Adults expect teenagers to be more mature than them. It sounds weird but it is true. There are tremendous parallels between the adult world and the world of teenagers. The dynamics of such parallels are different of course. The real difference is in the people themselves, the adults and the teenagers.
In both the adult and teenage world harassment is an inevitable fact of life. However we expect both groups of people to handle near identical situations differently. Ironically we expect those who are known to, or at least we accuse of, having less maturity to handle these situations more maturely.
If a teenager comes to school everyday and is referred to as ‘faggot’ (or any other derogatory term) by a classmate, he is expected (and told) to handle the situation with maturity by not resorting to violence and ignoring the harassment altogether. It is a virtue we are told as teenagers to learn to ignore harassment. However once we are adults we are given (and actively promote) the opposite.
In the work place, office or factory, we must immediately report any such incidents to the proper authorities. In fact we are be negligent in not repeating them. We as the victim become in the wrong if we do not do so. In fact doing so places us in liability if not reported.
Between teenagers it is to be perceived as a minor annoyance, something they are expected to treat as a non-issue. Between adults it is a serious situation that inevitably involves many parties. Maybe a government regulatory body, a union representative and doubtlessly lawyers. Our society has entire industries, laws and employment dedicated to handling these situations.
Why do we do this? Why do we expect a more mature response from someone who is clearly less mature than us? I propose that we do this because we have been taught to trivialize them and their lives. The culture we live in is very much predominantly anti-youth. How can we say that an adult being harassed is important, but a teenager is not, without at least implying that their suffering is less ‘real’ than us adults?
By doing this we implicitly state that they as teenagers inherently have less value as human beings than adults. With this it should not come as no surprise that there is so much apathy and low self-esteem among youth. Is this not an extension of capitalist culture? Our culture that places the value of the lives of the poor as absolutely insignificant when compared to the lives of the rich, or even middle class. Is this not similar to how the capitalist mode of production trivializes the suffering of the Third World in favour of the complacency of the First World?
We do this to them, every negative thing that happens to them doesn’t matter. When your first love, that first person you ever loved breaks up with you, it hurts. It hurts so much that it can easily become the most traumatic thing that ever happens to a person. In the very least it can become an extremely painful memory that can leave us affected for years, even decades. Pretty much everyone remembers how much this hurt. This was a very real pain we suffered, it was emotional suffering. It is as painful for teenagers today as it was for us all those years ago. When you reached out for help, to your parents, or some other adult, what were you greeted with? You were greeted with condescension.
You were told that you didn’t know what “real’ love is. Maybe it was real love you felt, maybe it wasn’t. What you do know is that the suffering you felt was very real. The pain that was inside of you affected your life in real ways. Your ability to work, your ability to study and your ability to live. Ddin;t it make you feel at least on some level angry that this person was treating you as though it wasn’t real? Your feelings as a human being were completely invalidated because of your age. This sends them the message that their suffering doesn’t matter because they’re young.
“And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations
They’re quite aware
of what they’re going through”
– From David Bowie’s “Changes”