Friday, January 16, 2015

Teens and the Tangible

In every argument, there's almost always a tangible and intangible side. When a husband and a wife argue over what color to paint the living room, she's upset because it would honestly look better in green and he's upset because he thinks she doesn't value his opinion. Otherwise there would be no argument at all. If it were really just about color, they'd stand in the living room yelling "Brown!" "Green!" "Brown!" "Green!" for hours on end. When a mother and a child argue over whether or not he deserves a cookie, the child wants the cookie to satisfy his hunger but the mother wants the child to learn discipline.
As children grow into teenagers, we think more about the world beyond our little universes. Suddenly, we don't care about cookies anymore. We argue for the intangible side. Our parents don't know what to make of it. Our whole lives, they've told us we can't have something because it's unsafe, unnecessary, or impractical. Now we're telling them what's practical and they have to argue for the right and wrong.
With the tangible, there's always a right answer. Puke green paint really does look uglier than a warm brown. We may have different opinions at first, but one will turn out better in the end. The tangible isn't about what's right. It's about what works.
When I argue with my parents, I almost never take the tangible side. I've never fought with my parents for permission to go to a party. The most common argument I have with my mother is over my hair. No, not dying or cutting it. Brushing it. I have a hair loss condition called alopecia areata. I'd like to wake up in the morning, dab on my scalp makeup, and pull it back in a ponytail without her touching it. She'd rather I didn't have a gaping patch of flesh in the middle of my scalp.
She's right about the tangible. I'll look better if I keep letting her do my hair. But I'm right about the intangible. Brushing my own hair each morning will help me become more self sufficient and improve my self esteem. Until my senior year, I never did it myself more than a few times a month, and most of those were Saturdays.
Sometimes, I worry I'll run out of things to say here. Have I worn the topic of ageism too thin? Am I touting the same tired old points long after my viewers stopped caring? I have to admit, the biggest issue facing teenagers isn't in the legal system or media portrayal. We've got something else to worr about, something I can rarely talk about.
The place where teenagers face the most ageism is in the home. Yes, all families need to be built on love and respect. But I've seen plenty of parental tyranny. I met a girl once whose curfew was 10:00 P.M. If she came in at 10:01, she was grounded for one day. If she came in at 10:15, she'd spend two weeks locked up. I know a family that takes away their kids' phones if they get anything less than a 4.0. I have a friend whose parents installed a time alert on their door. Even if they're not home themselves, they'll be able to see when she opened it to come home. Most people aren't opposed to parents installing GPS trackers or even spyware on their phones. If the NSA did that, there would be outrage. Why do it to your own kid?
On top of all that, we have the constant reminders that our role in life is to be obedient, submissive, meek. That we are indebted to our parents because they own the food on our backs, the food in our bellys, the phones in our pockets.
Not every teenager has abusive or neglectful parents who supply their lives with real, tangible problems. But no parent is perfect. All arguments are worth fighting. It is by arguing that we learn to cut the umbilical cord and grow into people with our own peeves and passions, not just extensions of them. Even if it's over something as simple as a hairstlye. 

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