Show of hands- how many of you lovely grown-up people out there on the interweb would willingly revisit your teenage years? If someone could wave a magic wand and make you sixteen again, complete with metabolism like a hummingbird and dewey-eyed optimism, would you take them up on it? Me neither. Hard pass. Hard, hard pass. Please don’t misunderstand, my teenage years were far from tragic. Aside from some bad gen-x fashion and a chronic, overly-inflated case of ennui, my adolescence went as expected. I did all the usual stupid teenage stuff, and was then relieved to enter my twenties. Still, you couldn’t pay me enough to go back, and I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. Why? Because we hate teenagers.
There, I’ve said it. We find them seriously icky. They sleep at inopportune times, they smell like gym shoes, and they’re loud. They have no respect for authority, they’re irrational, and they wear their emotions like a day-glo sandwich board. They don’t pay taxes, they think they’re invincible, and they don’t want to help around the house. The crackling voices, the obscenely long limbs, the straggly facial hair, the obsession with their looks…the awkward years are truly horrible, and at times, we can barely stand to look at those who are in the thick of them.
Now that we’re all nodding in agreement, may I point something out? As icky as teenagers are, adults are even ickier. 13-19 are the years during which human beings start acting like adults, and I think that’s what makes us cringe at the thought of them. Our aversion to them isn’t so much a recognition of their awful weirdness, but more like an awareness that they’ve stepped over the line into adulthood, and all the absurdity it brings. We’re in mourning for them, but we’re also a little grossed out at the reflection of ourselves. What’s even worse than a teenager acting like a teenager? It’s one who acts the way adults are supposed to, who makes those of us who are old enough to know better look pretty stupid for not getting our crap together.
Think about it: when you reached adulthood, did you find yourself in a brave new world of mature, genteel, polite and reasonable human beings? Me neither. Adults are basically teenagers with wrinkles and credit scores. For every annoying teenager on earth, there are at least two adults who are even more annoying, often for the very same reasons as the teenager. Field guides could be written on the scads of big-mouths, blow-hards, over-indulgers and rudeniks who are past the age of majority. These are the idiots who, in spite of having time on their side, were still dumb enough to come up with reality television, dating apps, and butter substitutes that cause diarrhea.
Historically, and still in some cultures, there were/are no such thing as teenagers. In a different time and place, one was a child, and then one became an adult, with no adolescent purgatory permitted. Do we designate a separate phase of life to teenagers to protect them from what we see coming? Maybe we want to inspire them to rebel against us just a little longer, to put the brakes on until they absolutely have to motor into their “big person” life. When we roll our eyes at them (as they roll their eyes at us), maybe we’re really saying “Fight the hormones! Go back! Go back! The other side of puberty sucks!”
Remind yourself of this the next time a hundred pounds of rotten attitude walks by in a pair of skinny jeans. Add a few pounds and mortgage, and that’s you. It takes one to know one.