American Teens Do Not Have To Be Awful

American Teens Do Not Have To Be Awful

I have been writing this blog in my mind for around 15 years. I have traveled around the world for over 20 years now and I also lived in Germany as a teacher in my twenties. America is the only country where popular culture urges teenagers to think it’s cool to hate their parents, disregard older people and go through an awful phase. Why? I am sure there are many social and historical reasons, but it’s a shame…Don’t misunderstand, I love teenagers in this country – once you put a crack in that impostor veneer, they are fabulous, earnest company in class. I wish adults didn’t buy into this myth that teens have to go through a hostile stage on their way to adulthood. I am telling you that it isn’t like that in the rest of the world. Europe might be a wee bit like that, but when you go to Asia or Africa, there is none of it. I just spent two weeks in Africa – the first week was in Rabat, Morocco and I spent the second week in Dakar, Senegal. The students were a delight in both schools. The kids in Senegal greeted me every morning by asking me how I slept! They revere their elders; speak warmly of their grandparents and even the “wildest” boys in the school were completely polite and called me Miss Drug Lady. I actually believe American teenagers would prefer to be nice, but our society polices them out of that behavior by reinforcing the idea that it is “normal” to be withdrawn or aggressive as a teen. If we made less room for that behavior, it would slowly fade away, as it isn’t really natural. Sometimes it feels like kids are following a script from trash TV rather than being themselves. It’s similar to a “boys will be boys” attitude, which encourages sexist or abusive behavior by males. These justifications have no merit.

Our kids are doing better than many in other countries – we have fewer drinkers and our society (police, shopkeepers, schools, etc) actually speaks with one voice on teen drinking – at least officially. In the developing world, it is mostly lawless and ex-pat kids have lots of money, and in many cases, no supervision. Their parents are jet setters and leave them home with servants for long stretches – these kids are at enormous risk in ways that a typical suburban kid here in the states isn’t. So, it isn’t perfect anywhere, but a shift in our cultural concept of teens as young people with manners certainly wouldn’t hurt!

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