Teens Have More Fun!
By Rachel, age 26, Connecticut
When do we transform and change from girls to young women? Is there a set list of criteria we can check off that tells us whether we are still a girl or have become a young woman? Is there also a list of criteria for when we cease to be a child and start to be treated as an adult? Is there an age when we suddenly wake up and we are a young adult woman? Are supposed to transition from one to the other in a certain way or period of time? Are there rites of passage we are supposed to go through, at the end of which we may successfully declare, "I am a woman?"
I do not know the answers to any of these questions, except for the rites of passage. I would imagine these rites include such events as the first boy/girl party or dance that we go to, navigating and surviving the perils of middle school, and then high school, with its many cliques and social statuses, as well as the gossip mill of who's dating who, who kissed who, who stabbed who in the back, who did better on that day's English or math test, who got into what college, first serious boyfriend, learner's permit, driver's license, and, last but not least, junior and senior prom.
For me, there wasn't a smooth transition from one stage of my life to another, and for the most part I avoided those rites of passage. I did not blossom from a child to a young woman and then into an adult woman; I did not have that privilege. If it is possible to be a child and an adult at the same time then that is what I was. I was still a child when I was thrust into an adult world where I did not yet belong, and had no choice but to enter. The adult world for me ended up feeling more comfortable than I expected it to feel.
At 12 years of age, in a brand new school, with new peers who were less than welcoming and new teachers who were simply there because they were paid to be, I was not given any guidance or shown any compassion. I had to navigate my own way and figure out how to survive my new world. This new world was one where, unless you came from money and privilege, you were not welcome. My peers all had parents whose jobs were as lawyers, doctors, and CEOs, a world where, if you had a problem, you were on your own. I learned self-reliance at a young age.
The principal did nothing that was in his job description, nor did the guidance counselor. My peers thought nothing of slamming my hands in my locker or pulling chairs out from underneath me. Gum in my hair became a routine problem, and my classmates stole my books and my homework just for the fun of it. None of this seemed funny to me. Call me a goody-two-shoes, but I was always the student who followed the rules, did her homework, and turned it in on time, answered questions in class, and helped the teachers out when asked.
On several occasions I asked the principal and the guidance counselor to step in on my behalf and to deal with my peers. I was instead told that I needed to grow a spine and deal with my problems on my own. Not having any support from the school administration I had to learn how to get through 7th and 8th grade on my own. I made a few friends but mostly stayed to myself; that strategy kept me safe. By the end of 8th grade, I had only one friend from the town I had lived in previously and stayed in communication with. Every Friday through Sunday found me at my best friend Becky's house hanging out. Even being with my best friend I found it hard to be silly and to goof around and have fun because I would be preparing for the onslaught that I would face on Monday morning. Summers became an anticipated respite.
The transition into high school academically was easier. My peers finally decided to leave me alone, which I was more than happy about. Right from the start things seemed to be looking up. Little did I know that my high school years would soon teach me lessons that cannot be learned in the classroom.
My transition from child to adult would be completed in the span of one afternoon that I sadly will never be able to forget, but one that ultimately I have been able to turn into personal power. Three weeks into my 9th grade year I learned that the world is not all rainbows and butterflies. I learned that life is not fair, and more importantly just how precious life is, and to treasure every moment. I also would learn that not everyone can or should be trusted.
These life lessons came as the result of a girl I had met when I moved to town at the age of 12. This girl lived up the road from me and we became friends, though looking back on our "friendship" it was one of those where the old saying, "with friends like these, who needs enemies?" comes to mind. This friend came from a difficult home life, so she often stayed at my house. I had met my friend's parents once at her 13th birthday party where her father immediately struck me as creepy. I tried as a result of an incident that took place at her birthday party to stay away from her house.
One Friday in September of 1999 the schools in my district had given us a half day due to professional development. My friend invited me over to her house to hang out for a while. I declined her invitation in case my friend's father was going to be home. I made clear my reason for declining her invitation. She told me that he would not be home, that he was on the road for his job. I did not realize that she was lying. This girl, this friend I had trusted, set me up.
I went home and asked my mother if I could go to my friend's house. My mother said no, so I immediately did what any 14 year old girl would do ... I whined, complained, begged and pleaded until my mother gave in and drove me to my friend's house just up the road. She dropped me off, and no sooner had I knocked on the door than the door was swung open by my friend's father.
My intuition told me immediately that something was not right, but I brushed off the feeling I had in the pit of my stomach. I found my friend hanging out in her room looking at magazines. I had just settled in when her father popped his head into her room and asked if we wanted to go up the street to the pizza place (which, I might add, was located in the town that I had moved from two years prior).
That feeling in my stomach grew and really started to nag at me. I once again ignored what my instincts were telling me and agreed to go. To make a long story short, I was declared his captive and held against my will for the next 4 1/2 hours. In the parking lot of the pizza place within the confines of his van while she held my wrists and laughed in my face her father sexually assaulted me. Thankfully, he did not rape me.
When it was over I was brought into the pizza place to meet his wife and the rest of his children. I believe this allowed him to show off the psychological hold he had over me. By this, I mean he was not physically holding onto me and had not threatened me, and there was no immediate threat to my life, but I did not make an attempt to escape.
At one point I did try to run, but was unsuccessful. He caught up to me and put me back in his van, where he drove me back to his home and then literally physically dragged me back inside his house. As he dragged me toward the door of his home he told me to take one last good look around because I was never going home.
I was very lucky that his wife came home soon after I had been brought back to their home, and her arrival frightened off her husband, and she was able to get me out of there and take me home. I never pressed charges and they moved out of state soon after.
Once the assault had taken place I found myself in what I now know to be a common cycle with those who have been abused. I repeatedly found myself in situations and environments that were mentally, emotionally, and psychologically toxic. These situations included babysitting jobs where the parents had issues with substance abuse, infidelity, and anger issues, where I helped to conceal things for both spouses, and where essentially I would be the primary care giver for the children on a regular basis, meaning every day after school and some Saturdays. As you may recall from my article last month, "Teen Dating Violence: My Story," I also ended up in an abusive relationship for two years.
All of a sudden I was no longer a carefree teen, but an adult with adult responsibilities. I was still in high school and yet found myself wishing to be out in the real world because I could not stand what at the time I considered to be the petty, immature dramas of my peers. I could have cared less who got what grade on what test, who was dating who, who broke up with who, who drove what kind of car, or where that weekend's keg party was going to be. I cannot count the number of times when I wanted to scream at my peers and make them understand that their so-called "problems" were ridiculous and that their lives could be so much worse, that there was more to life than grades, makeup, boys, cars, or sports. I could no longer relate to my peers. The problem was that I was not on the same level as my high school teachers either. I did not belong in the world of my adult teachers, but I also no longer belonged in the world of my peers.
I was still a young teenager but felt more like an adult every day. I was not given the chance to blossom and to come into my own. I never experimented with makeup, or gushed over cute guys with my girlfriends. I didn't hang out at the mall on weekends. I never went to the school dances (except prom, but that was more out of obligation than anything else). I was taking care of children every day after school, cleaning the house I was at, making beds, doing laundry, making meals, making sure a grocery list was made up for the end of week, helping the children get their homework done, and making sure they had rides to and from sports practices, though I didn't get my license until I was 22 years old. I spent quality time with the children in my care, got them fed, bathed, and in bed by 8:30 p.m. at the latest, then did my homework. Weekends were spent attending parks and recreation basketball games that the children I was babysitting for played in, teaching Sunday school, and participating in other church activities if time provided.
By the time my senior year rolled around my friends had stopped coming around and we began to grow apart. We were living on such different levels by that point. Life was busy and yet somehow it also felt very lonely. I ached on a daily basis, wanting to be as happy and carefree as my peers. I envied their lives, as petty as they were. I wanted to be able to discuss the latest teen television show that everyone was watching. I wanted to be in on the gossip of the week. I wanted to go through the common teenage rituals, but I knew that I had grown beyond those rituals and not of my own choosing. My experiences caused me to have to transition from child to adult faster than I ever should have had to. My experiences did not allow me to have a young adulthood at all.
Looking back now as a 26 year old, I am able to take away several positives from what my experiences have taught me - maturity, responsibility, integrity, grace, how to take life one day at a time, problem solving ... the list is endless. I am no longer upset that I had to grow up quickly. However, if I had the opportunity to grow up again without everything that happened I would love to experience simply being a teenage girl.
The one thing I notice most looking at today's middle and high school age girls is the rush they seem to be in to grow up and be adults. To young girls who think that life will be so much better once you are older, I can tell you that being an adult is not all it is cracked up to be. There are a lot of responsibilities you will shoulder as an adult and there are a lot more experiences that you will have as an adult that, trust me, you do not want to rush into. Enjoy being the age that you are. Enjoy being a teenager not weighed down by the complexities of being an adult. Go hang out with your friends, go to the mall, go see a movie, gossip about cute boys, give each makeovers, have slumber parties, dress up and be girls, and simply have fun in your teen years. Before you know it you will be an adult, and I can tell you that once you are an adult you will wish that you could be a teenager again. Experience your teenage years while they are happening.