This is one of the papers I wrote for Eng 101. I got a 98% on it but let me know what you think.
OMG, TISNF! Oh My Gosh, That Is So Not Fair!
What does the word teenager bring to mind? “Is it hard to think of Julius Caesar, Shakespeare, or Napoleon as being 15 or 16 years old, hanging out with their friends, and wondering what to do with their lives? Can you imagine these great historical figures as teenagers?“ (Bregman 20) It is hard to imagine them as such. They had such a passion and drive for what they did. Why? Because it was expected of them. Too many people today have a low level of expectations for the age group called “teenagers“. The word teenager has become synonymous for rebellious, lazy, wasteful, and immature. America should eliminate the word “teenager” and replace it with child for those under 16, and adult or at the very least young adult for anyone 16 and over.
Even though this removal may not immediately change the teenagers themselves, it would, at the very least, raise the low expectations many adults have placed on that age group. Young people will rise to whatever expectations are placed on them. According to the results of one study taken from 4,819 adolescents in grades 6-12: “…children whose parents provide support while at the same time challenging the adolescent; such teens experience more positive affective states and more often felt that their activities were relevant to their futures” (Mortimer 413). This is an excellent example of how young people can and will rise to whatever level of expectations are placed on them. One of the best ways to raise the expectation level is to stop calling them teenager. Where did this group come from, anyway? And how did they get their name?
The word adolescent came during the beginning of the twentieth century, thanks to Austrian physician, Sigmund Freud and American psychologist, Stanley Hall ( Bregman 20). “Teenager” became popular later, around 1945, according to Mark Bregman. He goes on to state: ”In a New York Times Magazine article that year , a writer used the word to describe a new generation of “youngsters with their own customs and fashions” (20). Young people were working jobs and had money to spend. Companies began to target this age category. Because of the new label for this age group, as well as from medical breakthroughs extending life expectancy, young people were allowed and even expected to make a longer and longer transition into adulthood. They rose to the expectations and their behavior changed steadily for the worse during the years to follow.
According to Webster’s 1828 Dictionary: “Teens [are] the years of one’s age reckoned by the termination of teen. These years begin with thirteen and end with nineteen” (92). Teen previously referred to a persons age, not as a description of them or their peer group. It was simply a stage in life, just like middle age, or elderly. They didn’t get any special treatment. In fact, they were often expected to do more, since they were in transition to adulthood and in their prime, physically and mentally.
Why has history had such mature children? What can we do to change our young people of today? We need to have higher expectations of them and one of the best ways to do so is to stop calling them teenagers. What does the word teenager bring to mind? The usual thought is a picture of giggling girls on cell phones and boys with baggy pants and an almost mustache, walking around the mall and making more noise than the fussy baby in the food court. How about the word adult, what does that bring to mind? Words like mature and responsible usually come to mind. Many parents complain and commiserate with each other during the teenage years. They often warn parents with younger children, of the years to come with words like: “ Enjoy them while they’re young and just hang-on when the teen years come.” Adults have helped create such immature young people because they haven’t expected more from them. Of course there are exceptions; not all teens are rebellious and immature. There are always exceptions in this age group.
The exceptions are people like John Tyler Hammons, who was elected mayor of Muskogee, Oklahoma (38,000 population) at 19 years old, and 17 year old Eva Vertes who, through her discovery of a step towards curing Alzheimer’s, won Best in Medicine at the International Science Fair, or Zach Hunter who at 12 years old started Loose Change to Loose Chains and at age 15 has written a book and is youth spokesman for Amazing Change ( Harris and Harris, The Rebelution). The list could go on; there are many teens that have risen above the expectations of this generation. That’s why they are in the spotlight; because they are not the norm. Their parents and other adults probably expected more from them. They weren’t expected to text, play video games, or hang-out excessively. Most likely they were expected to respect their parents, keep their grades up and start working on a direction for their life, not only for their parents, but for themselves. They understand the value of education and have a passion for what they are doing. Does teenager describe them and their accomplishments? Or does adult fit them better? As Alex and Brett Harris state: “Ultimately, the question becomes whether our generation truly lacks potential or whether we simply lack passion” (The Rebelution). Or is it that we must stir up the passion by raising the bar for teens today? Removing the word teenager is one way to help stir those passions.
The world has told this generation, for far too long, to take advantage of these years and the freedom they bring: don’t grow-up too quickly, don’t take life too seriously, you’re only young once, enjoy it while you can, etc. Most teens listen and are caught up in the freedom these years bring. The problem? They don’t want to grow-up. They delay adulthood becoming a Peter Pan or “Kidult“ (Harris and Harris, The Rebelution), and it’s becoming more and more popular. This is becoming an accepted stage in life, between teen and adult. Yes, they may work but what expenses do they really have since they are living with their parents? They aren’t usually paying for rent, or basic food, or utilities. Their money can be spent on more important items like, videos games, cell phones, MP3 players, cars, movies or anything else the media throws at them. This has created a world wide phenomenon. It is causing the teen years to start earlier, with pre-teen, and linger longer. Are most college students called adults, and should they be?
The problem isn’t just here in America either, according to a study by “Time Magazine”: The English call them “Kippers”, the Japanese call them “Freeters”, Canada calls them “Boomerang Kids”, and other countries, still other nicknames (Van Dyke). They enjoy their freedoms as a teen too much to grow-up now at over age 19. They don’t have direction for their lives now because they weren’t expected to earlier. They want the privileges of an adult without the responsibilities of one.
Another reason to call them an adult is because of their bodies. If their bodies can or are operating as adults should they not be called adults? Some may argue that their brains are not fully developed and that they are still learning. Good! Adults that know-it-all are not helpful; this world needs people that are humble and willing to learn from each other. Many adults are still learning in their golden years, why can’t young people? If we could call children, children until 16 and then adults after that, it would make for an easier judicial system, as well. There would be no question whether they should have a trial as an adult or juvenile. If they are old enough to even think and plan whatever they did, then they are old enough to take responsibility for their actions. Why should a parent take the responsibility for something their 16 or 17 year old did when those same young people have the privilege and responsibility of driving? Sixteen would be an ideal transition age because they are learning the responsibility of driving, why not other things as well? The word teenager, though, usually implies they want or demand the rights of an adult without the responsibilities of one.
Taking responsibility and making the most of every moment is not all humdrum, boring and somber. It is merely making the most of one’s time. Should young people waste it away on entertainment? Or should they be expected to move in a more profitable direction? Text messaging, playing video games, watching TV and other forms of entertainment can prove to be not only time wasters but addictive, as well. “The study of 1,100 adults [by King’s College London] found their intelligence declined as tasks were interrupted by incoming e-mails and text messages. The average reduction of 10 IQ points, though temporary, is more than double the four-point loss associated with smoking marijuana” (Burnett and Ortiz). Obviously drugs and alcohol aren’t the only substance abuse this generation is suffering from. Cell phones have also caused problems in building communication skills. As Campbell quotes, “Monkeys frequently communicate with ‘coo’ calls. The function is to maintain group cohesion. This is very similar to the use of mobile phones among teenagers…they don’t communicate any meaningful content-it’s about group cohesion” (41). Cell phones, MP3 players, TV, video games, internet, movies, they all help keep teens young and immature.
Some parents may argue that they call their adult children “their babies” and that it hasn’t stopped the maturing process. It may not stop the process but it most definitely hinders it. For example, a friend of mine always calls my younger brother in an annoying, coddling baby voice “baby Davy”. He is 6 and absolutely hates it. He always says “I’m not a baby. I am a big boy. Stop calling me a baby.” He doesn’t want to be a baby. The fact is, David knows that if he is a “big boy” in age and action, he gets to enjoy some of the privileges that come with growing-up. Why do we continually condition young people with the idea that they can act like babies, and still have the privileges of a “big boy”, when they are teenagers.
This world needs people that will grow-up, mature, and carry responsibility so they can take their positions as teachers, lawyers, doctors, etc. We need to raise our low expectations of young people by eliminating the word teenager. Start using the words young adult, adult and child. They are the next leaders. What do we want them to be like?
Written 17 June 2008