AskNicolaMorgan: #2 Three questions: about my personal experience, plus negative teenager stereotypes and “real” teenagers

Last week I answered the first question from the AskNicolaMorgan competition, from The Booklings Book Club, Glenthorn High School. Here’s the answer and here’s the link to the competition – still time to enter! Fab prizes to be won and every school gets at least one question answered on my website.)

Today I’m answering questions from the second school to enter (and I sent them a free book for being among the first five entries), Thorp Academy. Class 7X1a English Class chose these from Stella and Jasmine and I’ve decided to answer ALL of them because I can do it quite quickly! Well done, Stella and Jasmine and thank you for your great questions!

1. Does your passion for this topic of Wellbeing relate to any personal experiences when you were growing up? (From Stella)

Yes, partly. I have strong memories of my teenage years and really finding lots of things difficult. I didn’t like myself and I didn’t know where I was going. I was also a perfectionist (still am), very ambitious (still am), high-achieving and I pushed myself far too hard (same). I made myself ill often through overworking and over-thinking and I didn’t take enough time to relax. I now realise you burn yourself out like that so you have to be kind to yourself and look after yourself. Also, I discovered that you work better if you take breaks! I had many years of stress-related ill-health and I don’t want other young people to have the same. I am the same personality I was – still stressy, anxious, perfectionist, ambitious etc – but I manage it well now and I never get stress-related illness any more. I’ve learnt the hard way and I want you to learn the easy way.

2.”The teenager stereotype seems quite negative – should we abandon the term teenager altogether and come up with a new term? What term would you prefer?” (From Jasmine)

Yes, the teenage stereotype is quite negative but it’s not the word that’s the problem, but how people think of teenagers. People are very unfair and unsympathetic because they don’t properly understand what you go through at this stage (even though all adults went through it, too and have just forgotten!) But it’s also not the best word because biologically being a teenager starts at about age 11, so “teen” isn’t accurate anyway. A better word is “adolescent”, because that means exactly what it says: “becoming adult”.

But if people weren’t so negative about teenagers, there’d be no problem with the word!

3. “My Grandma says one of my Aunties was a ‘real’ teenager while the other was no trouble at all. Some teens seem to sail through adolescence and others really struggle. Do you think there is an argument to say that stereotyping teenagers actually makes their lives worse and that each teenager should be considered individually?” (From Jasmine)

I wanted to answer both Jasmine’s questions because they’re connected.

It’s all about stereotyping. Which I don’t do! When people say “teenagers are stroppy” or “teenagers are risk-takers”, that’s a lazy negative stereotype. However, if we say, “The science shows that on average/in general/typically, teenagers need more sleep/take more risks/feel more emotional” that’s not stereotyping but recognising a scientifically useful piece of understanding, that there are certain things that a large number of teenagers will experience because of being adolescent. But we must always remember that not everyone fits the stereotype. (And the problem with stereotypes is when people think it relates to all of a group.)

You are all “real” teenagers. “Real” teenagers are not “trouble” – they/you are people going through physical, chemical and brain-based changes, as well as social changes, that can create stress, conflicts and upheaval. Some teenagers (and their adults) have an easier time than others, but even teenagers who don’t appear to be having difficulties are still “real” teenagers. I wish people wouldn’t think that being a real teenage meant being trouble!

So, we shouldn’t stereotype but we can still make true observations. Different humans at different stages of development tend to have certain similarities. Adolescence is one stage of development, with the purpose of turning a child into an adult. Certain changes have to happen in you so you can make that transition but not every person will experience them in the same way. But you all have to go through these changes in some way. In my experience (and I’ve asked these same questions to many many thousands of teenagers in my school talks) will identify with at least one (and usually more) of the following “stereotypical” experiences:

  • sleep pattern changes – finding it hard to get to sleep and also to wake in the morning
  • feeling emotional – often sad or angry for no obvious reason
  • feeling very irritated by your parents and other adults trying to look after you – even feeling physically repelled by one or more of your parents/adults is quite normal! (Again, this does not mean everyone feels it but many do.)
  • feeling overwhelmed by pressures and fears
  • getting in trouble for untidy bedrooms
  • taking risks to impress other people
  • following peer pressure, for example in music/fashion/behaviours

Those are genuinely typical of many teenagers. Adults quite often experience some of them, too, but most people will agree that these do “tend” to be associated with adolescence.

And I think acknowledging that is important. If we don’t, young people who do experience those things deeply will wonder what’s wrong with them. There’s nothing wrong with them. that’s the point: it’s “normal” adolescence! Whether you find the changes you’re going through difficult or easy, you’re equally a real teenager. And it’s good to understand the changes – that’s what my work is about.

Positively Teenage is the book I recommend to answer these questions more. I hope you’ll find it sympathetic, informative and totally respectful!

Thank you, Stella and Jasmine! I enjoyed answering your questions. The decision about winners will be made when all the entries are in, after June 8th. Keep an eye out! Meanwhile, be positively teenage and make your brain and body FLOURISH.

 

 

 

 

 

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