap that is on MTV lately? And blaring on KISS FM?
My favorite quote from the article: "There are at least 20 million young people between 17 and 20, and if they are as competent as I think they are, we are just throwing them away." Throwing them away. What a wonderful symbolism to what is happening to the world. Young people infantilized, dehumanized, and discouraged until they believe they are incapable of doing anything meaningful until the age of 30.
Marano brings up the issue of teens and love. She believes that teens can experience the love that adults experience. They change partners more because they are warehoused together with the other children in the pen, and told that it is puppy love and not real. This brings in the "friends with benefits" phenomenon. Assuming that they are unable to feel love while they also have strong sexual urges, teens act sexually irresponsible. What we should be telling teens is that they are fully capable of long-term relationships if that is what they want. This could very possibly bring down the number of teens having sex with multiple partners.
Basically Marano was saying in the article that what teens need is freedom to join the adult world based on competency, not the "magic age." And when I think about it, by the time I was 15 or 16 that was all I wanted. All I ever dreamed of. But I didn't get it, so I caused a little trouble.
Here is a list of restrictions put on teens since 1968 (Comments in parentheses are mine.):
1968: Movie rating system established to restrict young people from certain films. (Okay, so five-year-olds probably shouldn't be watching The Hills Have Eyes, but when I was 14 that movie wouldn't have disturbed me any more than it does now.)
1970s: Dramatic increase of involuntary Electro Shock Therapy of teens. (Now this is a load of crap. Not only is EST cruel but no one should be allowed to do that to someone without their permission.)
1980s: Many cities and states pass laws restricting teens' access to arcades and other places of amusement. Supreme Court upholds such laws in 1989. (This is outrageous. Weren't amusement parks and arcades designed for "children?")
1980s: Courts uphold states' right to prohibit sale of lottery tickets to minors. (I don't understand this at all. Why is it such a bad thing for a teen to win the lottery?)
1980 to 1988: Rate of involuntary commitment of minors to mental institutions increases 300-400 percent. (Oh yeah, like WBI? The shit that goes on in there is dehumanizing and psychologically damaging.)
1984: First national law effectively raising the drinking age to 21. (I never agreed with this. My parents don't even agree with this. If someone at 18 can join the military and get blown up in Iraq they should certainly be allowed to sit in a bar and have a beer with a friend, or (gasp!) party once in awhile.)
1988: Supreme Court denies freedom of the press to school newspapers. (What exactly are they afraid of being printed in these newspapers? Basically, if a school administration has an opposing viewpoint, the article doesn't get printed.)
1989: Missouri court upholds school's right to prohibit dancing. (Dancing? DANCING? Is that what they are concerned with? Dancing is wonderful, healthful, athletic. Dancing should be embraced in schools.)
1990s: Curfew laws for young people sweep cities and states. (Why the hell does it matter what time someone gets home? If there must be a curfew, that should be for the family to decide!! I never had one, because by the time I was old enough to drive my parents for the most part trusted my decision making skills!)
1990s: Dramatic increase in use of security systems in schools. (Now I understand this was backlash from Columbine and all that. But in my school I was told my nail file was a weapon. A nail file. Uh, funny.)
1992: Federal law prohibits sale of tobacco products to minors. (They will get someone else to buy them cigarettes anyway and if they want to kill themselves slowly why should it be anyones business but theirs.)
1997: New federal law makes easier involuntary commitment of teens. (See above comment about WBI. This makes me angry.)
2000's: New laws restricting minor's rights to get tattoos, piercings, and to enter tanning salons. (Okay, first of all, its YOUR body, not your parents'. A tattoo or piercing should be YOUR decision, and one you should think about. Second of all, TANNING SALONS? Is the government fucking nuts? WHO CARES? You get the same damaging UV rays from direct sunlight, which as far as I know is still legal to those under 18.)
2000's: Tougher driving laws sweeping through states: full driving rights obtained gradually over a period of years. (This really, really makes me mad. So now at 18 someone won't even have a full drivers license. How much of these people's lives are we taking away?)
2000's: Dramatic increase in zero-tolerance rules in schools, resulting in suspension or expulsions for throwing spitballs, making gun gestures with hand, etc. (Okay, if someone brings a gun to school, thats one thing. A gun finger gesture, like as in, shoot me in the head this class is so pointless and boring, fucking let it go. Pick your battles people. Spitwads and finger gestures shouldn't be one of them.)
2000's: New procedures and laws making it easier to prosecute minors as adults. (Wait, wait back up here. So we are insisting that people of this age are children and shouldn't have any rights until they commit a crime. Then by God they are going to be treated as adults and must live up to their actions! Yeah, makes perfect sense to me. Note my sarcasm.)
NEW RULES CURRENTLY SPREADING NATIONWIDE:
*New rules prohibiting cell phones in schools or the use of cell phones by minors while driving. (OK, sometimes in high school, my cell phone was my only hope for a ride home, and secondly I've seen just as many 30 year old yuppies blabbing on cell phones while driving as I do teens.)
*Libraries and schools block access to Internet material by teens. (I'm pretty sure creepy 50-year-old men can look at "inappropriate material" at the library just as easily as a 16-year-old could.)
*New dress code rules in schools. (OK, whatever. School uniforms are bullshit, they make everyone look the same (note my earlier reference to herding cattle) and yeah, some girls are going to dress like sluts,but there are other solutions. If someone's butt cheeks are hanging out, send them home. If someone's breasts are dangerously bobbing out of their shirt, send them home. Its pretty simple. You don't need some communist "uniform" look to solve the slut problem.)
*New laws prohibiting teens from attending parties where alcohol is served, even if they themselves are not drinking. (This is horrifying. Doesn't SOMEONE need to be a DD? I've been to several parties where the underage person agreed to be the Designated Driver and stayed sober. Believe it or not, not every teen is so obsessed with alcohol that if they see a bottle of it they have an uncontrollable urge to get drunk. Show some trust and maybe teens will be more trustworthy.)
*New laws restricting teens' access to shopping malls. (OK, baloney. Shopping isn't "harmful" or "dangerous" to anyone. Besides if you're in the fucking mall there are security guards everywhere pretending to be all badass so what the hell kind of mayhem is going to happen in a mall?)
*Tracking devices routinely installed in cell phones and cars of teens. (Oooh. Tracking devices. Get a grip. If my parents did this to me I would have routinely left my cell phone at home and bummed rides off friends till I left for college. Is adolescence synonymous with probation now?)
*Proposals for longer school days, longer school year, and addition to grades 13 and 14 to school curriculum under discussion. (Oh yeah guys. Way to raise the dropout rate. Just dandy.)
OK, so I summarized the article and added plenty of my own commentary. You're probably wondering why I give a crap since I'm no longer a minor. Well, to tell you the truth I'm still affected by this. I'm sick of getting no respect because I haven't graduated from college yet. (Which I will.) I'm sick of being told I'm too young to do this and that, this and that. Too young? Bullshit. Recently a 16 year old from my hometown was killed in a terrible accident. If a 16 year old can be killed, just like that, out of the blue, dying without so many experiences, then a 19 year old could really be asking for it! I say live life! Experience as much as you can! Learn things! Take classes! Fall in love! Buy things! Rent your own place! Take trips if you have the money! Get drunk and learn what a hangover is! Start a family of your own! But do not simply wait, wait, wait to do everything because society has told you that you're too young. You never know when you could wake up dead.