Talking to teens
As a young adult, sitting at the feet of wise counsel, I often heard my grandmother, a southern sanctified preacher, say, “Youth is wasted on the young.” In light of my recent conversations with today’s teenagers, I am now inclined to agree.
Living in what many would call the best of times in spite of the country’s current economic condition, I asked several teenagers what they thought about their lives. I asked what is the best thing about being a teenager and what is the worst thing about being a teenager. I asked about their core values and beliefs, particularly, the importance of being honest and having integrity. I was startled and intrigued by the variety and intensity of their answers.
“There is no best thing about being a teenager unless you are 18,” said Ezima, who is 17. “The only difference is that you’re older. You do get to do more things than you could when you were 13 through 16, but not much,” she added. “I guess when you turn 18 things will be better. You get more privileges.”
The high school senior went on to say, “When you’re a younger teen you get grilled in your face everyday by parents or teachers. They are always telling you what you can and cannot do. There are all kinds of restrictions, like R-rated movies and concerts and parties you can’t go to because you have to be 18 or older.”
Ezima, who turns 18 in a few days, is looking forward to having many of the restrictions lifted.
“Oh, one good thing about being an older teenager,” she added, “is you can have a better relationship with your parents. You get to discuss things with them instead of living under a dictatorship where you have to do what they say. They don’t hassle you much about what you wear either. You can pretty much decide. The key is not to dress too slutty because then people will think you’re a slut, but then you don’t want to dress too conservatively either because then it’s not comfortable.”
Kory, 18, and several of his peers, all expressed similar sentiments in regards to the best thing about being a teenager. “You don’t have any bills,” he said. “You don’t have to pay rent, buy food or clothes. So long as you live at home with your parents, you’ve got it made.”
“On the flip side of that,” Tony, 19, said, “you have to take their criticism and follow their rules if you live at home.” Admitting he found that out the hard way, Tony said, living at home as a teenager is better than trying to go at it on your own.
Just days after turning 18, Tony moved out of his parent’s home and moved in with an older friend and his girlfriend. The agreement was Tony would find a job and contribute to a third of the expenses. Two months into the arrangement, Tony still had not found a job and his friend began to “sweat” him about paying his share of the rent and eating more than his share of the food. Soon after, Tony returned home with a humble apology and a promise to follow the house rules as imposed upon him by his parents.
Marianne, 18, said the worst thing about being a teenager has to be having to listen to her mother complain constantly about Marianne does and does not do around the house. “Man, she is always fussing about something,” Marianne said. “If I had the money, I would get my own place. She won’t even let my boyfriend visit or call after 10 p.m.”
Many of the teens like the perks of living at home, but resent what they consider to be “unending meddling or complaining.”
“Yeah, we want the benefits, but not the hassle,” said Shontea, 18. “Everything would be cool if my mother would just mind her own business and let mine alone.”
Although most of the teens believed it is important to be honest and demonstrate integrity, most admitted that they would lie if necessary and had cheated on a test. A few teens said whether or not they would cheat on a test would depend upon the circumstances or the situation.
Kory said if the test was important and he simply did not have time to study, he would probably cheat. “I cheated once on a math test,” he admitted. “I had not paid attention in class the day before and didn’t hear the teacher when she said she was going to give us a test. I was sitting next to the smartest boy in class, so I just looked over and copied down his answers on my paper.”
Ezima, said that it really irritates her when her classmates come up with stupid excuses for not doing well on a test, when in fact, they simply did not study.
“Sometimes they say stupid stuff like someone in their family died and the teacher sympathizes with them and gives them a pass,” she said. “The only way I would cheat is if I had really tried to prepare and couldn’t for some real reason other than I was goofing off or too lazy to do the work.”
The teens had very different opinions on what many may consider core values and how important they are in terms of a person’s development. “Honesty and having integrity is important,” said Bianca, 17. “If you are honest as a teen, it helps you to become a better person.”
Eighteen-year-old Sabrina, a first year college student, said friendship and loyalty is an important value to her.
“I believe it is important to be someone people can count on. The friends you make as a teenager can become life-long friends. They can be someone to share the experiences of life with.”
Ernest, 16, said dependability is very important. “My mother is always telling me how important it is to be a person who can be counted on to do what they say and to keep their promises,” he said. “My mother is a good example of dependability. She is always there, no matter what. She comes to my games. She helps me with my homework, it doesn’t matter, whatever I need, and she provides it.”
Teenagers are in a precarious situation. They are old enough to be held accountable for their actions, but are not always wise enough to know or prevent the consequences of their actions. Ernest said his older brother Tristan found out that hanging with the wrong crowd can get you something you don’t want. According to Ernest, Tristan was standing outside of a liquor store with a couple of his friends when they decided to jump on an older man who had been buying liquor for the teens from time to time. The last time they gave the man money; he took their money and ran off. They hadn’t seen him since that time until they ran into him outside the liquor store that day.
“They jumped the man and Tristan just stood there and watched,” Ernest said. “A few minutes later the police arrived and arrested all of the boys, including Tristan. The man included Tristan when he identified to the police, the boys who jumped him. Boy, my mom was mad. She had to get a lawyer and everything.
“Tristan got off because the man did not show up to court, but it was a close call,” he added.
Many teens today find themselves in similar situations, in the wrong place at the wrong time, often with the wrong people. The quest of today’s teens is to make sound decisions and to enjoy their youth, while it is there to enjoy. Life has a funny way of moving on without you, if necessary.