I was skimming through articles on the Fox News website yesterday and came across several stories that involved teenagers
‘Teens Plead Not Guilty to beating death of WWII Veteran,’ ‘Teen Convicted of Killing Baby Gets Life in Prison’ and who can forget when just a month ago two teens killed an Australian who was in the United States for college, simply because ‘they were bored’?
Terrible stories like these confirm our culture’s notion that adolescence is a time of trouble. They echo the writings of G. Stanley Hall, argued to be one of the first pioneers in the study of adolescence. His writings conclude that youth are going from a time of being ‘beast-like’ to civilized.
The problem however, is that these news stories don’t reflect all teenagers. There are countless unreported stories of youth raising money and awareness in their community. For many youth, while the changes they are experiencing physically, socially, emotionally etc. are at times confusing and dramatic their behavior is anything but beast-like.
So if its entirely possible for teenagers to do good, what really accounts for them often behaving so poorly? Certainly brain function and other complexities are at work, but what about the role we have provided for youth and the expectations our culture has for them?
The stories we choose to highlight and dwell on shape the very definition of what it means to be a teenager. It tells youth what we think of them and how we expect they will behave. If all we do is call teenagers bad and if they feel like there is nothing they can do to change that perspective, then they take the path of last resistance and live up to the expectation.
Maybe it’s just easier for us to blame hormones instead of providing mature role models or easier to say our teens were peer pressured instead of admitting we didn’t do enough to help them learn how to make confident smart choices.
Changing our stories and the very language we use to describe teenagers isn’t easy and it won’t always stop bad things from happening. There will still be rebellious teenagers and broken families, but what changing our language might do is instill more confidence and let teenagers know that we stand behind them and know they are capable of doing good things.