Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Tech in the Past Tense

Yesterday a telemarketer called my cell phone asking for Steven Smith. When she heard my voice, she immediately asked if I was "Mrs. Smith". I'm actually Ms. Smith, his daughter. After a brief conversation about my disinterest in winning a free cruise, I hung up and thought about all the times this has happened to me. I've been able to pass as a grown woman on the phone since I was twelve. Door to door salesman ask if my Mommy or Daddy is home, but telemarketers never imagine a phone in a teenager's hand.
According to my Facebook profile, I "studied" at Riverton High School. That's a lie. I'm there now. If there's a way to change that to present tense I've never seen it done. My college friends "study" at their school of choice. Millions of teenagers use Facebook. Still, it's built for adults, and it's not the only huge tech corporation to do that.
My post-Christmas family of six owns three iPhones, three iPods, and two iPads, all under the same iTunes account. We've spent most of our Christmas break deleting each others' messages and music. Since I'm moving out this year anyway, we decided it was high time I set up an account of my own.
That means selecting my own iTunes security questions. Here are some of my options:
What was the model of your first car?
What was your childhood nickname?
Who was your favorite singer or band in high school?
Who was your best friend in high school?
There were several more question options about things I did "as a child" that are still true for me. Security questions are designed to be hard to guess, but if you're currently in high school, anyone who knows you can figure them out. Even though teenagers are-quite stereotypically-associated with technology, all electronic device users are assumed to be adults.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Sluffing with Style

My friends and I took AP Human Geography back in ninth grade. We were still in a middle school building at the time but had to take the test at the high school down the street. We were excused until fifth period, but the test got done halfway through fourth, so we took our sweet time walking back. There was a little donut shop halfway between the two schools, so we dumped our pocket change on the counter and bought some from the glaring cashier. You can read all about that here.
We thought we were so clever, eating doughnuts while we were supposed to be in class. Fast forward to last Thursday. We had an assembly during first period, the first of three that day. All we do for a half hour is wander around the gym and buy treats and trinkets to raise money for Silver Rush. We weren't doing anything in class and we'd already been excused for the assembly. Plus my friend Hannah hadn't eaten breakfast. So we drove around town with no particular destination until we settled on IHOP.

We ordered French toast from a waitress who didn't question us. Then Hannah and Esme texted their parents to brag and documented our adventure for posterity.

We thought we were so clever, eating breakfast while we were supposed to be in class. Someone-probably me-brought up the donut adventure and we joked about our ninth grade selves. Then I had a thought. "What if, three years from now, we look back and say, 'Remember when we went out to IHOP senior year and thought we were getting away with something? Yeah, we're so passed that now."

I did a school musical back in October. On Paint Day, the drama teacher realized we were short ten extension cords. My friend L'ren, who oozes trustworthiness from every pore,  was chosen to drive down to Walmart and buy some with his credit card.
I tagged along. Because, you know. Extension cord is heavy. We wandered around Walmart, trying to guess his middle name and carrying on a loud conversation about our "stolen" credit card. On the way back I realized how overhyped it was.
"A year from now," I told L'ren, "Running to Walmart for extension cord won't be an adventure, no matter whose credit card we're using. It will be running to Walmart for extension cord."

My brother's in ninth grade now. He replaced me. He can walk up to the gas station with his buddies, buy candy bars, and call that an adventure. I can't. The things we enjoy right now will seem cheap and ridiculous as we age. But that doesn't mean they are inherently cheap and superficial. For years, I felt "less" than my peers because I don't party and date the way some of them do.  Now I've realized that I don't have to. There's a time for everything, and the time for French toast and extension cords is now. These types of adventures expire before you know it.
So go party. Clock's ticking.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Silver Rush for the Win

Displaying photo.JPG
My grainy iPod photo
Embedded image permalink
Better picture lifted from twitter. My handprint's on there somewhere.
Some schools have football. Some schools have grades. Riverton High has charity. Between 1999, the year we opened, and last year, we raised over $900,000 dollars for different charities. That means my senior class got to tip the balance over one million.
Embedded image permalink
This is Zoey Spencer, one of the kids who will benefit from the money we raised. She sold over two thousand handmade reindeer necklaces during lunch to support Silver Rush. I've seen kids walking the halls with six or seven strung around their necks.

In three weeks, we raised $133,689.15 Inter Mountain Healing Hearts, a charity that provides "hope and healing" to kids with congenital heart defects. We counted it out to fifteen cents because that's our graduation year. Most of my senior class is bittersweet about the whole thing. Silver Rush is such a huge part of our identity as a school. We do everything we can think of for Silver Rush. Carrot grams. Cheerleader pie-a-thons. A male beauty pageant. Our motto is, "It's not about the money, it's about the change," but I suspect the real reason we love Silver Rush is the sense of unity. 
We're not from an enormously wealthy district. The most any other school in our area raised is $96,000 (This is the school that creamed us in football. Not that I'm bragging or anything). We succeed because we're passionate. 
Now it's all over for the last time.But you know what? We have the rest of our lives to be nostalgic about high school. Why spend our last year in some kind of pre-nostalgic haze? We've done good things today and we've got years ahead of us to do more. 
Live it up, Class of 2015.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Internet Paranoia

Because my generation is the first to grow up with the Internet, I'm never sure how much of the change I see is due to my age and how much is simply evolution of the online world. When I was nine, I played around on websites like Club Penguin, Millsberry, and Webkinz. No one on the Internet knew me as Erica. I was Linda, Cittly, Blanca, and a whole host of other names I don't remember. Using my real name would be like walking home alone from a friend's house after 8:30. That was practically begging to get kidnapped.
At fourteen, I started this lovely blog. As discussed in previous posts, I used my middle name partly to hide it from my mom (that didn't last long) and partly because I liked the thrill of the alias. For the next three years I sat through conversations like this.
"My sons all play sports, and Erica, my oldest, she's a blogger. She has this blog about teenagers who make a difference-"
"Actually, it's about ageism."
"Yeah, she gets opinionated sometimes. It's called ourvoiceteen-dot-BlogSpot-dot-com. Her name's Eliza on it. It's her middle name, I make her use it for safety."
Yeah, she developed this memory somewhere along the line. I corrected her every time she said it and she eventually stopped. But the words stay rooted in my mind.
I don't have a YouTube account, but my Google Plus profile lets me leave comments and make playlists and whatnot. My mom freaked out when she discovered this. "Your username is your real first and last name? Someone could find you!" Yeah, my last name's Smith. Good luck, kidnappers.
Most cases of rape, kidnapping, etc. occur with a victim who already knows their abuser. There are practical reasons for this. Why would a future kidnapper form an online relationship with a child who lives two thousand miles away instead of the kid down the road?
I've never heard adults cautioned to lie about their identities online. They use the Internet to work, shop, and date. Kids just want to play games. Really, pedophiles make up a small sliver of the population. A predator is more likely to prowl around an adult dating site than a kiddie chat lounge.
That's not the only problem. After a year of being Eliza, I sent a classmate a friend request on Goodreads. She responded with a "Sorry, who are you?" Five seconds later I changed my name. I sent her a request from Erica, she responded, and we all lived happily ever after. Fake names are fine for gamers and other communities where anonymity is the norm. But if you want your real and virtual lives to cross over, it just gets in the way.
My youngest brother's email account belongs to "Sam", his middle name. My other brother, Brandon Thomas, sent emails through some guy named Joey Claxon for a while. I made my account in seventh grade. My address is my initials, a common noun, and a number. On Monday, I went into the bank to set up a checking account. The banker laughed at me. "You can always tell how old a client is by their email address. At least it's not bad as some I've heard. I had a girl in here who called herself dancingfairy13."
I still have some accounts floating around with the name Eliza attached to them. Now that I've got a debit card, I have to change them all. No cashier will let a customer carrying Erica's card use Eliza's member discount. Some of them don't even have the right last name. Sure, my card says Erica Elizabeth, so I can probably talk my way out if it comes to that. But that's a headache I don't want to deal with. Does anybody?
It's one thing to call yourself dancingfairy13 on a gaming site, or some other community where anonymity is the norm. But there's no reason to do this with an email address. If you aren't cursed with a common name, just throw the real thing in there. It's easier for people to remember anyway.
I liked being Eliza for the last few years. I still sign things that way. But if I were to do it all again, I'd start blogging under my real name. Fake names might make you parents feel secure, but they do nothing to protect you from actual dangers and they'll come back to bite you later in life.

Monday, December 8, 2014

A Note

Hello, friends! Sorry I've been gone for a while. It's not that I don't have any free time, it's that I've been squandering it on Trivia Crack and Taylor Swift videos. Why pretend otherwise? Anyways, I thought I'd clear something up.
Look down. You'll see that I have a new name, Erica Eliza. My full name is Erica Elizabeth Smith.When I started this blog back in eight grade, I used a shortened version of my middle name in case my mom discovered my blog. Three days later, she saw me on the computer and casually asked what I was working on. The monitor's set back in a bank of shelves and she couldn't see the screen. I have some psychological difficulties that prevent me from lying. Once or twice a month I can manage a half truth, but this wasn't one of those days. So I told her straight up that I'd started a pro-youth blog.
Yeah. That alias didn't last long.
Since my blogger profile said Eliza, I started using that name for all my online accounts. It got annoying after a while. When I recommend my blog to people, I have to add a disclaimer so they don't get confused when they find this Eliza chick yammering on. I get packages in the mail addressed to Eliza. Last month, I nearly wrote the wrong name on a college application.
I've used my real name on one of my other blogs, Erica Eliza Writes, for over a year. Feel free to call me either. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

Adulthood Means Nothing

Shield your eyes, children. Shield your eyes.

I've officially been eighteen for two weeks. Everyone seems to look forward to that date, but so far as I can tell, the only difference between eighteen and seventeen is I can go to big kid jail. Even that's not a guarantee. Whenever I read an article about a teenage criminal, they always get tried as an adult. Then again, I'm only reading about newsworthy cases.
My English class has been reading Hamlet. Since Shakespeare is meant to be seen, not stared at on a page, we get to watch a movie. That means permission slips.
"I don't have to get a signature on this if I'm eighteen, right?" I asked my teacher.
She shook her head. "Not unless you're living on your own in an apartment."
Later, my mom showed up to check me out of for a doctor appointment. We asked the attendance office secretary if I could do it myself from now on.
She laughed at us. "Oh, heavens, no. You're still her legal guardian."
I can die for my country. I can vote, except I can't.  I can drop out of high school, but heaven forbid I sign myself out for a day. 

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Why Teens Need Social Media

This week, the hashtag #thanksmichelleobama is trending as students post pictures of their school lunches.

Meanwhile, this video shows a gym teacher forcibly dragging a swimsuit-clad girl into a pool after she refused to swim. She repeatedly screams "My top is falling down!" but he never stops.

Whether you support the First Lady's crusade against fat or not doesn't matter. Whether the girl was justified in staying out of the pool because she'd had her hair done doesn't matter. What matters is both are making waves on the internet. What matters is ordinary teenagers with cell phones are able to showcase injustices.
In the past, teenagers had to use our parents as go-betweens when we had a complaint. If they didn't support us in our struggles, we had nowhere else to turn. The internet is the greatest empowerment tool in the history of youth. Adults still roll their eyes. What would be called activism, controversy, or a social media campaign if coming from adults is deemed "whining" because of our age.
But that doesn't matter either. What matters is our voices are heard-and sometimes, adults listen. 

Friday, November 14, 2014

This Time, She Wins

Once again, a New Jersey young woman has sued her parents for college tuition. I can't help but notice the similarities between Caitlyn Ricci and the Rachel Canning case. But this time, she wins.
 Rachel Canning is:
1. An eighteen year old New Jersey girl
2. With married
3. Allegedly abusive parents
4. Who sued for college tuition and lost
5. And is seen by the media as a spoiled brat
Caitlyn Ricci is:
1. A twenty one year old New Jersey girl
2. With divorced
3. Allegedly supportive parents
4. Who sued for college tuition and won
5. And is seen by the media as a spoiled brat
I've got a college application open in another window right now. I've crunched the numbers. There is no way a teenager working a minimum wage job-and that's really all we can get-is capable of paying full college tuition by herself. Back in the sixties, my English teacher's husband paid for college on his own by working summers in a steel mill. That's not possible anymore. We petition our parents. We sign our souls away to student loans. We get a leg up from the government. We do whatever we have to now so we aren't stuck selling cigarettes from behind a gas station counter at age fifty.
A college education is required to move ahead in life. To move anywhere. I have friends who think they deserve college money for getting a 4.0. For playing a sport. For their ethnic heritage. For community service. For involvement. Is it such a stretch to assume she's entitled to money because she's born to parents who can pay for it? Parents have a responsibility to provide for their children financially and emotionally. Ricci's are cherrypicking. "One day she's gonna realize she needs parents," her mother said.
Sounds to me like she has. They just don't want to answer when she comes knocking. 

I Am the Champion

"If youth, throughout all history, had a champion to stand up for it; to show a doubting world that a child can think; and, possibly, do it practically; you wouldn't constantly run across folks today who claim that "a child don't know anything."
-Ernest Vincent Wright

In roughly three and a half years, I've written nearly three hundred posts, and in all of them, I use "we" to refer to teenagers. Adults are "they", or, when I choose to address them, the collective "you".
Legally, I am now an adult. Adulthood is purely legal for me at this point. I'm still in school and I'm subject to my parents' rules and whims. Still, I could be a they if I wanted to. But I won't. It contradicts every post I've written in the past, and besides, it confuses readers.
I'm going to keep up my blog. Numerically, I'm still a teenager for the next two years. Emotionally, I don't know if I'll ever leave. I wouldn't have turned sixteen if I had the option. I'll always be able to sympathize with teenagers.
For years, I've dreaded my eighteenth birthday. My youth is such a vital part of my identity. So is my blog. Once I lost one, could I keep up the other?
But I've decided to stay. I like blogging and there's a smattering of souls out there who care to read my words. If I can't be a youth myself, I'll be a champion. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Eleven, Sixteen, Eighteen, and You, Erica Eliza

This is a post I've been holding back for two years. For a long time, I thought it would be my swan song. But you know what? Eighteen is still a teenager. I've got things I haven't said yet and the time to shut up hasn't come. Here goes.
Displaying photo.JPG
My Growing Up Girls
When I was three, my grandmother started this tradition of giving all her granddaughters a numbered doll for our birthdays. As you can see, they colonized my dresser. The oldest doll had a place of honor at the front, but when another year passed, she got shoved to the back. Replaced. She might have been the tallest, prettiest, newest doll at one point. But now she was obsolete.
That's how I viewed age. You spend a whole year getting used to saying "I'm eight" only to replace it with "I'm nine". But in the months leading up to my birthday, I didn't feel eight, since I was on the verge of being nine. But in the months after, I thought I was still too close to eight to qualify. It didn't matter what I thought I was because soon enough I had to say ten.
I have this love/hate relationship with time. I'm usually in February before I remember to write the new year. From fourth to tenth grade, I didn't set my clock back for daylight savings. It would be right again in six months anyways. Freaked people out when they came into my room.
I started this blog at fourteen. I created it under my middle name so my mom wouldn't know what I'd done. I was in eighth grade and thought I could take on the world just because I had Opinions. Spoiler alert: I didn't. It takes a ridiculous amount of time and energy to go viral. You have to spam, talk about trendy topics you don't care for, and hang out on about nine social media sites.
But I got used to it. Blogging is just screaming into a dark cave. I throw my own words back at myself to hear how they sound. And sometimes, the right people hear them too.
Two years passed. My sixteenth birthday was coming and there was nothing I could do to stop it. For some reason, I considered sixteen as some sort of deadline on my childhood. Maybe because it's old enough to work and drive and date. Maybe because the Growing Up Dolls don't go any higher. Whatever the reason, sixteen terrified me. I considered not identifying myself by age, the way some people refuse to give their race or gender. "How old are you?" "I'm unaged, thank you very much." But I wouldn't be able to drive a car, hold a job, apply to college, or get married without giving my birth date.
I had to grow up. But that didn't stop me from clinging to my last pieces of fifteen. Since my birthday falls in National Novel Writing Month, I used November to write a book about a world where people could call themselves unaged if they felt like it. A world where shouting "Ageist!" had the same sting as "Racist! Sexist! Bigot!" I've never shown it to anyone. Never described it until now.
 I also developed this fascination with age progression songs at this time and listened to little else.
This one was my special song. I know it's selfish to complain about longevity when plenty of people would give anything to live past fifteen. But I couldn't imagine what I'd do with all that time ahead of me.

This one's just a feel good song.

This is weird. I've watched it approximately a hundred times and still don't get half of the verses.

Okay, at some point I scrapped the bottom of the barrel.

Further evidence. But hey, it's a sweet song, right? 

I hated everything about this song. From Rolfe's condescending manner to Liesl's dependency. I used it for thinking music. Whenever I look for it on youtube, most of the comments were either from fifteen or sixteen year olds celebrating their birthdays. Now not even the number seventeen applies to me.

My greatest fear is that I'll forget myself. I'll have my own children and associate young people with them instead of myself. I'll go to college and love the woman I've become more than the girl I was. I'll watch teen movies with adult actors and think, "Yeah, she's sixteen, or close enough." I'll read YA books and think, "Not another whiny teen girl protagonist."
 And most of all, I'm afraid I'll stop believing in the wrongness of ageism. I'll pick up wisdom here and there and think it's due to age rather than experience. I'll talk down to youth. I'll sneer the word teenager, taking advantage of those gross eee and err sounds.
That's part of the reason I've kept up this blog. I'm no longer naïve enough to believe one Person of the Internet can change the world. I'm a low profile blogger. Oh, I know I have readers. I keep an eye on my pageviews and rejoice when they spike. I pour over comments and imagine the people behind them. I like the idea that I'm changing the way at least some people, whether they're adults or teenagers or children, view adolescence. But Teenagers These Days is a time capsule more than anything. I have a ridiculous amount of paper journals stacked beneath my bed, but the memories inside them will die if my house burns down. The internet lasts forever. I blog so Erica will never be able to forget Eliza.
Displaying photo.JPG
My other doll collection
In the middle of all this, my English class read the story Eleven by Sandra Cisneros. Here's an excerpt.
What they don't understand about birthdays and what they never tell you is that when you're eleven, you're also ten, and nine, and eight, and seven, and six, and five, and four, and three, and two, and one. And when you wake up on your eleventh birthday you expect to feel eleven, but you don't. You open your eyes and everything's just like yesterday, only it's today. And you don't feel eleven at all. You feel like you're still ten. And you are--underneath the year that makes you eleven...Because the way you grow old is kind of like an onion or like the rings inside a tree trunk or like my little wooden dolls that fit one inside the other, each year inside the next one. That's how being eleven years old is.
Now, I don't think of age as one doll replacing the next. Instead I imagine myself as a Russian nesting doll. Each year is a new layer. You can look at a matryoshka and use its size to guess how many dolls it contains. But you have no idea what they look like. Who they are. I'm still the thirteen year old who got kicked out of a gift shop on Independence Day (for not having adult supervision) and thought for the first time about what it meant to be independent. I'm still the fourteen year old who started this blog and idolized Claudette Colvin. I'm still the fifteen year old who didn't see the point of being an adult. I'm still the sixteen year old who devoured dystopian novels and craved revolution. I'm still the seventeen year old who grew to hate the hypocritical phrase "adult content".
Today, at 10:00 P.M., I turn eighteen. I'm no longer a minor. I can check myself out of school. I can live on my own. I can order useless infomercial products. I can't smoke or drink, but that's not something I ever plan on doing, so I'm an adult in every way that matters.
Except for one.
There are seventeen new dolls locked up inside me. Others might not see them, but I'll always know they're there. I won't shove off my old layers, like a caterpillar breaking free from its chrysalis. I refuse to fly away from my past. I'll let each year harden around me before I get to work on another one.
I know you're there, Erica Eliza Smith. And I know you haven't forgotten me. Actually, I don't think you ever will. Ursula K. Le Guin said, "Love doesn't just sit there, like a stone. It has to be made, like bread; and remade all the time, made new." People are the same. Look at you. Look at how far you've come. At fourteen, you decided you were going to take on the world and blogging was the way to do it. You still have "change the world" and "go viral" scrawled on the bucket list tucked away in your eighth grade diary. Somewhere along the way, you realized it would never happen. But somehow, it didn't matter anymore. I just wanted to shout my thoughts into the void and wait for the echo. I just wanted to know there was a chance someone out there could be touched by my words. I just wanted a time capsule for my adult self.
But whether or not future audiences care about your words isn't your problem. What matters is that you can take the your hopes, your hates, your passions, and pound them into a keyboard. What matters is you right now. Because guess what? That's all you'll ever be. There's no such thing as the future. Just an eternal parade of todays.
It's okay to grow up. That's why we're here on this earth, to make mistakes and get messy and, eventually, get something right. We get remade with each new today. I've come a long way since sixteen. I've crushed problems that tormented me and gained a few new ones. I've lost qualities I didn't know to admire until it was too late. But I've gained a few new ones. I no longer feel worthless. My new life motto is I Go Up. But I'm also less idealistic and I can't express a snappy opinion the way I used to. Oh well. The words are there for me when I want them.
You won't forget, Erica. It's not in your nature. I trust you. Now go live a good life.
Erica Eliza Smith, age 6,574 days

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Adult Privilege

At sixteen in a half, I went to the DMV with my mom in tow to renew my learner's permit. The lady behind the counter printed off a new permit and handed it to her. "If you don't like her grades, her skinny jeans, or her boyfriend, you can take it back and we'll revoke it."
And they wonder why I'm glaring in my license photo.
I felt so crushed and powerless. It was bad enough that I got my permit late. Parents, don't lose your kid's social security card. It's kind of important. It was bad enough that I couldn't take driver's ed through my school during the summer for the same reasons I couldn't vote this year. My birthday, November 10th, landed four days after the cutoff date. My friend who was born eight days earlier took it. Meanwhile, I sat through this scammer program where a raspy voiced old lady had us watch VHS tapes on driving safety while she played solitaire in the back of the room.
Obviously, I learned nothing, so here I was getting a learner's permit six months after my age qualified me for a license. It was bad enough that I heard adults referring to driving as "my right" when arguing about traffic laws while I got this droning mantra-"It's not your right, it's a privilege." But up until then, I never knew something as vital and fulfilling as a learner's permit could be demolished by parental tyranny.
Eighteen months passed. This morning, I woke up late, threw on some clothes, dragged a brush through my hair, dug up some change for a PopTart, grabbed my keys from the TV shelf, and ran out to my car. On the way to school, I didn't think about what a miracle it is that I can go anywhere I want when I want. I didn't think about how a car is a symbol of teen empowerment. The only thing on my mind was, "Do I park closer to my first period or the hall with the vending machines?"
Then I turned on talk radio and let it feed me election results while I navigated traffic. That's when it hit me. All rights eventually dissolve into privilege. Voting, like driving, is one of those rights.
I refuse to turn into one of those adults who skips out on election day because they're oh so terribly busy. I don't want to be one of those adults who votes for whatever candidate they saw advertised on their neighbor's front lawn. And I'm definitely not going to be one of those adults who gripes about jury duty. You get the chance to influence a court case, m'kay? Embrace it.
My Women's History class watched Iron Jawed Angels just before Election Day. It's about the suffragists who picketed in the snow and went on hunger strikes so their daughter's daughters could have the privilege of voting. I usually love underdog stories. Revolutions, civil rights movements, suffrage campaigns-I don't care if the underdogs are a different race or nationality. I don't care if they lived centuries before my time. I don't care if they're oppressed in a way I could never be. All underdogs are my people. That's how it's been since July 4th, 2010, the day thirteen year old me thought for the first time what it meant to be independent.
But this time, their crusade couldn't thrill me. So what if an army of women aged twenty one and up got thrown in jail for picketing the White House? It doesn't do me any good, because I'm six days short. Children are the new women. Every argument used against these suffragists- "You don't have the mental capacity! It's just another vote for the man of the house!" and every argument they hollered back-"We're taxed without representation! It's our country too!" Echo arguments I've waged with adults today.
In a way, I'm glad I fell short of Election Day this year. You never appreciate a right unless you don't have it. I scrawled this in my diary last night, but I'm posting it here because the internet is public and permanent: When I get the right to vote, I will vote in every election until the year I die.
To the rest of America, I hope you got out of the house this Tuesday and did the same.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

T Minus Nine Days

I've always been a compulsive rule follower thanks to my OCD. As a child, I could never hit my brother without shouting "Sorry!" after. Or before. Or during. In sixth grade, I threatened to tell on my friend Aubrey for picking up a handful of rocks on the playground. That was against the rules. Sure, the "don't touch rocks" rule just meant we couldn't throw rocks at each other. But I couldn't see beyond the letter of the law.
I had this idea that all rules were moral rules and picking up a handful of gravel could pave a highway to Hell. Thankfully, I became a teenager. A healthy dose of rebellion beat back the OCD. I learned to tell lies, like saying a story happened "the other day" instead of "back in March", or that it happened to "my friend" instead of  "my cousin's boyfriend's sister".
Then I turned fifteen. I was eligible to get a learner's permit, but I didn't dare get it before reading the driver's manual cover to cover several times. When I hit the road I made sure I never ran a stop sign, changed lanes less than 100 feet before an intersection, or went 41 miles in a 40 zone. I've heard horror stories from classmates who got pulled over for driving two miles faster than the speed limit. I knew my age made me vulnerable, and besides, rules are rules.
After two weeks, I realized everyone drives 45 or 50 in school zones.'
After three months, I trusted myself enough to change radio stations while driving, even if it meant taking my eyes off the road.
Today, aka thirteen months after being licensed, I told my friend Vanessa I'd watch a movie with her at 3:00 P.M. At 2:54, my pocket buzzed. I knew it was her asking when I planned to show up. I didn't look at it. Since I'm a teenager, the law requires me to pull over before turning on my phone, while adults just can't send a text.
Then I realized I'll be eighteen in nine days. I'll have maybe three hours worth of additional driving experience in nine days. But I'll still be the same kind of driver. That's what matters. What doesn't matter is this societal idea that an eighteen year old is competent enough to glance at a phone while operating a motor vehicle.
Still, I pulled into some random neighborhood and parked my car before I dared look at it. When I got back onto the forty mile an hour road, I was surrounded by adults drivers going fifty. In the rain. That's when I snapped.
I'm done. Sometimes I have to check the time while I'm driving to school because my phone's synced with the school clock and my car isn't. Sometimes I  have to call my mom for directions while I'm behind the wheel. And those breaks in the lines? The ones that mean it's okay to get into the turning lane? They're never 100 feet away.
I won't say I'm a better driver than most adults. They have experience on their side. But I am safer. More cautious. Law abiding. Why don't we focus more on enforcing existing driving laws instead of dreaming up new ones to cripple teenagers?


Sunday, October 26, 2014

Six Days Short

On November 4th, millions of Americans will line up outside schools, libraries, and city halls to cast their votes. But I won't be with them. Not because I don't care-in fact, I think off-year elections are more important than the presidential ones because my vote might actually count for something. But on the fourth of November, my age will be seventeen years, eleven months, three weeks, and one day.
My friend Paige was born on November 1st, a week and a day before me. Three days after her birthday you'll find her at the polls.
At the Seneca Falls Convention, the first political meeting by and for American woman, most in attendance didn't dare push for the right to vote. This was 1848. Seventy two years later, they got it. Their votes had no profound political impact on the next election. As a whole, women were still less educated and less involved in life outside the homes. I'm sure thousands of them just gave their husbands an extra vote, just as thousands do it today. But that's not what matters. The point isn't what we say, it's that our voices can be heard.
There are adults out there who cast their ballot for candidates who have the same gender, race, religion, and home state. There are adults who vote for the candidate their husbands, wives, neighbors, bosses, and yes, parents choose. There are adults who will vote for a candidate just because they saw a sign with their name on it. If not, why advertise in the first place? Last week, while listening to the radio on my way to school, I heard an interviewer ask half a dozen adults one question: "Who is Joe Biden?" One woman managed to get close. "Uh...I want to say our state representative?" But there was a whole lot of "'ve got nothing."
Yes, I know how these types of surveys work. If a hundred people gave the right answer they'd still only show us the stupid ones. But these people can vote. They're the ones deciding my future.
I don't see that much difference between a twenty one year old and an eighteen year old. Or an eighteen year old and a sixteen year old. Or an eighteen year old and a seventeen year, eleven month, three week, and one day year old.
In the past, my Big Impossible Dream was a lower voting age. Now what gets my blood boiling is everyday things. I'd like to see a world where adults ask for our names before our ages. I'd like to see a world where younger students are crushed by the older kids. I'd like to see a world where teachers didn't rape students, where kids weren't scared to go home to their parents at the end of the day, where seven year olds can walk down a street without planning kidnapper escape routes.
But maybe, just maybe, there's a chance. Takoma Park, Maryland has already dropped the voting age to seventeen. I don't see more cities following in their footsteps anytime soon, but Lowell could be our Seneca Falls.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Because I Said So

My best friend, Esme, isn't on social media. She misses party invites because she isn't on facebook. She's not caught up with her eight closest friend's social lives because she isn't on instagram. She's never been wounded in the crossfire of a twitter fight.
She's missing out. So she had a conversation with her mom that went something like this:
Esme: I want to decide whether or not I'm on social media.
Mom: I don't want you on social media.
Esme: No, that's not what I care about. I want to not be on social media if I don't want to.
Mom: Um...okay. So you don't want a facebook.
Esme: That's not the problem.
Mom: don't want to have a facebook because you don't want to have a facebook.
Esme: Yep! You're catching on!
Mom: Okay. Do you want a facebook?
Esme: Nope. Thanks, Mom!
To an outsider, this conversation probably seems ridiculous. But I've had a million just like it.
 Teenagers are so rarely given the opportunity to decided what we want to do. We learn to be content with why. I have most of the same social, political, and religious views as my parents. But I want to make sure I happen to agree with then instead of blindly following an example. So when I'm forming an opinion on, say, the gay marriage debate, I pour over articles and posts and flamewars on the subject before I make up my own mind. Adults can win any argument with four words: "because I said so". It doesn't matter how well we word our rebuttals, how reputable our sources, how erudite our vocabulary. Its insulting on the best days and soul crushing on the worst. That's why we need agency. It's the next best thing to authority.
Even though we agree on most things, I still get snapped at for saying things like this.
Mom: I think you should keep your grades up so you can get into BYU.
Me: Well, that's a fun coincidence. I'm not going to obsess over one college, and I'm going to continue getting good grades so I can get into BYU, a school I like because it has a good English program.
Mom: Be nice to me.
Oh wait, I forgot. There are two cards.
The whole point of life is to learn how to think and act for ourselves. The teenage years are so critical because, for the first time, we have opinions and beliefs instead of wants and needs. If we wait until adulthood to express our opinions, do we really qualify as adults?
Don't spend your whole life stressing about being nice. Its impossible not to step on someone's toes. If you're to offend people, offend them for reasons that matter. Grow up. Develop your own moral code. Decide what kind of person you want to be. And if that person matches up with what your parents, well, goodie for them. You just took your own path to get there.


Thursday, October 16, 2014

Sick Old Man

Men like him make it hard for me to trust the adult population
It has come to my attention that we are now inferior to ten year old boys. Thanks for the heads up, John Grisham. Apparently viewing child pornography isn't so bad if you're oggling a sixteen year old girl instead of a ten year old boy.
In my Women's History class, we talked about the colonial gender system, in which women and girls were viewed as vile temptresses. Supposedly, this viewpoint had been outdated for centuries. Women, for the most part, have been cleared. But why does the stereotype of the teenage slut persist?
Dear Mr. Grisham,
You know what? You're right. Rubbing your sick old man hands over the picture of a sixteen year old girl doesn't make you a "real paedophile". The term is ephebophile. This bothers me. Seeing as you're such a literate man, it might do you good to pick up a dictionary next time you're doing a book signing.
The Teenage Population of the World
P.S.: It's still grossly wrong. 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Why Teens Don't Tell

Today I told with my dad about my friend Janey, who was bullied throughout middle school. Boys shoved her in the hallways. Girls left notes I her locker urging her to kill herself. What did she do to deserve this?
A boy asked Janey if she thought he was cute. And she told him, "No. I think you're cocky."
When I finished this story, my dad turned away and said, "I have a hard time feeling sorry for Janey." I slammed a door but came back a minute later asking why. He told me, "Popular girls just have problems like that. Besides, she was born in America to a good religious family and she's an athlete. I can feel sorry for people with real problems, like disabilities, but not her."
I've been thinking a lot about the word trust. Every lecture I've heard-whether it's about internet safety or bullying or rape-closes with the words "tell a trusted adult." To me, trust doesn't mean someone I can count on to punish me. It means someone I can count on to listen.
At this moment, I don't trust my dad. Maybe the reason so many teen problems go unreported is we don't have adults we can trust. Specifically our own parents.
My friend Leah grew up with neglectful parents. She drank water out of a toilet bowl like a dog until the age of three. That's when her mom got custody and she learned to drink from a cup. 
In seventeen years of existence, I've never walked up to my dad and said, "Thanks for not making me drink out of a toilet." I shouldn't have to. I shouldn't have to be grateful that they have basic human decency. I've never thanked my parents for giving me a rent free roof over my head, for food and clothes, for love, for anything that children are entitled to. I assumed these were rights. That my parents weren't heroes for providing them. That any parent who didn't was substandard and mine were simply okay.
For some reason, it's not okay for children to compare themselves to other children. "But all my friends have smartphones!" Hypocritically, its perfectly acceptable for parents to compare themselves to other parents. "The Joneses didn't buy Cody a smartphone so you don't need one." Parents compare themselves, and when they find themselves just as good or better than the Joneses, they see no room for improvement. So when their children come running to them with a problem Cody doesn't have to deal with, they see no need to solve it. Their kid is fed and clothed and educated, what are they whining about?
Just because your parents aren't physically, emotionally, verbally, or sexually neglectful doesn't mean they are a good parent. A good parent is one who listens.
My friend Karyn confided in me that she was raped twice before the age of sixteen. When I shared this story with my mom, telling her no more or less than what I've told you, she cut me off. "She probably put herself in a bad situation."
I explained that no, that's not the case, and told her Karyn's story.
"How are you supposed to know if that's true?" she said once I finished.
I'm not supposed to know if it's true. I'm supposed to take her seriously whether it's true or not. I'd rather comfort a liar than make a true victim feel ashamed. This way I have my bases covered.
Do you want to know why teenagers run away from home? Commit suicide? Hide our eating disorders? Keep quiet about bullies? Because we don't trust our parents to hear us out. Its not that we haven't tried talking, its that we get turned down every time we try. Janey didn't go to her dad for more than a year because she didn't trust him to listen. Leah certainly didn't trust her father. Karyn's father is a cop, so he responded by giving her self defense tips. But not all girls are that lucky.
No parent is perfect. So when your children come to you with a problem, don't go, "Oh no! They're accusing me of parenting imperfectly!" 
Listen to them. 
Really listen.

Note: I wrote this post a few months back. My dad has since apologized for what he said about Janey. Also, all the names in this post have been changed.

Friday, October 10, 2014

I Go Up

I've spent the last three years counting down. If I pull up a song on youtube that's two and half minutes long, I spend all of that watching the second tick by. Halfway through! Only a minute left! Thirty seconds!
When I watch TV, I divvy up the show into seven minute segments and count how many are left. Cracking open a new book from my favorite author is a journey. I'm not happy until I'm done and I can move onto all the other titles on my To Read List.
It got to a point where the stories and sounds couldn't thrill me anymore. Actually, a lot of things didn't thrill me anymore. Like days and weeks and months. Life was about checklists. Homework, chores, meals, exercise, friends, movies, all of them were nothing but bullet points on my to-do list. I scheduled my life obsessively. In August of last year, I sat down and planned out what I'd be doing every night in November.
Last night, I went to a school football game. Four quarters. Fifteen minutes apiece. A stupid scoreboard that kept dragging seconds into minutes. Then the other team tied us with six minutes left in the fourth quarter. Uh-oh, I thought, Overtime. Friday's late start day and I didn't have any homework due. There was no reason I needed the game to end early. But it was going longer than I planned so it was wrong.
I turned on my phone and counted out the surplus minutes.
The crowd kept talking about overtime as the scoreboard cut that number into smaller and smaller pieces. Four minutes. Three, two, one. forty eight point six seconds. Then, a miracle.
At 6.4 seconds, our kicker scored a field goal. 31 to 28, silverwolves.
I screamed our fight song with the best of them, and as the bleachers shook, I stopped thinking about the numbers and remembered what the game was.
Our rivalry game.
An underdog game.
The last home game of the season.
My last season as a silverwolf.
My last chance to belt out the fight song and cheer on our team and rattle those cold bleachers.
I could've been bittersweet. But for once in my life, I wasn't counting down. I didn't think about the number of minutes left in the day (ninety six), the days left in the school week (one), or the weeks left in the month (three and a spare day).
I kept my eyes on the field, away from that scoreboard, and let the number fall away. Once they left, I felt clean. Pure. A blank canvas. Then three small words scrawled themselves across my mind.
I go up.
I didn't let myself think of the future. I got my mid-youth crisis out of the way sophomore year. I'm due for a carpe diem year. I'm inoculated against senioritis.
Adults tell me that we'll be nostalgic for our high school years. Maybe they are, but things have changed. We spend our whole high school lives muttering get good grades, get good scholarships, get good college, get good job, pay off student loans. There are definitely things I miss about being seven, nine, fourteen, fifteen, but it's all tied to the way my brain was wired back then. Not the things I did with my life.
I'm inoculated against senioritis, I say. I'm done counting down. For now on, I go up.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Rearview Mirror

Today I forgot my own age.
I searched for Emma Watson's speech and it came up with one of those mini bios. "Cast as Hermione at age nine, born in Paris, oh look, she's twenty four. Only five years older than I am and she's already giving speeches to the UN."
Wait. That number didn't sound right. I subtracted five from twenty four and got the usual answer, nineteen. I'm seventeen. I'll be eighteen next month, but I'm nowhere close to nineteen. How did I get that number?
I'm starting to think of my teenage years in past tense. When I'm mentally arranging my daily life into stories, I don't start with "today at school" or "the other day". I think "When I was a senior in high school."
Two years ago this would have horrified me. My age is such a huge part of my identity and it's a part I'm proud of. I didn't want to leave it behind. But you know what? I'm okay to do this. I can learn and grow. I can have new trials and passions. I can have days or weeks where I don't get riled up about ageism. Bodies and minds can age but my soul is eternal. Numbers don't bother it.
 I filled up another one of my journals last week. Instead of ending with "Please don't forget who you were and what it's like to be a teenager," the way I usually do, I told myself, "I trust you. I think you're good."
Now that we're seniors, lots of my friends are going through this mid-youth  crisis. But I got mine out of the way when I turned sixteen. I promised myself that I wouldn't make this year bittersweet. I can wax nostalgic for the rest of my life. But this is my last chance to be a high schooler.
Age, I'm not afraid. Bring it on.

Friday, October 3, 2014

You Are Unique. Just Like Everyone Else.

I've never met a normal teenager.
My friend Esme isn't normal because she prefers showtunes over pop. Another friend, Tianna, isn't normal because she prefers hanging with her little sister to friends. My cousin Maysen isn't normal because she isn't on social media. My friend L'ren isn't normal because she's never been on a date and got her first cell phone this Wednesday. Just last week, a girl I'm doing a school play with came out as abnormal. She's only snapped one selfie and never sipping a Starbucks.
I suppose I should come out as well. Here I am, sitting cross legged in front of a computer on a Friday night. There's a football game, for heaven's sake. A football game with a stand full of teenagers. I don't want to go, though, because apparently I'm an aberration.
Normal just means stereotypical. There's room for all types of teenagers on this planet. We don't have to fit into one mold, but I don't think there's anything wrong with those who do. If you're involved in school events, date regularly, and keep up with your friends via twitter and instagram, goodie for you.
My mom likes to drag me to baby and bridal showers. It's the best of both worlds for her. She doesn't have to show up alone and she needn't take the time and effort to invite a friend. I'm always the youngest one there. These are her old friends. They remember me as a baby but I can't put names to faces. I don't know if I'd want to.
So I pull out my phone. My parents canceled my data plan and I don't have any games. I spend most of my time on my notes app writing stories, posts, journal entries, to do lists, and rants about whatever's on my mind. But I try to hide my phone while I do it.
I know how I look: an antisocial teenage daughter firing off acronym-heavy texts to her BFFs. So I hold my phone under a table or sit cross legged, shielding it with my knee.
We don't need to be embarrassed. There's no more shame in a teenager texting than a girl favoring pink, skirts, and nail polish. But that doesn't stop all my friends from protesting, "We're not girlie girls."
Don't worry about being unique. Just be yourself.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

A Teen's Thoughts on the Dress Code Scandal

I'm going to kick this off by saying I'm from Utah. Home of Wasatch High, whose yearbook photoshopping scandal set off a worldwide dress code crisis. It hit the local news first. The instant she saw the headline, Esme said, "You should blog about this!"
"No, I'm staying out of this one." That's my policy whenever teenagers makes headlines, like Malala Yousafazi or Michael Brown. If major news sources are covering it, what can I add? Besides, this was more of a sexism issue than ageism.
A summer passed. Two weeks ago, Bingham High, our ex-rivals, several girls away on homecoming night for wearing dresses like this:
Vetted: Taylor Gillespie had checked her dress against the guidelines before arriving but was turned away
They were told to go home and change. Yeah, good luck finding a second dress on homecoming night.
This is my home turf. I don't have to stay out of this fight. I've got words to add.
Back in seventh grade, our principal told us that "distracting" piercings and hair styles were banned from school. That's something I didn't understand. Sure, when my friend Maya walked into first period with pink hair freshman year, it was somewhat distracting. But we all got used to it in a good ten minutes. Is clothing any different?
I don't buy the distracting excuse. While we're at it, let's ban our distracting orange wall carpet from 1980. It's been two years since I set foot in that school and my eyeballs are still scarred.
My school's dress code isn't that strict. In one Florida school last month, sophomore Miranda Larkin was forced to wear this getup when she showed up in a short skirt:
The same slogan is written on her sweatpants.
In one Texas school, the students staged a protest  after 160 of them were suspended for breaking the dress code. Last March, Illinois middle schoolers picketed their school for the right to wear leggings and yoga pants.
I've only seen a girl punished once. She showed up to foods class in a tank top. Our teacher told her off in front of the class. grabbed a chef's jacket, and dropped it onto her table. "You can wear this."
We have a dress code, yes, but it's enforced arbitrarily. If the principal happens to see your cleavage hanging out, she'll tell you to pull up your shirt. But a hundred other girls like you won't be bothered.
Is there sexism in dress codes? Yes. But there's more than that. It's an issue of age.
Adults say, "Thi s move isn't appropriate for my kids" when they're squeamish about admitting to their own moral standards. I've always been taught that if I'm offered drugs or sex, I should say, "My parents would kill me." Not that I have my own moral standards.
Teachers and parents tell us, "That dress isn't age appropriate. You neckline isn't appropriate for a school environment."
Screw age. Screw school. I know where I'm drawing my line. If a length or cut is appropriate for a man but inappropriate for a woman, that's discrimination. If an outfit is appropriate for a woman but inappropriate for a girl, that's discrimination. Do we need to keep hiding behind this ageist excuse the way parents hide their standards behind toddlers?
I'd rather see all women dress the way schoolgirls are told to than schoolgirls allowed to dress like women.
These past months, women-and more importantly, girls-have flooded social media with outcries. I'm pleased. What can I say? I like having power. I like it when teenagers make headlines for something other than getting shot. I like seeing my peers unified. Bingham High organized a walkout and, more importantly, took to twitter.
The top complaint: By shaming girls for the way they dress instead of the boys who stare at them, we're promoting rape culture. Another argument I don't buy.
I have this pair of yellow shorts. Mid-thigh length. I wear them as a cover up for swimming but they could pass as real clothes. Three years ago, my family was headed down to the lake for a boating trip when we had to stop at a gas station. My mom went inside to buy ice. I hung back by the candy shelves.
My mom always changes in the lake bathrooms, so she was dressed in normal clothes. I had my short shorts and an old T-shirt. We didn't look like boaters. There was this twenty-something guy in front of us buying cigarettes. When we walked up to the counter, his gaze skimmed over her and went straight to me. They landed on my thighs. His eyes went down, up, and back down again. Then he paid for his cigarettes and left.
I wanted to holler after him, "We're going to the lake! I'd never wear these as a real outfit. Besides, I'm fourteen, what are your eyes doing on me anyways?"
Then I thought, Oh, so this is why I don't dress like this all the time. 
Boys, it does sting when you check a girl out. I'm sure that man forgot about me by the time he drove home. But here I am blogging about it three years later. It was the first time I'd felt the weight of a man's eyes on me. Even if you think a girl's asking for it, you don't need to be the answer.
The first time I saw a girl groped in the halls was eighth grade. She swatted his hands away and I could tell it was a move she'd practiced. She had a large chest but I don't recall any of it showing.
Is sexual assault an issue for teenage girls? Most definitely. According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, 44% of sexual assault victims are under the age of 18. 15% of those are under twelve.
I don't think low cut shirts lower a boy's test score. In fact, I think learning to look away is a valuable life skill most boys should pick up in middle school. We're doing boys a disservice too when we say they can't control themselves around tank top clad girls.
That said, I don't have a problem with the dress code itself. Rape is an issue I'd like to see addressed more, but pointing a finger at dress codes isn't an effective way to do it. Yes, it's hard to find a modesty dance outfit. Even in conservative little Utah so many girls resort to shawls and wraps. I'd like to see some dress companies jump in and help us out. But the rules aren't so stringent as everyone makes them out to be.
Here's my take on it: I cover my body parts. Not to keep the boys around me clean and pure. That's their job. I dress modestly because choose not to view my body as a sexual object. Not because I'm worried about boys who will do the same. I don't want my self image to be wrapped up in what a boy things of my cleavage.
I'm fine with the rules. But the logic behind them is flawed.