Sunday Reflections: What Does the World Look Like for Teens?
They say that 2016 is the worst year ever. It’s easy to think that, we’ve already had more mass shootings then I could ever imagine, bombings, and now political coups. When you think about the statistics that are out there, it can be overwhelming for adults. But I want us to step into the mind of a teen for a moment and see the world from their perspective.
For the purposes of this post, I will use my teen as an example, but you have to remember that in many ways, she comes from a place of privilege. She is female, which comes with its own challenges and baggage, but she is a white female. She has an intact nuclear family and though we struggle financially, she still technically lives in a middle class family. She has a home with her own room, we eat three meals a day, and she participates in some extra curricular activities.
She is 14.
She was born in 2002, which means that she has never lived in a time when the U.S. was not engaged in war.
She wakes up weekly to news of another mass shooting or a bombing.
We live 20 minutes from Dallas so one of the most recent events hit particularly close to home. Two people we know personally were police officers during that event, though both are safe.
She has done active shooter drills in school since she was in Kindergarten, age 5.
Her school has been on lock down at least once every year of her life.
When she was in 2nd grade, a Kindergarten student in their school was beat to death by his father. The school planted a tree on school grounds in his memory.
Every time we go into Dallas for something, she sees no less than 10 homeless people. She cries every time.
She goes to church every weekend where they tell her that GLBTQ people are sinners, but 3 of her friends that she loves are openly out teens. Another is an elementary school age person who we know wants to eventually transition but currently won’t because of lack of parental support. She struggles intellectually and emotionally to reconcile her faith and her real world experiences.
We know 4 people who have taken their own lives.
She has 11 cousins and 5 step-cousins. 3 of them are on the Autism spectrum, 1 of them is diagnosed with ADHD and behavioral issues.
She has 1 sister, she has severe food allergies.
She is 1 of 3 teens that she knows that have intact nuclear families, everyone else has parents that are divorced.
She has already lost 1 childhood home, first to flooding and then to foreclosure. In fact, she has now lived through 3 extreme weather events in two different homes.
She has a 1 in 4 chance of having a mental health issue. However, mental health issues have already affected her life as I spent a part of last summer in bed trying waiting for stabilization after a severe depressive episode and panic attacks left me struggling with suicidal ideation.
Although both of her parents work, her father works weekend nights which means she only sees him on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights. That’s if mandatory overtime isn’t called, which it often is.
I, her mother, work in another state which means I fly out of town about every other week for a week.
She has already had to move once and start her life over again because of job situations. She may have to again. She knows many other kids who have come into and then back out of her life again for the same reason.
There are times when we have struggled to make ends meets; times when my kids have eaten peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for days.
In our previous neighborhood, we had to walk through parks with needles on the ground.
A week ago Friday as we were turning onto our street, someone shot out the window of our car with a BB gun. It was in the rear passenger’s seat. The seat where she was sitting. It shattered in her face; Though she was uninjured, she is now afraid to drive down that street.
Since she is female, she has a 1 in 3 chance of making it out of her adolescence without being the victim of sexual violence. Four of her friends have already been the victims of sexual violence.
She has already been catcalled.
If we drive anywhere on the freeway to go to the next town to do any shopping, we drive by no less then 7 billboards that sexualize and objectify women as they advertise strip clubs and we pass by 1 XXX store.
She has already been told she is fat. She is not, but I can tell it has affected her.
Someone has stolen something from us at least once every year of her life.
As I mentioned above, she has a lot going in her favor, but this is her life so far. And many of the teens that I have worked with over the years have struggled with so much more than she has. So every time this past week I saw an adult post about how garbage 2016 is – and it very much is – all I could think was, what is this doing to our children? We have to do better. And the time is now.
Filed under: Sunday Reflections
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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