I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the experiences, ideas, and emotions associated with youth, particularly during the teenage years. A few things that come to mind when I think of youth: Prom, driving late at night with friends, bonfires, angst-filled lust and love, small acts of rebellion, tight-knit friends.
More so than any other age (except maybe early childhood), there seems to be a mold for the teenage years. There are certain expectations in American culture of how we will spend our youth. There are a number of ingredients necessary to living out the societal ideal of youth in the US. To name a few:
- Do something rebellious. Vandalize a stop sign. Drink at the beach. Have a sexual experience somewhere public when no one is watching. Experiment in illegal ways.
- Feel angry at the school system, the cops, the politicians, the teachers, the parents; the adult world as a whole, in an angsty sort of way.
- Have a close group of friends in whom you confide. You don’t always have to be together, and you can evolve over time, but hold on to a for group of like-minded people with whom to take prom pictures, eat pizza, and stay up late on Friday nights after football games.
- Put pictures of yourself, preferably taken in fields or in front of graffiti-covered train cars, on the internet for others to see.
- Be attractive and full of sexual energy.
- Don’t care too much about anything. Shrug off the consequences, the tomorrows, the inevitable conclusions. Live life in the moment, and believe in your own invincibility. You will never be able to believe in it again.
Maybe I got all these ideas from 80’s movies or books or television shows, parsed together with my own high school experience. I’m not entirely sure. All I know is that, when I think of teenage-hood, I think of a very specific box of experiences which I am not living.
Have I failed to be a teenager? Am I really a proper teenager at all? I certainly don’t harbor much latent anger towards the adult world- most of the time I just want to be a part of it. I’m not rebellious in the slightest. I can’t even stand when people cheat in party games or board games for children. My Instagram isn’t artsy like everyone else’s, and I have little desire to broadcast my face to the world. Most importantly, I care about everything. Every action I take is taken with full consideration, acknowledgement, and regard for the consequences. I know what the conclusions to my decisions will be and I base my decisions on those exact outcomes. I don’t just “let go” and forget that tomorrow exists. I live today so that I can have a better tomorrow.
This has caused me, on multiple occasions, to feel a bit displaced in the high school world. I suppose I’d call it atypical rationality. Sometimes I feel much more like an adult than a teenager, and wish that I could be friends with my teachers rather than my peers. Of course, I do care very much for the people my age. How vivacious and spirited and brilliant and innocent they can be! What a lovely age! At the same time, I have no interest in getting drunk and kissing someone I’ve never met.
Most of the time, I see my not-quite-fitting as a huge advantage. So much of my success in life has come from my ability to consider the future and act in such a way that reflects my hopes for the future. I can delay gratification so well that sometimes I forget the gratification altogether. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy life; I think the world is an absolutely stunning, beautiful, stimulating place, full of interesting people and amazing experiences to be had. I just don’t express my love for the world in the same way as most kids my age. I prefer conversations with adults, long walks, and writing to parties. This is in part due to introverted tendencies, but also my seeming adult mindset.
As much as I benefit from being mature, though, sometimes I feel that I’m missing out on the Teenage Experience. As I approach my 17th birthday, I know my time is running shorter to be young and crazy and in-the-moment in such a way that only my age can really get away with. The truth is, that just isn’t me. Perhaps I was never meant to be a teenager. I feel that I’m in a sort of limbo phase where my age does not reflect my mental status; like I’m a 30 year old in a 16 year old body. I don’t think I would ever really enjoy being a teenager in the stereotypical sense of the word, rebelling and being angry and being irrational and short-sighted about life. Sometimes I wish I could enjoy those things, and that my mind would turn into a regular young mind for a few days or weeks.
How were you all as teenagers (or how are you, if you still are one?) Did you live out a full Teenage Experience? Was it everything I crack it up to be? If you aren’t from the US, how does the teenage expectancy differ in your culture? Or is it a universal? Now that you’re an adult (if you are), would you say you’ve gained more of a rational approach to life than in teenage-hood, with more regard for future consequences?
Pardon the ranting nature of this post. I don’t know entirely how to articulate my feeling on this subject. All I know is that sometimes I feel like I’m missing something critical to the Human Life- this phase that is so glorified and important and fun, that I seem to have bypassed entirely, for the phase after. Hopefully when I go on to college, I will find a good group of others like me, ready to start adulthood and enjoy the world in a less impulsive way.