Social constructs have always been one of my numerous interests. I find socially engineered problems of particular interest. One of the topics I am greatly concerned with is the insolence and lackadaisical approach to life that teenagers in the western world seem to adopt. Imagine my surprise when I first immigrated to the United States at age 18 and encountered the self absorbed, rude and myopic view that teenagers tend to have. I was flabbergasted by the laxitude with which teenagers were treated in America. I was totally aghast when my freshman class spent an hour session on strategies for success in college such as waking up early and making sure you did not miss 8am class times. I was perplexed that the professors were using valuable class time to review what most people would consider basic home training.
I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw that my University had a major called “undecided”. I remember asking my advisor “how could anyone be allowed to matriculate if they are undecided, they could not even decide on General Studies?” It wasn’t until had been in America for at least 3 years that I began to get a glimpse into the real problem. American teenagers are treated like “mini gods” by their parents. Most of them have little to no responsibility. Sometimes their parents have to bribe them to get their attention. Children make inordinate demands on their parents who willingly pay them gladly for fear that their children may resent them for being seen as inferior to their peers consequently causing them to not fit in. The fear of not fitting in is a problem which seems to drive parents into shopping binges and frenzies. Personally I believe we should instruct teenagers that the expectation is that they not fit in with their peers but rather fit in with their families and communities to become contributing members in our society.
I wondered how American teenagers managed to develop such a knack for carefully engineered and executed temper tantrums as well as an inordinate sense of self entitlement. Pop culture and iconic teen movies such as American Pie seem to potentiate this idea that any and every thing is excusable because one is a teenager. I finally came to the realization that from the time most teenagers are thirteen their upbringing is essentially mortgaged out to after school programs and activities such as sports, clubs, hobbies, jobs etc. On average, a 16 year old American teenager spends about 10-15 hours a week at home actively interacting with their families. However, most of that time is spent complaining, fighting with siblings, throwing tantrums and arguing with parents for less strict rules etc. How can we really blame teenagers when a recent survey by Commonsense media showed that parents of tweens and teens spend more than nine hours a day on average on screens.
I remember growing up in Cameroon, West Africa where most days I was expected to have dinner with my family, actively contribute to the upbringing of my siblings and to the balance of our household. I am not implying that no youths in other cultures have temper tantrums. However, they are not considered a rite of passage, they are considered more of an anomaly. My point is, high school students can not be treated like mentally incapacitated citizens for 4 years with no sense of responsibility or duty then somehow magically transform themselves into responsible adults who make positive contributions to society. One can argue that most high schoolers need to spend even more time with their parents since they are so impressionable at that age but somehow this society accepts the fallacy which purports that the relationships teenagers have with their friends is sacred and even more valuable than their relationship with their families. I want to debunk the lie that fitting in with friends is an absolute necessity. I personally remember very few people that I went to high school with. I remember most of the people who were in my specific area of specialization but on average I do not remember at least half of my high school class. In general, most relationships formed in high school do not carry over into adulthood – so why spend so much time on them?
If I learned anything from my parents who raised 8 children on a middle class income, it is that children will always live up or live down to their parent’s expectations. Here are some examples of exceptional teenagers in their times; Queen Elizabeth II was 14 when she entered public service, she was 16 when she was appointed colonel over the Grenadier Guards in the UK. Joan of Arc led the french army to a historic victory at the age of 17 and was martyred at age 19. Bobby Fischer became a chess grandmaster at age 15. Malala Yousafzai received a Nobel Peace prize at age 17 in 2014; she was the youngest recipient in the history of the Nobel Peace prize. She started championing women’s rights at age 11. At age 19, Mark Zuckerberg commercialized Facebook and the list goes on and on. My goal in writing this is to caution parents that by coddling and adopting a laissez faire attitude with teenagers they may be doing them a great disservice by inadvertently stunting their emotional growth and thwarting their ability to reach their maximum potential. I leave you with a definition of social construct: “a social construct is an idea or notion that appears to be natural and obvious to people who accept it but may or may not represent reality, so it remains largely an invention or artifice of a given society”.