I’ve never parented a teenager, so I’m really not the authority on this. I’m happy to be corrected if I’m wrong.
I have been a teenager though. I think I was a fairly horrible one. You’d have to ask my mum. I remember that I thought I knew best and that I rarely went home at the time I was told I should. I smoked, drank, kissed boys and even slept at the park when I said I was at a friend’s sleepover. All things I most definitely deserved to be in big trouble for. I never hurt anybody though, and I’m sure I was respectful to my parents. I’m sure I continued to have a loving relationship with my mum and didn’t want to hurt her.
I also remember it being one of the hardest times of my life. I seriously thought I was a grown up, and that everybody needed to back off with the guidance! At the same time I was facing a world I didn’t understand at all and I just wanted my mum to show me the way. My boobs didn’t arrive at the same time as everybody else’s which made me worry they’d never come. When they did I hated them, and the way they made men look at me. I hated my body hair too. Shaving my legs! It was a disaster. I had to do it or be ridiculed, but I just couldn’t get the hang of it. I cut my legs to pieces, every single time. It seemed important to have sex, but sex meant showing the body I hated so much to a boy. It meant seeing a boy’s body!
I was never sure what music I was supposed to like, what to watch on TV, who to hang out with. Could I still invite friends over for tea?
Most of all I was desperate to express myself. Anything that made me a bit more me. I wanted everybody (including my parents) to know that I was a person now, a grown up one, that was going to do things her own way no matter what. I wanted to be edgy and cool, and stand out whilst also blending in. When people described me I wanted everybody to know exactly who was meant. I bleached my hair white, wore red lipstick and a Nirvana hoody every day. Doc Marten boots, black tights. I crimped my hair! Looking back I can see that this was all just part of growing up, and an important part too.
Essentially though, I was a very good kid. I mostly did my homework on time, very rarely got into trouble at school, and didn’t do too badly in my exams. I went to school to learn, and I did learn. Not just school stuff, but how to be a person among other people too. My teachers probably wouldn’t remember me, despite my slightly strange ‘look’ because I just got on with it and did my best.
I know why I did ok, too. It’s because nobody really made a big deal of all of my ‘experiments’ in finding out who I was. My mum was ok with my hair dye and piercings. I don’t remember the school being too bothered either. They were probably more focussed on my brother who had a habit of putting other kids through windows. There was no battle. I wore my school uniform (with a few little tweaks), went to school, and did what I had to do.
The other day somebody I know shared this story on Facebook. I won’t comment on the story. I don’t trust newspapers. That probably isn’t all of the details. They’ll word it in whatever way makes it more interesting, because it isn’t exactly newsworthy to begin with. Essentially the school is punishing a teenage girl for dying her hair purple. I don’t know if it’s supposed to be purple in the picture, but if it is then it’s barely purple at all.
There were a few comments on the post stating ‘they knew the rules, they shouldn’t have let her dye it’ and ‘teenagers need to learn what it’s like in the real world where there are rules’. I do agree with these comments, but only to a point.
The world seems to hate teenagers. People seem to gleefully pounce on any opportunity to punish them. Boundaries they need, I agree. Those are essential to keep them safe. And they do need to learn about the real world. But don’t you think they’d be a lot less rebellious and horrible if we allowed them some flexibility to express themselves? They are changing so rapidly and entering a whole new world of being a grown up. Can’t you remember how hard that was? Is it really beneficial to any kid to disrupt their education to punish them for something trivial that really isn’t hurting anybody? Don’t you remember thinking that all grown ups hated you?
Obviously if they don’t come home at night or they put other teenagers through windows then they probably do need you to step in.
I think it’s even harder for kids now. We didn’t have mobile phones or social media to get the hang of. If you didn’t want people to find you outside school you just didn’t tell them where you live. They couldn’t look you up online. There was no internet bullying. Our parents didn’t have to worry about internet safety or whether we were being groomed in chat rooms. Somehow the streets were safer then too, and we had freedom to roam that kids don’t have now.
The way I see it, they can’t win. They get in trouble if they hang around in groups, but there’s nothing else for them to do. They get in trouble if they spend too much time on computer games or social media. They get in trouble for just trying to work out who they are.