A Fourteen-Year-Old’s View on Being a Teen Today
This article may shock you. And frankly, I think we all need this wake-up call.
Despite the fact that we work with teens, hang out with them and even live with them, we rarely get a very real glimpse into that elusive “real world” of teenagers.
They shelter us from it, cutting us off to the depth of how difficult the struggle is, how real the agonies and pressures are. They brush us off by saying that they’re alright, keeping their eyes glued on their phones or staying plugged into their music.
In short, they simply don’t let us in.
Though I’ve interviewed and written extensively regarding teenagers and middle school ministry, I’ve never before invited a teenager to guest write for me. I asked Catherine Hicks, a beautiful and bright 14-year old from my church, to write about what the “real world” of a teen is like. She courageously took up the challenge and bravely shares her reality freely.
Her words are powerful and reveal much about the challenges of being a teen today. As you read a firsthand account of what teenagers feel, think about how you can take these words to heart in your own dealings with youth.
This is straight from Catherine’s pen, untouched by me. What you’re reading are her words, unfiltered, about being a teenager in today’s world.
I know that as an adult, it must inflict some type of memory onto you. Good, bad or just a memory, you must remember something about being this age. The age of first kisses (sometimes more), the age of leaving grade school, the age of rebelling against your parents – regrettably I might add – but rebelling none the less.
Whether it be sneaking out to attend parties, or even going to the extreme of drugs, this is the age that you begin to question many things you once thought true. It may be your faith, your trust in others or the wisdom of your parent’s rules, but eventually something begins to slip.
Most importantly though, this is the age of finding yourself. It’s an age full of pure bewilderment. You don’t know where to turn, who to trust, how your parents will feel, what is really “cool”, how to fit in. I would say that there’s one particular thing that’s stressful, but really, what makes it nerve-wracking is the piling up of everything.
For most people, anxiety begins to take over. Nervousness over your grades, over getting the chores you have to do at home done, over getting to work or even finding your first job, over being good enough for that one person you’ve got your eye on. You’re trying way too hard to grow up.
Personally, the worst thing for me was the bullying. I don’t claim that everyone goes through this, but I think more people do than we realize. When I was bullied, I was told that I was an attention-whore, a slut and every other offensive word you can think of. The fact that I went to a small school only made it worse. I had every class with people who hated me – and weren’t afraid to let me know. I was told to go kill myself, daily.
It followed me home and only made the situation harder than it already was to deal with. I received anonymous texts and messages telling me to go kill myself, and that no one would miss me. The things that others in my past, even my family, had done were mocked as well. It was as if the people doing this – sending me these things – didn’t think that I had feelings; it was completely forgotten that I was weak, and that trying to deal with everything around me was all too much.
I handled this incorrectly when it became unbearable, because I resorted to self-harm. Now, shadows of the guilt and pain I’ve been through line each of my wrists. I knew it was wrong, the hateful glances and judgmental whispers of everyone around me proved that, but it became an addiction.
No matter how hard I tried to stop, I felt worthless and unwanted – hated even. After hearing every day, multiple times, that I was all of those things, I began to believe it myself.
I know that this is morbid, and that most people don’t like to hear about topics like this, but parents and people all around need to become aware of what teenagers are going through.
Parents and friends are the only hope for these kids. I know that my parents didn’t handle my depression in the right way, and if it weren’t for my friends, I would’ve committed suicide.
But just because they didn’t doesn’t mean that others can’t. If your child were to ever tell you that they were doing this, they don’t need their parents telling them it’s wrong, or that they shouldn’t be doing it–they know that already. They need the reassurance that they aren’t worthless, that they aren’t unwanted, or hated. Cry, hold them, love them, but don’t get angry at them. Because if you could feel the amount of pain it takes to push someone that far down, to the point where the pain of hurting themselves is better than the agony of everyday life, then you would realize that your anger will only make it worse for them.
So watch for the signs. Make sure that your child isn’t suddenly disinterested in their old passions; listen for when they stop talking about plans of the future. Ask yourself if they’re dropping friendships and suddenly locking themselves in their rooms, if they’re wearing long sleeves even when it’s 90 degrees outside.
Maybe it’s not cutting. Maybe it’s anorexia, or bulimia. Still, you’ll notice.
One other thing, while on the topic, that I’d like to bring attention to, is that poems and stories written about depression always say ‘her’ or ‘she’ and I know for a fact that it’s not just girls who are depressed. One of the strongest, most amazing people I know, a person that I love with all my heart, is a guy, and he’s deeply depressed.
I want the general masses to accept that boys can be depressed, too, and that if a guy is ever seen depressed, it doesn’t mean he’s weak, or any less manly than any other guy. He’s just hurt – destroyed, just like many other people.
I don’t claim to not feel guilt over the fact that the boy I know is depressed and wants to self-harm, because it doesn’t help that I attempted to commit suicide. I also don’t claim not to be envious of his strength, of how well he smiles and laughs as if he isn’t broken, but I am so proud of him for being this strong. He’s been my rock when I needed one, and I admire him for that. The only solution to this is to not judge– to not judge anyone, for that matter. I’m an advocate for equality of gender, for anything.
The fact that I’ve gone through my own time with depression only makes me more sensitive to the fact that not a single person deserves to be judged for being sad and broken. No one has the right to judge others for being depressed. Not a parent, not a teacher, not other teenagers. Not one single person.
I suppose my point is that we need to become aware of the fact that not only are girls depressed, but that boys are, too, and they need help just as much as anyone. We need to be aware of how broken teens are, boys and girls alike.
Friendships are what pulled me through my struggle with self-harming. To this very day, my mother doesn’t approve of my scars, or my desire to share my experience to help others. She has never understood what it feels like; she hasn’t wanted to. I don’t blame her, but without my friends, I wouldn’t have made it.
I do consider my friendships very important, right up there with my limited family relations, and that probably is what makes me so very loyal to my friends. Not everyone can be your friend, but it does help to have a few.
Helping others is the way we should all act, but not all can do that. In the end, we all blame society for our problems, but we are society, and in order to help ourselves we have to change and help others.
In simpler words, depression is much more common than you thought, and with the technology we have today, things aren’t like they were “when you were in high school” as most parents would say. It’s harder–much, much harder.
Technology has enabled it to be harder, and it has desensitized us to people’s feelings. Reading used to be a form of entertainment, and even nowadays it’s been proved that people who read tend to be more compassionate than people who don’t.
I don’t know what has made this generation so very vindictive, but I know that my generation is particularly mean.
Another thing; for girls, I know that the tall skinny girls with flat stomachs and thigh gaps have become such huge fashion icons, that they drive girls who look like me to anorexia and bulimia. I’m a short girl, and very curvy. Nowadays, girls are fed the information that we’re not thin enough, and that until we look like Victoria Secret models we’re not going to be pretty enough.
Our self-esteem is at an all-time low, and I know that because of these, I always feel fat, and insecure over every little birthmark on my body.
It’s even been proven that most high schoolers have the same anxiety levels of someone who belonged in an asylum in the 1920’s. This is so wrong; the adolescents of today are literally going crazy trying to deal with the amount of stress that presses down on them like a literal unbearable weight on their shoulders.
In my opinion, depression is caring about nothing. You’ve lost the ability to feel; it’s the fact of giving up on all you ever hoped for, your dreams, your goals, anything and everything you’ve ever dreamt of doing. Anxiety is when you care too much about everything. It’s constantly worrying about the future and living in the certainty that the worst possibility is what will always happen.
Having both of them is skipping school because you can’t bring yourself to care, but then panicking over the fear of failing.
It’s blowing off your friends because you don’t have the heart to put in the effort to keep up your friendships, and then having nervous breakdowns at the thought of losing them.
Having both is insanely hard to deal with and it’s one of the most exhausting things in the world. I want parents to understand that most kids do go through both. That’s why you’ll come home one day to see your teenager sleeping and their backpack left unopened, or see their light on until 3 AM as they cram to finish their entire load of make-up work.
My only hope is that after reading this and knowing first-hand what it feels like to be a teenager, that you’ll remember this when you notice the dark circles under their eyes, or the sudden protrusion of their ribs.
Remember that everyone of us has the potential to be a part of something great, to be a star, a planet or even a sun in the universe of our world, but that falling into the shadow of another planet or star can darken and impede on our ability to see the true beauty of the universe. Help be the force of gravity that pulls the shield from a person’s eyes.
I’m sure you have all heard Genesis 1:27, where it reads “God created man in His own image”. God created us intimately in his image, but sin broke that image and that’s why things are so messed up now. But through Jesus’ sacrifice and through faith in Him, we are made new and that will never change, no matter who says differently.
To those of you who are teenagers, and relate to what I described, I want you to hear this. Some tiny parts of you may not be perfect, but over all you are still beautiful.
Yes, you have your imperfections, just as everyone else, and while these tiny flaws may not be beautiful alone, when combined with the rest of your breath-taking, absolutely stunning beauty, you’re still gorgeous. Gorgeously unique, gorgeously different, gorgeously yourself. We’re all different. We’re all unique. And we are all beautiful in spite of our flaws.
So here is my advice to you. Pay no attention to the little things, such as acne, scars, whether you have a thigh gap or not, if you’re tan enough or how flat your stomach is, because regardless of those things, you’re still beautiful. And you’re so loved by Christ that He died to save you and make you new in Him. You are his precious child, and that’s where you can go to find your truest identity.
If your perception, your view point, is one that the masses have toned to their own trends, that plants that little seed of doubt into you, just remember: you’re valued, you’re beautiful, you are needed, and you are loved.
You are an amazing, gorgeous creation, unique to yourself, and nothing will ever change that. God and so many people love you, and you can’t forget that.
Now that we’ve had a teenager herself candidly throw open the doors into her world, we must each ask ourselves what we can do with this information.
How can we seek to understand just exactly what our teens are actually wrestling with right now?
How can we, as youth leaders, effectively impact the teenagers around us today?
How can we share the message of Christ’s boundless love, His unconditional acceptance, and His changeless grace?
How can we attempt to listen and react positively, and guide our teens through incredibly challenging situations in their lives?
I’ll tell you exactly where I’ll start: on my knees in prayer…and then I’ll focus on Jesus and teaching Him, because it is only in Jesus that the image of God is restored, that we are forgiven and accepted, and that what is broken is made right.