Green Spring: The Teenage Paranoia

January 21, 2008
By Shangnon Fei, Redwood Shores, CA

“I don’t know why you’re suddenly so angry at me!” I protested to my mother, who was

quickly working herself into a frenzied rage. “I’ll tell you why!” She shot back. “It’s because you’re becoming exactly like one of those rude teenagers! You promised me never to do that!” In truth, all I had done was walk away a little too quickly after a fight, but because I was now fourteen and not nine, it had been translated as a rebellious statement and not a harmless pout. And this is the problem with our society--these little caste-like molds we force all teenagers into and thereby compel them to live up to. According to today’s cultural discrimination, all teenagers are either moody and over-emotional, spoiled and lazy, or sullen and rebellious. In enforcing these categories on our nation’s teens, we thus either implant in our parents’ brains that all arguments are immediately the fault of the obstinate teenager, or impel the teenagers themselves to conform to it.

Take my friend Jackie, for example. Jackie, at age eleven, was a spectacularly nice and compliant daughter to her parents. At age twelve however, she developed a bit of a temper and defiance, but due to a determined respect for her elders, she bravely suppressed it until the minute she turned thirteen, when she suddenly lashed out at everyone over the age of thirty. When talking to her about her sudden change in personality, her only response was; “Well, I’m a teenager now, so it’s okay.” This is what our society hath wrought, a theory implanted in our heads a person’s age and not the action decides what is right or wrong. It’s an issue easily overlooked or dismissed as soon as the terrible teens are through with, but continues to this day.

Of course, Jackie’s story is not everyone’s story. Many adolescents are actually fine, polite, upstanding members of society. However, despite this, adults throughout the world mark teenagers as inhuman good-for-nothings without a seemingly moral fiber in their bodies. I once held a job at my father’s medical clinic filing paperwork every week, and when I cashed in the check at the bank I always got the same question; “Where did you get this money?” The teller would never even think of asking the same question to a tuxedoed adult, and yet here I stand, undergoing a full scale interrogation. “I see this came from a clinic. Why would they give you so much money?” My friend Erin faces a similar problem. She regularly volunteers for community service at a senior center, and yet every time something suspicious goes missing they always make sure to search her pockets first. It is an ageist discrimination teenagers have simply learned to live with, however unfair.

Having said that, it is quite easy to pinpoint the origin of this teenage paranoia. Year after year, decade after decade, bucket loads of movies and commercial products have come out with unfair portrayals of adolescents as temperamental, crass ghosts of the human race. From Barbie to Bratz, teens are time and time again represented in almost ridiculously inaccurate fashions. And as for the few exceptions in which these depictions prove correct, such as Jackie, who do we blame? Jackie is not a robot, she is not devoid of ethical sense. She does what she believes is right or normal, and our society has implanted in her brain that being disrespectful and mean-spirited to one’s elders is normal. Instead of fighting against this discrimination the way some do, she has chosen to conform to it. Can you completely blame her?

Yet, contrary to popular belief, adolescence is a time not of self-contradiction, but of self-discovery. As G. Stanley Hall once said, “Adolescence is a new birth, for the higher and more completely human traits are now born.” It is the time in which a waxing independence blossoms, where we become smarter, stronger, and more responsible. One of the most influential bands in music history, The Beatles, was formed when each of the members were still teenagers. Paul McCartney, one of the founding members of this band, wrote the song Love Me Do at age sixteen, one that became an immediate number one hit in the U.S. and their group’s breakout hit. In addition, Joan of Ark, one known as the national heroine of France, led her country to victory at the staggering age of seventeen. Anne Frank, who lived in the midst of the infamous Holocaust, wrote one of the world’s most famous and widely-read books1 when only thirteen. Thus it is no wonder that in Japanese, the word ‘adolescence’ can also be translated as ‘a green spring.’ Teenagers have time and time again have proved themselves an essential part of civilization development and history, and need to finally be recognized as such.

Insubordinate. Callous. Rude. Spiteful. Lazy. All of these terms are, in our culture, representative of our nation’s adolescent population. However, contrary to this belief, teens are now growing more and more the opposite of that image, engaging themselves in record high levels of community service and record low levels of teen pregnancy and other bad acts usually classified for their age group. Even Leon Botstein, the president of New York’s Bard College, admits that “We have overrated the childlike aspects of adolescence2.” Although there are quite a few teenagers who still engage in rather unsavory behaviors, both events the past and the present have told that the population as a whole has proved itself against that image. From Paul McCartney to Joan of Ark to Anne Frank to countless more, the teenage era has proved itself again and again that it is, for all its rough edges, a green spring of the human life.

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