Being a Teenager Is Hard Enough

With new technologies that increase the speed of communication and the growth of online communities, young people today have been able to access information and share resources in a way that no other previous generations have. Yet, while that change in technology has brought with it many benefits, it has also changed how teenagers communicate and the many (photo-shopped) messages they receive. In this guest blog post, University of South Carolina student Kathryn Albano reflects on how some of these changes have affected her generation—from bringing lunchroom bullying into cyberspace to reinforcing the gender stereotypes that contribute to teen dating violence.

Being a teenager is hard enough, what with the hormones and the braces. But being a teenager in the 21st century brings with it a new set of difficulties that our parents never had to face. My mother’s and my grandmother’s teenage experiences weren’t necessarily easier, but they had different problems. My grandmother dealt with my grandfather going off to war and having to work from 14 years old. My mother dealt with her mother having breast cancer and her father working two jobs.

Those issues haven’t gone away for teens; the 21st century has merely added to them. From mainstream to social media, being a teen with the internet means being a teen with problems no one has had to handle before. For example, I was bullied and alienated and attacked on MySpace (just a lamer version of Facebook), taught that whether you were thin or fat, you weren’t good enough, that if you were sexually active you were a slut but being a virgin made you a prude, that you could hate your earlobes and your nostrils and the color of your teeth and, worse yet, your intelligence.

Last night, my roommates and I sat in one of our beds and talked about the things we would love to go back and tell our 14- or 15–year-old selves. And the one thing we all said was that we’d want to tell them that it gets better. But I’m not sure that it does, I’m 20 now and still far too aware of the number inside my jeans. I’m not sure it gets better, but I am sure that with a little bit of education and growth, you simply become more prepared to deal with the highly sexualized and objectified world we live in.

I remember sitting in history class in high school and hearing a quote by Frederick Douglass that has always stuck with me: “Knowledge makes [wo]man unfit to be a slave.” And while the context I use this quote in is different from the original, I’ve learned that the more we know, the less fit we are to be enslaved by the lies given to us by popular culture. When you’re young and all you see are ads with half-naked, impossibly thin women lying vulnerably on the floor (trying to sell you their shoes), it’s hard not to believe that’s what being a girl means because that’s all you know at the time. But if we instill knowledge in our youth in high school or earlier rather than waiting until college, maybe we can change the fact that suicide is the third leading cause of death among 15 to 24 year olds. And maybe then teenagers will know their value and strength and will become too strong to be verbally or physically or emotionally abused. And maybe if we teach teenagers to respect and treat their romantic partners as equals, they won’t want or need to physically, emotionally or verbally abuse them.

One way we can try help teenagers survive this technological world that makes adult problems and concepts too readily available to them is to instill knowledge in today’s youth early and often. The world is tough for teens; let’s teach them respect and love and appreciation of differences from a young age so that we can help them navigate the challenges they face in the new millennium.

Want to educate the youth in your life about healthy relationships, effective communication skills, violence prevention, and more? Contact STSM’s Prevention Education Coordinator (pec@www.stsm.org, 803-790-8208), and ask about our Youth Violence Prevention Program.

Kate Albano is a student at the University of South Carolina, where she studies Anthropology with a concentration in Gender and Sexuality. After graduation, she hopes to bring further awareness about sexual assault and women’s issues to the women’s magazine industry in New York City. She would, one day, like to start a program that teaches young girls self-confidence and self-respect.