Living the Life of a Teenager - Isn't as Easy as it Seems
By Nikki Ryan, Roncalli Central High, Port Saunders, NL
The fraction of teenager's lives that are visible to the majority of society are the Friday night dances, the occasional sports event, and the televised news of a teenager who was arrested on the weekend. This circumstance would surely lead anybody to hypothesize that a teenagers life is strongly correlated with parties, fun, and a stress-free atmosphere. However, this manner of life is occupied by a small portion of the teenage population. For everyone else, the imperceptible behind the scenes is occupied with schoolwork, peer pressure, self pressure, and of course, striving for the virtually flawless body image.
These pressures that are reality to teens who face them daily can have a substantial impact on them in their social, physical, and behavioural aspects of life. Shelley Greene, Guidance Councillor at Roncalli High believes that these pressures make life very difficult for teenagers. "They need the reaffirmation that they are wanted and needed. and will sometimes do whatever is necessary to get that sense of belonging," she stated. "They will buckle under pressure because that need to be accepted is greater than almost anything in their lives." After experimenting with various substances, Philip Reid, a level II student at Roncalli Central High School in Port Saunders, also experienced the tremendous social impact these pressures can impose on a teenager's life. "After trying out different things, I realized it wasn't the path I wanted to follow for the rest of my life. I wanted to do more with life and knew that I had to make a decision that would benefit me in the long run." Following his decision, Philip immediately felt the separation from his friends who still belonged to a group he was no longer part of. "By making decisions that I felt were right for myself, I lost association with people I grew up with my whole life," he commented. "It's difficult losing friends like that, but there are times when you have to think about what's best for your future."
Although the pressure to experiment with alcohol and drugs are considerably present to the female gender, they are secondary to the fallacy that a beautiful girl is one that has "small" on all of her clothing tags. Janelle Hayes, a Level II student who resides in Edmonton, Alberta, senses that the current female teenager is constantly being forced into a perfected mould. "By living first hand in the harsh realities of teenage life, I find that there are many pressures that can come my way," she stated. "I think that the major pressures facing today's teenagers are highly based upon outward appearances, especially towards young teenage girls and the reputation they have."
Students believe that the traditional pressures, such as drugs and alcohol, that are so openly imposed on teenagers by their peers, have escalated to not only pressure from their parents and media, but also from school and themselves. Philip feels that the majority of pressures some teenagers have to face are actually derived from themselves as well as their parents. "As our adult life draws nearer, we are pressured by our parents to do well in school," he commented. "As I get older, I pressure myself to achieve better than everyone else. I think this comes from the way that our parents raise us to do nothing less than our best and we tend to carry it with us as we become more independent, and set high standards for ourselves."
The influential television commercials that once motivated young teenagers to "Feel comfortable with who you are" have long lost their inspirational touch since a thin beautiful model is displayed reciting the words. Mrs. Greene believes that although you cannot place the blame on one entity, the media plays a huge role in the pressures that are placed on teenagers. "The new wave of reality television is pushing the limits of what should be seen as acceptable. Paradise Hotel, for example, shows real people, not actors, participating in dangerous lifestyles. It promotes dishonesty, crudeness and disrespect for individuals," she commented. "Self respect, which should be so important to young people, is forgotten." Ms. Hayes agrees that the media is partially guilty of affecting the behaviour of young vulnerable teenagers. She stated, "I definitely think that all sources of media, such as television and magazines all put pressure on the way that teenagers in society behave. It affects teenagers by idealistically thinking they should look or act a certain way."
Even male teenagers are beginning to feel the pressure to have the optimal body image in which the narrow range of acceptable characteristics include larger than average muscles that bulge out under their t-shirts. Mr Reid commented, "In the past, it seemed that only females were affected by the prettier and thinner than average girls shown on television, but now even males are being driven to believe that they must work out daily in order to look good." Philip also feels that as even simple commercials for deodorant are sported by a muscular male, it will affect young teenagers to rely on harmful substances, such as steroids, in order to aid them in achieving the perfected male image. "Some teenagers who fail to accomplish this muscular appearance by working out alone, will end up turning to steroids to help them get the muscles that are displayed by so many famous actors," he stated. "I have had friends who have tried to enhance their muscular appearance through consuming things such as cretene, but what they don't realize is that these things will cause their body harm in the long run. However, the media continues to push us to believe that our appearance is more important than our health, which only results in eating disorders, and other stress on our physical selves."
Despite the many pressures that are sometimes invisibly fastened to teenagers, students feel that the majority of society are unable to look past the care-free attitude that most teenagers exhibit on the public streets. Mr. Reid feels that people who are not involved with the youth of their community can hardly visualize the stress that youth experience throughout their teenage lives. "Teachers and parents may see some of the pressure we face daily because they are aware of the increasing work load we have each year," he said. "To anyone else, it's nearly impossible for them to understand what we have to go through. The times are quickly changing and education is becoming an increasing component of a successful life. The only time a lot of people see us is when we go out. They don't see the time we spend completing assignments and studying for tests." Janelle Hayes agrees that society don't always realize the issues teenagers have to face today. She stated, "Students deal with these issues first hand. We are in and amongst the realities of the world today, and for society to understand these pressures is not realistically possible."
As a result of the lack of understanding that society has of the pressures present in a teenager's life, students believe that many people experience very little difficulty when linking the word "teenager" with "trouble." They feel that only a few teenagers actually live up to this standard while the rest of them have to live with it and deal with the consequences of other's actions. Mr. Reid stated, "We are constantly having privileges taken from us as a result of a few individuals who find it amusing to vandalize our school or recreation facilities weekly. We aren't even allowed to drive our snowmobiles to school anymore because a few students chose to risk the lives of not only themselves but their classmates by driving at speeds higher than necessary."
However, teenagers aren't naive enough to believe that reasoning is not behind the stereotype that they feel has been placed upon them. They understand that not only should society start treating them like young adults, some of them should start acting like it, so everyone can get the respect they deserve. "Society often place stereotypes on us and in the majority of cases it's not fair. However, it is up to teenagers of society today to strengthen the position that not all teenagers are trouble, and that there is good in many," Ms. Hayes stated. "It is up to us to change this negative aspect into a positive aspect, because obviously something was done to base that stereotype on."
At this crucial stage in the reality of life, teenagers have come to the conclusion that the many pressures which impose on their lives can simply make them stronger people if they approach these years with a strong moral foundation and the ability to swallow pride when life becomes so overwhelming that support is needed. Philip Reid believes that when he finally reaches his adult life and begins a life on his own he will be able to confer gratitude to his parents for helping him through every obstacle. "My parents are always there to support me when I feel like giving up. They will keep me going to the end," he stated. "Their presence in my life has been a major factor that I've based many of my decisions on. I now think about them and how I want to earn respect from them as well as my teachers." Janelle Hayes also believes that she is able to rely on friends and family to get her through tough situations but feels that in order to succeed you must be true to yourself and live for what you believe in. "I know that I can always lean on my family and friends for good moral support," she stated. "However, as much as you rely on others to be there to help you out, the other half comes from your moral stance as an individual. As for myself, I have set my morals, goals, dreams, aspirations, and values very high, and live to obtain these goals daily." According to Mrs. Greene, at the end of the day, it's the teenagers who have to accept who they are and what they have done. They need to be happy with their decisions because there are consequences for everything they do, and it's the choices they make now that will affect the rest of their lives.
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