When you think of a 16 year-old girl, it’s hard not to think of a hormone-driven, cell phone addict who can’t make up her mind about anything. I’m not denying that stereotype. It’s all true.
For those reasons, and many others, teenagers like me are mostly not trusted with their own decisions about what they want to do with their lives. We’re also not taken seriously when we talk about stress.
Now, I don’t know if adults have forgotten about the pressures of high school life, if they actually had an amazing four years like they all say — or if adult life is just worse. But teenagers have a lot to deal with. Especially when it comes to making choices we haven’t dealt with before.
Imagine you’re 15 and excited for your first day of high school. Up to that point, you’re used to lots of homework and have been getting good grades. But suddenly, new and wild expectations of responsibility appear. And to figure them out, you have to read between the lines.
“Now, students,” say high school academic counselors. “Remember to study your hardest. As long as you do your best, you can’t fail.”
Can’t fail? I realize they’re giving us positive encouragement to fight our doubts on that first day of high school. But they don’t fool me. I know what they’re really saying: If I get C’s, I have in fact failed — and likely won’t progress in life. So it’s A’s and B’s, or an outcome I don’t want.
But the stress we teenagers feel to make good choices doesn’t end there.
“Get involved with school clubs, because colleges like that,” academic counselors suggest to improve our chances of getting accepted at a university. “Make sure you have lots of friends, too, because socialization is important for your health. And go on a few dates here and there, so you know what you want in a permanent, romantic partner.”
Permanent, romantic partner? I’m only 16 and have years before I need to stress over who I want to spend the rest of my life with. Yet academic counselors really say that. But I guess it’s understandable. After seeing countless teenage romances burn brightly, and then suddenly flame out, what I think the counselors really want to tell us is, “Don’t fall in love. No matter what you say, it’s all just make believe and you’ll inevitably break up.” Great! I can’t wait to cry over that. And thanks for ruining the mystery of teenage love for me.
Even teachers are capable of suggesting one thing, but meaning something else. They even give contradictory information. For example, “This is the food pyramid,” we’re told. “Yes, make sure you eat three, healthy meals per day.” Yet, at school lunch, students are served cardboard covered in red paint. It’s called pizza.
While we eat this not so healthy food, the academic counselors continue to give us pep talks about the future — and the additional stressful choices we’ll soon have to make.
“Take a look at all these jobs you can get if you go to college,” they tell us. But in truth, too many of them probably don’t pay enough to make it in this expensive, modern world. Although the jobs may be fun, knowing that I may not be able to make rent or a car payment because the job doesn’t pay enough, worries me.
You see, we teenagers have a lot to worry about. And if we get depressed thinking about our future too much, some adults say we’re just craving attention. But the wrong assumptions are only beginning. If we do well in school, we’re show offs. If we get bad grades, we’re careless. If we’re happy, we’re foolish for deluding ourselves into believing our dreams can be accomplished.
Maybe you’re right, adults of the world. Maybe we teenagers do have it too good, we don’t realize it, and we take the whole thing for granted. Yet, I know that I’m lucky. I have a great life and go to a school where I can actually learn something. But, it’s still all rather funny. I’m spoken to and treated like a child, yet expected to act like an adult at the same time.
Navigating through that confusing message is stressful all its own.
Alisa Patience is a sophomore at Tooele High School and is a correspondent for the Tooele Transcript-Bulletin.