Wednesday, 22 May 2013

The Teenager's Job

It's Teenage Week at Seraphic Singles, mostly because I talked to a woman recently about a terrible dating relationship she suffered as a teen. It would have been great if an adult had noticed what was going on and stepped in. She was, unfortunately, the kind of teenager who never tells her parents anything. I was just going to say that my parents couldn't shut me up, but of course that is not true: I never told them about my café co-worker's description of the huge bowl of cocaine at a party downtown. And after I went to university I quickly learned to shut up about stuff that seemed to give my parents mini-seizures at the dinner table.

In hindsight I was a kid all through high school and a teenager all through university. That so explains a lot. But enough about me.

The last time I did a poll, I did not have a big teenage readership. This is a relief to me because I do not like the idea of teenagers thinking of themselves as Single. Although Catholic teenagers should start thinking and praying about their adult vocations right after Confirmation, I really see no good reason why they should identify with unmarried people over 25. Even if in your community (e.g. rural Poland), most people marry at 21 or 22, at 15 or 18 you should be focused on learning. Your brains are soft and pink and spongy and will never be able retain so much information so easily again.

Also? Sunscreen. Sunscreen, my little teenage poppets! Although for the past 20 years I have been very careful indeed about the sun, I had a really bad burn as a teenager and as I dab super-exciting Polish anti-wrinkle cream around my 39+ eyes, I wonder if I'm seeing the long-term damage only now. Never forget that if you don't die first, you'll be forty. And if you make it to forty, you will either bless or curse your younger self for its attitude towards the sun.

Occasionally teenagers write to me about attracting boys, and I send back probably unsatisfactory letters about the importance of learning. But honestly the job of the teenager is to pray, to obey her parents (in so far as she is not damaged thereby) and to learn about the world. And by learning about the world, I do not mean repeating her teachers' political opinions. (Only my worst, craziest teacher allowed herself political opinions.) I mean how things work and what things are called and what various words mean. I mean reading books and listening to lectures on art, music, math, science, theology, poetry, history, geography, computer programming and languages.

I also recommend that, alongside the latest books and lectures, you read books by, and listen to speeches by, men and women who were famous before 1963. For example, Winston Churchill is going to have a take on the British Empire that you are unlikely to hear in many schools today. And if you are English and feeling depressed about it (as too many people want you to be), Winston will surprise and cheer you.*

I recommend, also, that teenagers write, draw, paint and compose as much as they possibly can. Youth culture is obsessed with music and dance, and even when I was a teenager, teenagers reconstructed pop videos for performance at school assemblies. That's okay, but how much better it is when teenagers write their own songs and choreograph their own dances. In fact, that's how pop music gets going

I do not recommend that high school students become politically active. Why? Because adult activists exploit the enthusiasm and idealism of the young, that's why. Adults get huge ego-rushes from young disciples, and very often the young pay adult activists a lot more respect and attention than the adult activists deserve. In return the adult activists pay back in cheap coin: "Aren't these kids great? Everyone give them a round of applause." Adult activists can become like parents, but unlike real parents they don't care about you as much as they care about the Cause. Instead of tempering your youthful enthusiasm, they exclaim over your heroism and wave to you cheerfully from outside the prison windows. I speak as a former very politically active, once-spent-an-entire-afternoon-behind-bars teenager.

If you hunger and thirst for justice, then wait until you are in college, at the earliest, or your twentieth birthday for political stuff. (More obviously charitable stuff, like feeding the poor, is okay under trusted adult supervision.) Political action involves giving yourself, and as a teenager you don't have a unified self to give yet.  You are highly impressionable, and that very impressionability should be used for your good. Think learning fluent German, not learning fluent ideologue.

I am trying to recall how mad I would have been if someone told me I didn't have a unified self yet and my brain was still rewiring itself. Frankly, I think I would have been relieved.

*History is taught differently from country to country, as you will find out if you leave your country and travel. If you want to be thought of as a truly educated person by Europeans, you must know the history of the Second World War, not just from the perspective of your countrymen, but from the perspective of other European nations involved in the conflict (and India). I do not recommend ever mentioning the Second World War, but--believe me--the subject still comes up.

If you are American, be ready to explain, without defensiveness or rancour, why the USA did not enter the war until 1941. If you are British, be ready to explain why Britain did not attack Germany immediately after declaring war. Always remember that what you were taught in school was not what others were taught in school, and what your grandparents told you is not what others' grandparents told them. If you hear something that surprises you, there is nothing wrong with saying, "That surprises me! I never heard that. Tell me more." Then sneak off and look it up on the internet.


BurgoFitzgerald said...

"The last time I did a poll, I did not have a big teenage readership. This is a relief to me because I do not like the idea of teenagers thinking of themselves as Single."

I have a niece who is 17 years old. She has a friend who gets depressed and laments that because no boy has asked her out yet that she is afraid that she will become one of those women who have too many cats and dies all alone. Those were her words.

Other teenage girls I have worked with as young as 15 years old have told me that they are "single" because they have to lose weight before they want to get into a "relationship". Many have told me they don't want to be fat for their first kiss.

Unfortunately, it would seem that many teenaged girls see themselves as "single ladies". That makes me feel sad and bewildered.

MaryJane said...

I know an old Polish couple who were in camps during WWII as children. To this day, the wife cannot hear the name Churchill. I asked my father about this, always having grown up (as an American) thinking that Churchill was a great man, an Ally, etc. My father wisely answered that this was true, but that Churchill and the Allies had also made tough and incredibly morally complicated decisions, particularly regarding the fate of Poland. Her reaction was quite understandable and something that deserved our respect. I could not agree more.

Unrelated: I know this may not apply to most teenagers, but I wish some adults had told me to focus more on relaxing and having fun rather than on "Discerning My Vocation", etc. A few harmless dates would have been far superior to the teenage angst of struggling to decide whether a fellow teenager was husband material.

c'est la vie said...

Excellent post, Seraphic. I particularly agree with a) the importance of history and b) the danger of adult activists exploiting the enthusiasm of the young... something I have seen far too much. Very well expressed, thank you.

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Seraphic said...

BurgoFitzgerald, the only possible response to the cat-lady-thing is, "Name one." And when she goggles at you, hand her a list of life-long Single women who did great. There's one on the side of my blog.

I wonder to what extent we can blame Beyonce's "All the Single Ladies" for fifteen year olds thinking they are Single Ladies. As for the "I don't want to be fat for my first kiss" thing, words fail me. WORDS FAIL ME. Wait, words came back: "What if he's fat? What if you get kissed by a fat guy? Wouldn't it be better if you were fat, in case a fat guy kissed you?"

Okay, I will calm down. Their brains haven't finished rewiring up yet. We shouldn't make fun of them. They can't help it. All we can do is say things that help the rewriting.

Mary Jane, I most definitely do not think teenagers should be thinking about their vocations all the time or in great detail! I don't think teenagers should date at all. I think they should hang out as friends, with each other's families. If teenagers only thought about their future vocations every first Sunday, that would be fine with me. And if Catholic schools would take classes to visit convents and monasteries to talk to nuns and monks about their way of life, or to retirement homes to talk to old married couples about their lives, or invited in mothers of ten to talk about their lives, or long-term Sngles to talk about their lives, that would be AWESOME.

Any elderly lady who was in a camp was in a CAMP and therefore deserves total and utter kindness and respect. No need to tell her, for example, that in September 1939 the Prime Minister of Britain was not Churchill but Chamberlain. Or that it was Roosevelt who convinced Churchill to trust Stalin regarding Poland. It is important for you to know these things for the sake of truth, but an elderly woman's pain trumps historical truth, as far as she is concerned. And it was a good lesson for you to learn: names that we think are symbols of pride are symbols of sorrow for others.

As we all meet people from other countries, we are going to discover that people hate our countries because of things, both true and false, they have been told about our countries. It is important not to become demoralized about this, or to allow ourselves to dishonour the memories of our own grandparents' or parents' (or brothers' or friends') sacrifices and sufferings.

Fortunately, young people across the world usually just want to get along with other young people and don't want history to get in the way of making new friends.

Personally, I think it would probably be more effective to burst into tears than to argue over disputed history. Sadly, I am not very good at that. I just argue away.

I got in trouble at work once over a dispute about the Suedetenland. Fortunately for me, I did cry, so my (male) manager hurriedly ended the discussion.

BurgoFitzgerald said...

Seraphic,I was thinking of Beyonce when I wrote my post because I have heard the 15 year old girls I work with say, "What if no one ever wants to put a ring on it?" Can you believe that? At 15!!! That wasn't even on my radar at 20! I have told them about magnificent "single ladies" who weren't just "empowered" female celebrities who state they just want to be "single for awhile and have fun." I even mentioned myself: 41, never been married, no children, taking care of parents. They said, and I quote, "Well, Miss, that's like, cool for you I guess, and you're like great, but, like, I just COULD NOT do that. I mean, like, I would die." *shrugging shoulders*

As for the "fat first kiss" scenario, I did ask these girls, "But what if the boy is fat? What would it matter if you had a few extra pounds and he had a few extra pounds?" Ready for the unanimous response? "There is no way my first kiss would be with a fattie! No way!!!!" *banging head on table* I, obviously, pray for patience a great deal.

This is why I am bewildered by the fact that people give smartphones, credit cards, and explicit details about birth control to children.

Seraphic said...

Yes, and they are children. They don't know that, and they would vociferously reject the idea, but really, they are children.

It's so bizarre that in 2013 girls still manage to make their "first kiss" into a huge romantic symbolic deal. And yet they can dehumanize people, e.g. "fatties", in the very same sentence. The kiss is a commodity, not an exchange of sincere affection or liking between girl and guy. Sad, really.

Domestic Diva said...

Seraphic, I just saw this and was really inspired by it. Since you've dubbed it Teen Week, maybe you'd like to comment on this? This young man (his Caring Bridge website indicates he's Catholic) could teach us all something about living well.

Magdalena said...

Very good post. When I was a teenager, I definitely was very worried that I would never find a boyfriend. Now you made me think about this, my conclusion is that the real problem of teenagers is probably not the "beig single" thing, but that they don't have any self-esteem or trust in their abilities to manage life just at the moment. So this lack of self-confidence turns into life-angst. Maybe they don't (only) need someone telling them about happy and successful single lives, but also someone who says "life will definitely become better, no matter how bad you feel now. Being an adult is so much easier than being a teenager. Don't worry. Just wait until your brain is sufficiently rewired." As Seraphic said, I think I too would have been relieved.