The Silent Battle

Humans are social creatures, i.e. we long for acceptance, success and companionship. This is true for anyone no matter your age, race, gender, economic class or educational level, but it is especially true for individuals between the ages of fourteen and twenty-one (roughly), a period of development that G. Stanley Hall named adolescence.

 

Adolescence is tricky. There is no sure way of avoiding it; we all go through some sort of respective adolescence in our lifetimes. There are many common themes throughout adolescence, themes such as: self-awareness, exploring sexuality and gender, nature vs nurture, “storm and stress”, higher education, suicide, experimentation with drugs and alcohol…the list could go on. Despite all of these commonalities within the cohort that is the “adolescent”, each experience is unique and special (maybe not special) to each individual.

 

In the first part of her book, “Schoolgirls: Young Women, Self-Esteem, and the Confidence Gap”, author Peggy Orenstein does participant-observational research on a handful of girls at Weston Middle School in California. Orenstein noticed that girls often find their gender a liability, a burden if you will, and this causes a loss of confidence in themselves and their abilities to perform competently against boys of the same age. This overall loss of confidence results in low-self esteem, low self-worth, depression, and anxiety. When the girls aren’t competing against the boys (and losing) in the classroom, they are concerned with how to gain the attention of the same boys who undermine them in the classroom without being labeled a “slut”. Needless to say, when you’re an adolescent girl, there seems to be more hoops to jump through, making the whole journey even more difficult.

 

In jumping through these hoops, girls have to constantly make sacrifices. If they want good grades to impress either themselves or their parents, they have to be smart, but if they’re too smart, they lose the admiration that they so desperately long for from the stupid boys. It’s a vicious cycle. It seems a teenage girl can never win. They are constantly fighting a silent battle within themselves.

 

I remember this feeling well, and in reading Schoolgirls, I found myself connecting with many of the girl’s stories. Even though I am a twenty-one year old college senior and they are middle schoolers, I could read what they had to say and think, “Oh, yeah. That totally used to be me.” Or even “hey, that still is me.” This was easy for me because Orenstein did an excellent job at covering many of the issues associated with this trying time including everything from sibling rivalry and failing a class, to self-mutilation, sexual harassment, and eating disorders.

 

Like the girls in Orenstein’s book, I used to want so desperately to fit in in my teenage years. I tried everything, but I was just different. I am the middle child in a middle class family. I didn’t have name-brand clothes; then again I didn’t really want them. Unlike most people my age, I hate spending money. I was an average student, meaning I could have gotten better grades, but I didn’t really try to. I was a band geek, so when I walked down the halls carrying a Tenor saxophone that was half the size of me, people would laugh as I struggled. I was short, twig-thin (except the baby fat on my face), with thick curly red hair, braces, glasses that were too big for my head, and even after puberty my bust never grew past an A so I still looked like a child…I was awkward and uncomfortable with myself to say the least, and because of this I didn’t have a lot of friends. I just kind of existed in my own little world, chiming into the real world every once in a while to make a witty observation or crack a joke…I was always good at that. I may not have been smart or sexy, but I could make you laugh your ass off.

 

Seemingly invisible at school, I was just as invisible at home. In my being invisible, I was not given many (hardly any) rules. My parents were too focused on my older sister, who will always be “the first born”, or my little sister, who will always be “the baby”. I fell through the cracks, became deeply depressed, and started acting out as a result. I found a clique. Well, it wasn’t really a clique because it was only myself and two other girls. Our teachers called us the Girls in Black or the GIBs, and we remained together for years. I was sort of the ringleader, and I was also more interested in risky behaviors then my two friends. I never let school get away from me, keeping mostly A’s and B’s throughout my education, but by the time I was in high school I was bulimic with a pentagram carved into my wrist, wearing all black, piercing my own bellybutton, smoking cigarettes in the school bathroom during lunchtime and running around town with one of the many (too many) boys I dated throughout those years. I got a lot of after-school detention and was even suspended once.

 

Youth and rebellion go hand-and-hand. Who is not more perfect to rebel then the youth? They certainly have the enthusiasm and the energy. They have everything to fight for and nothing to lose. In adolescence, the youth feel as if the whole world is against them, not providing them with the tools and information they need to succeed as adults. We have to think for a second…do the youth rebel because we are not giving them an equal chance? Or are we not giving them an equal chance because they rebel? More often than not, adults cannot tell when something is wrong with a teen until they start to rebel, and by then the pure shock stricken upon the parents overwhelms and destroys any chance of a fair trial. Teens rebel as a cry for help, and then they are punished for it, never given the answers they were looking for in the first place. If I did not rebel, I definitely would not be the person that I am today, and I think that would be a bad thing. My 7-year angst-fueled rebellion (if we can officially declare it over, which it probably is not) helped me learn what not to do with the rest of my life.

 

 

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