In Defense of Teenagers

May 9, 2011
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High School Senior Liz is editor-in-chief of her school's prestigious student newspaper. Under her leadership, the paper has been nationally recognized; Liz was recently interviewed by Philadelphia Magazine about an article she wrote on teenage promiscuity at dances. Ali Petsuck, a junior at another local high school, won first place at the national division of Future Business Leaders of America last year. Ralphl, a senior in high school, raised $3500 by himself so he could attend a prestigious summer program to keep him learning while on break from school. Eric, a senior, attended the Junior Olympics to compete in table tennis. Landy, a senior, is going to the University of Pennsylvania next year. Shyam, a senior at another school, is going to Northwestern. Haley, a senior, is going to American. David, a high school senior, is going to Vanderbilt. Hawa, a High School senior, is going to the University of Virginia.

These students should not have to defend themselves against recent claims being made regarding teenage behavior. Assertions by teachers and other adults that teenagers are unmotivated may hold true for some high schoolers, but this generalization is too broad to apply to all teens. Adults are isolating the negatives of teenage characteristics, highlighting the bad among the population, pointing out the problems, calling out the flaws. They are categorizing teenagers based on the outliers of the group, reprimanding all for the faults of a few. And this is not fair.

Teenagers go through stages. Exploration is the way they learn how they will live the rest of their lives. Each decade brings a new phenomenon, new ideas, new opportunities, new ways to get into "trouble." And with each comes new criticism. Negative attention toward teenage behavior is "nothing unique to American society" ("Changing Teen Morals: A Worldwide View").

According to Stanford University professor Richard Powers, teens have been condemned by "parents and local authorities" ever since the term "teenager" was coined in the 1950s. With the increased recognition of this growing group of kids, the "adult generation disapproved of [their] values and lifestyles" and worried about "'juvenile delinquency.'" In the 1950s, however, this "delinquency" was not comparable to the same accusations faced in today's world. Back then, complaints about teenagers arose because they "chew[ed] gum in class, soup[ed] up a hot rod, and talk[ed] back to their parents."

Times change.

In the 1960s, adults were most concerned with teenagers' sexual activity, worried that the "sexual freedom" allowed to their children would increase "illegitimacy" and teen birth rates. In a June 9, 1963 article of the Sunday Herald, "Changing Teen Morals: A Worldwide View," it was reported that "one birth in 16 last year [1962] was out of wedlock and largely among girls between 14 and 18." But what was to blame for this atrocity? Pop culture. The "'stress by society on sex - in literature, films, advertisements...[and] Hollywood culture" proved too much for teenagers to handle, causing them to believe that "sexual intercourse before marriage was permissible."

About thirty-six years later, the Washington, D.C. Daily Gazette reported that "in 1996, there was about one birth for every 20 females ages 15 to 19, down 11.9 percent since 1991" due to "less sex and more birth control" ("Government: US Teens Having More Babies"). In today's world, with media attention toward teen mothers and greater education of the risks of sexual activity, the number is much lower than it was in the 60s. In fact, the Daily Gazette testified that "teen birth rates decreased 6 percent between 2008 and 2009, reaching a new low, according to the National Center for Health Statistics." Credit for this could go to MTV, who claims that "82% [of the viewers of Teen Mom] better understand the challenges of teen pregnancy...parenthood and how to avoid it" ("Teen Moms: The..."). Programs and campaigns to raise awareness of this problem have been going strong for a while now.

Teen pregnancy was just one stage of teenage delinquency, and the 1960s was its decade to shine. The new, scary aspect of the all-American girl next door bearing a child of her own was shocking to the public; it was highly regarded by the media as a monumental change in society, something that adults were forced to deal with. In order to do so, they took to criticism. Teenagers were bad, and this was why. In today's world, teen pregnancy is more normal. It does not receive nearly as much attention as the other unacceptable activities that kids are involved in. Is it still a problem? Of course. Why isn't it focused on anymore? Because there are newer, scarier things out there for adults to criticize.

Along with sex, teens in the past have been most notorious for abusing drugs and alcohol. A 1979 survey analyzed by the National Institute on Drug Abuse in "Tracking Trends in Teen Drug Abuse Over the Years" marked the climax of teenage drug usage in America, with more than 50% of high school seniors using some type of illegal drug. During the 1970s, drug use was on the rise due to all kinds of social pressures such as the Vietnam War, political unrest, and peace riots. Yet today, this number has been reduced to about 40% ("Smoke Signals: Marijuana..."). Teenagers have learned the implications and repercussions of drugs; they know that using such substances can kill them, land them in jail, ultimately ruin their lives.

But this was just another popular trend among the teenaged population. Drugs and rock-n-roll categorized the end of the twentieth century just as teen pregnancy marked the middle.

Today, America's youth faces new accusations. Central Bucks East teacher Natalie Murnoe, notorious for her blog "Where are we going and why are we in this handbasket?" asserts that "every year, more and more [teenaged] students are coming in less willing to work," filled with "disrespect and disengagement." This may be true for some teenagers, but not for all; therefore, adults cannot stereotype all teenagers as "disengaged, lazy whiners." The new overstimulation available to the teens of 2011 often doesn't allow them to be lazy. Students are under a lot of pressure to do well in school; SATs and ACTs are extremely important and require training starting at an early age; athletics are ever popular and competition for scholarships and college recruitment is high; jobs are consuming what free time is left with the economy cutting off parents' money flow to their kids; starting school before the sun rises and going to bed way after sunset tires students; homework is stressful and difficult to complete; state standardized tests are wasting in-school learning time; pressure to fit in looms over each student's head; college acceptance rates lower each year; life is not easy for a teen.

School is just one of those things that has always been and will always be hated by teenagers. It is the job of the teachers to lessen the burden of education on today's youth and to do so, all they have to do is understand where teens are coming from.

Teachers, like Munroe, have no right to generalize and make such accusations. All of the support for her blog comes from other teachers around the country who, Munroe clarifies in her latest blog, "have [also] faced disciplinary action for speaking up." Maybe the problems these teachers have with teenagers are brought on by their teaching mannerisms. It is obvious that teens react to their surroundings; a teacher that students enjoy listening to, are respected by, and feel that they are fairly treated by is more likely to receive better treatment. A 2004 Gallup poll, inspired by University of Pennsylvania professor Richard Ingersoll's previous research, asked teens aged 13 to 17 whether or not they worked harder for certain teachers and why. Seventy-six percent of the surveyed group answered yes. Seventy-six. A 16-year-old high school student who responded "yes" to this question is quoted as justifying that "'teachers who just assign worksheets and slap a grade on them are getting what they are asking for -- uncaring attitudes and disobedience,'" while another claimed that "'if a teacher is mean, then a lot of times you don't want to make them happy by doing what they ask'" (Crabtree). Michael Martin, a commenter on Munroe's blog, argued that

This is why Munroe - and the other disgruntled teachers who rally behind her - are unhappy. Meghan Jusczak, a Central Bucks East student, recently quoted one of her fellow students in the Intelligencer article "Permanent Damage?" who claimed that Munroe "'always gave off a vibe that she didn't want to be here.'" No wonder students were not motivated in her class. Jusczak even noted that "[Munroe] was one of those teachers that spurred a few 'good luck' comments when you posted your schedule on Facebook."

Teachers who criticize teenagers for having no motivation need to realize that teens will be teens, they are overloaded with stimulation, and that things will get worse before they get better, as seen with other teenage trends in history. However, teachers also must understand that if they are not motivated to be teaching and are continually grumpy, then students obviously will not want to try. YOU have to meet US halfway.

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