Under 18 Does Not Mean Unimportant

teenagers

It’s no secret that there are plenty of negative stereotypes surrounding today’s teenagers. We’re always on our phones, we’re bad drivers, we’re immature, we only care about ourselves; the list goes on and on. Like most stereotypes, these are not completely false; there are plenty of teens who can’t put down their phones or be bothered to think about anyone other than themselves, especially when driving. These teens are not the majority, but those selfish, inattentive few have unfortunately come to represent my age group in the eyes of many adults, and that representation has some serious consequences.

Personal Experience

I witnessed this firsthand a few weeks ago, while I was at Costco during our lunch break at school (we’re allowed to leave campus for lunch). I had gotten there fairly quickly and gotten in line behind a few other students, and a couple of 40-something women got in line behind me as I waited. The women had no reason to be mad at me, but then some of my classmates showed up. We had reached the last few weeks of school, and, much like myself, the group of six boys who walked in were eager to celebrate with their friends. Unlike me, however, they paid no attention to the line and proceeded to walk right up to the front to talk to their friends who were in line in front of me.

Don’t get me wrong, I did not approve of their actions. I wanted pizza, and I wanted it fast, but since school was almost over and I was in a good mood, I was prepared to let it slide. The women behind me did not share my opinion. After about a minute of passive aggressive remarks, one of the women finally walked up to the boys and reminded them “Hey, there’s a line, and you need to get to the back of it like the rest of us!” I knew most of the boys, and I watched with amusement as they sheepishly apologized and went to the back of the line, probably to go make fun of the woman who had chastised them.  I figured that since the woman had righted the wrongs of my peers, that would be the end of it.

Not the End of It

Unsurprisingly, I was wrong. United by their shared disapproval of my entire generation, the group of women behind me struck up a conversation. The topic was – you guessed it – how rude and dumb all teenagers are. Despite the fact that they were standing only feet from plenty of teenagers – including me – who had done nothing wrong, the women spent the next five minutes loudly discussing the many faults of anyone who was younger than themselves. They’re rude, they don’t pay attention, they have no manners, I never acted like that when I was a teen, how disgraceful. That was all I heard as the line moved forward at an unbearably slow pace.

I was doing my best to ignore them, but I was getting closer and closer to losing my cool. Those other boys had been oblivious and rude, but could those ladies not see that they were being just as rude now? When one of the women mentioned how scary it was that my generation would be running the country when they were old, I wanted to turn around and yell at her “Why don’t you say it to my face? And it’s not like we could do any worse than you all already have!”, but I didn’t. I didn’t want to give her the pleasure of having yet another teenager to add to her list of people she was better than, so I clenched my teeth, got my pizza, and got out of there.

Why It Bothered Me

If that had been the only issue that I ever had with adults looking down on teenagers, then my reaction would have been a bit extreme. After all, it was just some women whom I had never met before and would probably never meet again. The problem was that those women were only a few of the many adults in the past few months alone that had looked down on me because of my age. When I visited various doctors trying to cure my pseudo seizures/depression, most of them looked to my parents instead of me. Even though I was the one experiencing the problems they were supposed to be treating (which would make me the best one to talk to), they still looked to my parents because they were adults.

One neurologist couldn’t even do me the courtesy of turning from his computer to look at me while I spoke, even though my mother and I both made it clear that I was having a pseudo seizure at that exact moment. He had the opportunity to view the problem he was trying to fix firsthand, and he wouldn’t even look at me. He would turn to address my mother, but he spoke to me with his back turned. Other doctors wouldn’t even see me in the first place because I was a minor. I understand that they had to do that for legal reasons, but still, is the fear of a lawsuit really enough to deny treatment to someone who is suffering because they’re sixteen? Evidently it is, but that’s a different issue.

Why This Needs to Change

The woman I complained about before raised an interesting point: my generation will be running the world one day soon, and the responsibilities that we are supposedly so ill-equipped to handle will fall upon our shoulders. If we are going to be able to succeed in such an important endeavor, doesn’t it make sense that we should start practicing now? Shouldn’t teenagers be playing a larger role in the world so that we can gain the skills we need to build a better future?

The simple answer is yes. In order to preserve and improve our society, teenagers like me need to prepare ourselves to become the teachers, the doctors, and the leaders of tomorrow. This is the only course of action, and yet we cannot do so if we continue to be sidelined because of our age. If we aren’t ready to run the world yet, then we need to practice before it’s too late.

Getting Practice

So how do we get this practice when we are not legally old enough to become the teachers, doctors, or leaders? We participate in the discussion. We present our opinions on an even playing field with adults, and we receive the same respect as our older counterparts. Our views should be regarded in terms of our knowledge and our eloquence, not our age.

Take my articles on politics for example. I’m sixteen years old, so I still have a while before I’ll be able to vote. Does that mean I don’t care about politics? Clearly not, considering how much I’ve written about the subject so far. I’m an American, and I care deeply about the country I live in. I want what’s best for it. I can’t vote, so I voice my opinions in the hopes that I can influence other people who can vote. I may be only sixteen, but I do love my country, and I still want to make a difference.

The same applies to my articles on depression. I’m not old enough to be a counselor or psychologist, so why do I bother writing about depression? Why talk to other people about it?  Well, it’s not to get attention, I can tell you that much. I don’t particularly enjoy telling the world how I cut myself or cried myself to sleep at night in the past, but I want to help people who are in a similar situation now. I’m not a therapist, but I can help them feel like they’re not alone, and I know how much of a difference that can make.

Making the Change

To be fair, not all adults treat teenagers with no respect. My parents have always valued my opinions on family matters, and I have become a more mature person as a result. Of course, they may not be the best example since they’re my parents, but luckily I have another example. My friend Walter, of the website healing.ly, knows that I’m just a teenager (though he admitted that he had a hard time believing that at first), but that didn’t stop him from taking my articles seriously. He was even nice enough to post some of my content on his own mental health website. Despite the difference in age between us, Walter has always treated me as an equal, and I think he would agree that we have both become better writers because of it. If every adult treated me with the same respect as he does, I wouldn’t be writing this article.

I’m not a unique case. Many teenagers are capable of doing the research and writing the articles that I draft each week. Most of them don’t do the research or write the articles because they don’t think that they would be taken seriously. If no one respects their work, why would they write it in the first place? If they don’t write, or participate in society in general, how are they going to be successful adults when the time comes? As you can see, ignoring teenagers and their opinions creates a chain reaction that won’t work out well for any of us.

The woman behind me at Costco was right; today’s teenagers are going to rule the world one day. That clearly alarmed her, but if she really wants to make sure that she has a good world to live in when she’s old, she and her friends need to start working with us teens instead of making snide comments behind our backs. If you’re truly worried about how we’re going to behave as adults, then set a good example for us; treat us with respect, and we will learn to return the favor.

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One thought on “Under 18 Does Not Mean Unimportant

  1. Save your article for review 30 years from now. The lady remonstrating teens forgets that she was once a teen too. In a couple of years (@20 years old) you will think you know everything. Then with time and experience you will realize you know something, but not everything. Although in the future your age group may be running things, you will no longer be teenagers and perhaps wonder about those teenagers in line with you at the Buy and Large. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Teenagers during WWII manned and womanned up and served. I find that if the phones are put down or stored in a distraction box, the young people I work with are as diligent and productive as those from less fortunate circumstances here and in other countries. The first step is to talk about it or as in your case, write about it.

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