FINALS. They have descended on our kids—and, therefore, on the entire household, a week of exams preceded by what seems like two months of building stress, final projects, deadlines, and kids with too little sleep. It brings back memories of my own high school career—the intense emotions of being a teenager coupled with the stress that comes with knowing that what I did mattered, like, for the rest of my life. Teens are in that awkward middle place where they want to be in charge of their own lives—and yet, at the same time, they don’t. Being in charge is scary. Being grown-up is scary. The stakes are starting to get higher.
I often wonder if today’s teens face a more difficult transition than I did. In today’s world, you don’t just take your SATs; you have to take a class first in order to be competitive. You don’t just deal with friends and classmates (and bullies) face-to-face; you also deal with them online, on Facebook, MySpace, blogs, and email. You don’t participate in activities and sports solely for enjoyment; you pack your schedule to overflowing to round out your college apps.
But beneath all the surface specifics, I also wonder if the difference between being a teen today and being one ten, twenty, thirty years ago is smaller than it appears—because even if the world has changed, people haven’t.
Here’s what I mean: have you ever been super stressed out? Way too many appointments, meetings, and after-school activities to juggle, maybe, or a rush of work deadlines just before a big trip coupled with sick kids, or…fill in the blanks with your own overload experiences? During the stress experience, the cause (whatever it is) can seem huge and overwhelming.
But fast forward to another memory, one that goes beyond ordinary stress—a death in the family, a friend in the hospital, a cross-country move, a wedding. I don’t know about you, but in my experience, when life hits me with the Big Stuff, all the day-to-day stressors fade into the background. The house is a disaster, the lawn needs to be mowed, the refrigerator is empty, the bills unpaid—and those don’t even register on my stress-o-meter, because they really aren’t that important in the big picture of life. When the Big Stuff resolves, I always get a few happy weeks when I remember that all the stressful details of life aren’t actually nearly as big a deal as I usually make of them.
That’s why I wonder if being a teen today is, ultimately, very much like it was twenty years ago, or even a hundred years ago. The things we stress about change; the stress experience does not. The experiences of uncertainty, fear, confusion, first love, bullying, dealing with parents, and figuring out who you are—those stay the same. And that’s why I write for them—to explore those experiences and, hopefully, help them to make sense.
What do you think: is being a teen today more difficult than when you were a kid? Is the pressure more intense, or just different?