When I was younger, my parents always told me to always ‘be myself’.
At the time I had no idea what they were on about. I looked like myself, didn’t I? It made little sense to me -I shrugged it off, because how could I possibly be anyone else?
But now, at 16, there are trends I’m expected to follow, and people I need to impress; thus ‘being myself’ became forgotten and much less important in the grand scheme of things. Generally it seems, once you hit 11 years old, the awkward self-consciousness settles in, and the way others perceive you becomes the most important thing. If you somehow manage to miss out on this ridiculous rite-of-passage-of-sorts, you’re lucky, because it is possibly the worst thing ever. Society is excellent at leading you to believe that you have to look and act a certain way to be accepted, which is totally untrue.
Eventually though, most of us understand that there are so many things bigger than popularity and fitting in – like doing well in exams and being happy. However, it is difficult to achieve these theoretically simple goals, when we are forced to over-think everything we do. Even leaving the house to get milk becomes a nightmare, as we are scared of the possibility of being judged incessantly as appearance seems to be of paramount importance.
And don’t get me started on school. Theoretically, school is great; we learn important stuff, make friends and eventually get to vaguely understand the way the world works. There can be the struggle of unnecessarily hurtful ‘jokes’ and worrying about looking good enough to everyone else, but that’s sort of expected. Then comes exams, which in theory are fine as well. Except we have to work really hard, and deal with lots of stress, (and aren’t teens meant to be lazy, wild and irresponsible?) Anyway, amidst this stress there are still people entering the exam halls looking pristine and seeming to be effortless in their successes. On top of exams causing short-term panics, their importance in the long-term also casts a shadow of doubt, pressure and responsibility over the 2014 adolescent. The way we are shepherded into exam halls to label our papers with numbers hardly encourages you to really try and “be you”.
We aren’t made to break out of our shells or encouraged to do our own thing so being ‘true’ to ourselves only becomes harder. And that’s unfortunately just the beginning, because the balance between your social life and also working ridiculously hard at school is frustratingly difficult. Which, of course, leads me on to another struggle us teenagers face – working out our futures.
At the age of 14, I was forced in front of a school computer screen and made to take a quiz, which would work out the perfect future career for me. This sounds fine of course; everyone appreciates a bit of guidance, especially when they are completely lost at what to do after they turn 18. The quiz told me I would be an excellent nail beautician. Unfortunately, it didn’t question my tolerance of the smell of nail varnish, nor other people’s feet! There is, of course, nothing wrong with deciding to become a nail beautician. I guess this could make sense if I had received a suggestion that suited me a tad better. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure doing people’s nails all day is super fun, but clearly it’s just not for me.
The point is we’re expected to decide our futures way before even thinking about buying alcohol or driving a car. Apparently we are not responsible and grown up enough to do these things, but we are mature enough to decide what we are going to spend the rest of our lives doing. That’s pretty illogical, is it not? However, logic isn’t at the centre of adolescence – pressure over grades, looks and “being yourself” is constant. Staying sane is a challenge on a good day, and hellish on a bad one. Adolescence is far less about living, and far more about surviving.
Eden Bo Dower, 16