“It Was the Best of Times, It Was the Worst of Times” … or Getting a Grip on Teen Angst

Hey there!

As the title suggests, I’ve been considering teendom for the past few weeks. Since my project focuses on music festivals as a site for youthful rites of passage and identity formation, I have spent recent days trying to understand teenagers. Specifically, I’m looking at the ways in which their identity as a group is determined by factors outside of themselves (parents, school, social groups), as well as thinking about how they view themselves. The following includes some of my 21-year-old “wisdom” and a retrograde sense of dissatisfaction, paired with some pictures demonstrative photos of teenaged Geneva. Promise not to use them against me!

Being only recently out of adolescence myself, it’s been easy to break out those middle school punk pop tunes and revisit all of the parts of growing up that caused my personal teen angst. And frankly, negotiating my understanding of the place young people are  given in our society has made me even more angst-y than I was growing up.

Here's me at 15, clearly deep in the midst of some angsty teen stressors.

Here’s me at 15, clearly deep in the midst of some angsty teen stressors.

Is there ever a more complicated, confusing, contradictory time then those dreaded high school years?

Being a teen means reliance on parental whims; curfews, allowances, and permission slips manage youth’s time, economic power, and location. It also means reliance on yourself; budding interests, increasing responsibilities, and less indulgence encourage teens to discover and explore.

Teens are given a lot of leeway, from indulgent teachers, to parents willing to blind-eye their children’s shortcomings, to even some police and media accepting teen as a synonym for . At the same time, they are expected to grow out of childish bad behavior without any clear indication of when they get “too old”, and are given ever higher standards for success in academics, in athletics, in creativity.

Youth is fetishized. Older actors portraying teens give unrealistic images of what a teen body looks like, “sexy” becomes a goal and adjective used to describe younger and younger girls, and boys begin worrying about sexual experience as an indication of masculinity. Youth is also shamed. Stigmatization of teen pregnancy and more widely teen sexuality in general, paired with abstinence-only sexual education, and “slut-shaming”, or the condemnation of female sexuality, leaves teens confused and conflicted by their feelings and urges, or lack thereof with not enough information.

Is it any wonder that teens feel unsure about who they are, what is expected of them, or how to grow-up at the “right pace”? And beyond the odd conglomeration of indulgence and strictness or conflicting messages and images, adolescents change biologically, physiologically, and psychologically as well. Just thinking about it is exhausting. But beyond a sort of rant-y revisit to the pitfalls of growing up, my recent work has solidified for me the importance of sites like festivals. Whether you think I’m on to something calling festivals one of them, I think we can agree that teens need spaces to learn about themselves–with limited authority, plenty of free time, and a lot of other people just like them.

Because at the heart of it, the term teen means nothing more than people of a certain age. They are as varied in experience, creed, outlook, interest, and so much more as people of any other group. Sure they are developing, but teenagers just young adults. There is no threshold after which you “grow up”, there is no unique formula for successful transitioning, there is no badge or secret wisdom passed on that suddenly makes it all clear.

So I say give your teens (or yourself, if you are one) that space. Send them to summer camp, or let them get a job, or go on a road trip, or attend a conference. Let them choose what to involve themselves in, and what to spend their money on, and who to associate themselves with. If their taste in music hurts your ears, or fashion today looks silly, remember how your parents felt about your popular culture. We all get to experience it, as universal and unique as it is, and I just think it is so important to remember that.

If this post made you as nostalgic as it made me, go listen to some throwbacks or look through your yearbook or think about being misunderstood for old times sake.

Ahhhh to be young and bubbling over with excitement...

Ahhhh to be young and bubbling over with excitement…

Thanks for reading!

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About genevajackson

I am a student at Carnegie Mellon University and aspiring music industry professional. I listen to a lot of music and it makes me feel a lot of things. Check out my spotify and/or twitter @geneva_jackson.