RevolTeens: Texas Teen De’Andre Arnold Reminds Us All, Teens Need Fans (by Christine Lively)
Working in a high school means working with exaggerated, constant deadlines and pressure. Students are always reminded that their future success is dependent on them getting the best grades possible in the highest level classes; earning the highest possible test scores; and developing a resume full of impressive extracurricular activities. The pressure to not just get into college, but to not make mistakes is enormous and constant. Parents, teachers, counselors, and sports coaches usually have good intentions and want teens to be happy. We all know that just avoiding certain “mistakes” and following a straight ahead path makes life easier or, at least, gives kids the most options when they graduate high school. Teens see stories splashed all over social media and the press about people their age who have been accepted to every Ivy League college or received hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships. It’s nearly impossible for them to feel like they’re achieving success or doing the right things by comparison.
Compounding this pressure is the fact that those who are pressuring them are often the most well meaning and loving people in their lives. The parents, grandparents, teachers, and friends who used to celebrate every small achievement as a monumental and unqualified success when they were little – paint handprints on paper, riding a bicycle, turning a cartwheel – are now the very people who are worried constantly that teens aren’t doing or achieving ‘enough’ to make their (or their parents’) dreams come true. This pressure almost always comes from a place of love and concern, which is confusing and complicated for everyone involved.
When teens are faced with these heightened consequences and high stakes life decisions, they are also often confronted with unfair rules, stereotypes, and they’re unable to make their own decisions. At this developmentally rebellious time in their lives, they confront more rules, more expectations, and more responsibility than ever. They inevitably will want to REVOLT, and they should feel empowered to challenge the rules and to advocate for what they need.
What can help teens to mitigate this stress and to find a respite from the pressure? Having someone in their lives who thinks they’re wonderful – just the way they are. Teens need fans – they need an adult in their lives who thinks they are fantastic and who likes to spend time with them. They need someone who asks them about what THEY want without any pressure to answer correctly – someone who is truly interested in listening and is fascinated by what teens want to talk about. This person can be an aunt or uncle, grandparent, a boss or coworker at their job, a counselor, a school librarian, a family friend, a teen life coach, or anyone who is willing to step up and build that relationship.
What can a fan do for a teen? They can show them that they, just as they are, are important, interesting, and worthy of love. They can be a safe person to talk with about challenges and to brainstorm with about how to deal with them. A fan is someone who helps teens figure out what they want instead of instructing them about what they should do. They can be someone who just makes them feel good and take their mind off of the pressure for a while. They can in some cases be literal life savers for kids who feel that they have no one else to talk to and no safe place to be.
While I’ve always thought that kids simply cannot have too many people in their lives who care about them, the notion that it is especially important for teens was made clearer for me more recently when filmmaker and Oscar nominee Matthew Cherry, NBA player Dwayne Wade and actress/producer Gabrielle Union invited 18 year old high school student, De’Andre Arnold and his mother to be his guests at the 2020 Oscars. De’Andre had been suspended from his Texas high school for wearing his hair in locks, a longstanding family tradition. He was also told that he would not be allowed to walk in his high school graduation if he didn’t cut his hair. He refused.
When the news of his suspension and barring from graduation made the news, the producers of the then Oscar nominated short film “Hair Love” decided that they were fans of De’Andre, his hair, and his stand against an unfair and racist school rule. The story of the film “Hair Love” is that of a father struggling and finally learning to style and care for his young daughter’s hair. The film shows how central hair is to the identity of the Black family it depicts. Matthew Cherry, the film’s director has also been a proponent of the Crown Act which aims to make discrimination in the workplace based on natural or protective hairstyles.
What was the effect of De’Andre’s fans coming forward to support and celebrate him?
According to the February 9, 2020 New York Times, De’Andre, “said that he was feeling “pride, and validation too,” for the opportunity. “It’s like, look at me,” he said. “The little kid with dreads is at the Oscars. While all the people at home are mad? I’m at the Oscars.”
While they may not get a chance to go to the Oscars and mingle with movie stars, every teen deserves the opportunity to feel pride and validation. They deserve to revolt against unfair rules and discrimination and know that there will be people beside them, cheering them on.
About Christine Lively
Christine Lively a school librarian in Virginia. I read voraciously, exchange ideas with students, and am a perpetual student. I raise monarch butterflies, cook, clean infrequently and enjoy an extensive hippo collection. Christine blogs at https://hippodillycircus.com/ and you can follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/XineLively
Filed under: Teen Issues
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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