Sunday Reflections: A Sea of Black Belts and the Myth of the Lazy Teen
Teenagers, they’re all so lazy and entitled, amirite?
Having worked with teenagers for a over 22 years now, I know that there are certain truths that the general public holds self evident. The most popular among them is the idea that teenagers are lazy, entitled brats who are a menace to society. I thought about this perception of teens a lot this weekend as I sat in a sea of teenage black belts soaked in blood, sweat and, sometimes, tears.
I spent my weekend at an International Tae Kwan Do Tournament in Dallas, Texas. There were 48 schools that gathered together to spend the weekend competing, among those competing were a mega ton of teens. I saw hundreds of teenage black belt walking around this weekend and having witnessed my own teenager get her black belt, I can tell you that a lot of hard work and dedication goes into the process. These kids spent more time and energy in this process than many of us will spend on any one single thing in our life time. It took my daughter a little over 3 years of 3 times a week classes, practice at home, and one of the most brutal tests you will ever witness. I don’t mean brutal in terms of getting beat up by other people, although that did happen, but I mean brutal in terms of the lengths of the test and the amount of physical and mental energy it demands of its test takers.
Many of the teens competed in a demo team competition late Friday night. Like my daughter, these teens committed hours and hours of time practicing to learn their routines and get their timing and precision just right. They practiced on Friday nights. They practiced on Saturday mornings. They practiced on Sunday afternoons. This is on top of the many hours of classes they attend regularly during the week. Every time I took my daughter to practice I marveled at this team’s dedication and hard work.
The Bestie went with us this week to support The Teen. She spent her Friday night cheering on her friend. We got home late at night only to wake up just a few hours later to get up, drive back and do it all over again. She sat patiently for hours waiting for her best friend to participate in a 15-minute competition. She enthusiastically cheered her on. She is loving, kind, supportive and everything I would want in a friend. And in this moment, she was selfless.
The Bestie herself recently spent her own hours dedicated to making the cheerleading squad for the upcoming year (we’re so proud!). She took tumbling classes to perfect her flips and jumps. She worked tirelessly to maintain the grades she needed to be eligible. And then she spent evenings learning the routines she needed to know for tryouts. She’ll spend part of her summer going to camps and getting prepared for the next year. Cheerleaders are another group who are harmfully stereotyped, when the truth is they put a lot of hard work and dedication into their craft.
Many teens will spend time this summer in marching band camp, two-a-day football practices, church camp, science camp, volunteering, or working summer jobs.
Don’t get me wrong, some days I look over at my teen and she is laying like an invertebrate slug on the couch and I think if she tries to move she will have to ooze like a liquid blob across the floor. But this is actually a normal part of adolescent development. The teenage years are rivaled only by the baby and toddler years in the amount of physical change and growth that takes place. We give toddlers tons of leeway for behavior and sleep, but teenagers often don’t get the same consideration even though we know biologically that the same types of demands are being made on their brains and bodies.
Do teenagers sleep a lot? Yes, they often do. And science tells us that they need to. The amount of energy being expended behind the scenes to help their bodies and brains grow is monumental. A two-year old can throw a full blown tantrum in the candy aisle of the grocery store and we all make knowing eye contact with the parents because we’ve been there and understand. But heaven forbid a teenager walk into the library with a sullen expression and a clipped verbal interaction after a regimented eight-hour day of school.
Want to know another secret? Even though I love my job, my co-workers, and my community, I’m sometimes cranky after an eight-hour day at work. I just want a moment after meeting the demands of everyone else around me to decompress. Because I am an adult, I often get to do just that. I get to manage my time and interactions outside of work. Teenagers often don’t. In fact, I can think of no other time in my life then my teenage years when there were so many outside demands put on my time, attention and attitudes. Young kids are given a lot of freedom to explore the world and play, we try to be empathetic to their needs, but less so with teenagers. School, extracurricular activities, jobs, chores, church and more – the demands and expectations that society puts on teenagers can be overwhelming.
As a librarian who works with teens, I have fought against the stereotypes we hold for teenagers my entire career. I have seen toddlers throw fits and adults berate staff over 10 cent fines, and no one has ever said let’s shut down the youth or adult services department. But have a bad interaction with a group of teens and staff are lamenting that we have to have teen services at all. Why do we want them coming into the library, we ask, when there behavior is so awful.
Teens are just like any other group of people. Some of them are truly awful. I, the teen services librarian and advocate, will secretly loathe a couple of the teens that use my space every once in a while. For one reason or another, we just won’t connect or I genuinely hate their attitude and approach to life. I will work hard to make sure that none of them ever know this, but if we’re going to be honest, it happens.
But I also think that we as a society do a really bad job of seeing all the positive things that teens are doing, how hard they work, and the demands that we put on this group of people who have so little say in what we ask of them. Every day there are teens solving problems, helping others, supporting people they love, and pursuing their personal dreams. There are teens getting up early to go to practices, staying late for more practices, and sacrificing weekend mornings that could be spent sleeping in or playing video games to do things that they have a passion for. We just keep overlooking it.
It’s an old marketing saying that a negative experience will be communicated by your customer to 7 other people. We don’t pass on the positive, because our expectation is to have a positive costumer service experience. But a negative customer experience, we’ll pass that on to everyone. It’s the same thing with teens. We, society, tend to focus on the negative and forget to tell each other about the positives.
This is me sharing with you a positive and reminding us all that we need to stop being negative about teens. They’re working harder than we and the media often give them credit for. As I looked out this weekend and saw a sea of teenage black belts, I am reminded once again that the way that we talk about teens just isn’t correct.
Also, maybe we need more YA with teens who do martial arts. Pretty please.
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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