Friday, December 26, 2014

My Adolescent Development My... Self?

By Anci CL

One of the classes I took this past semester was of course, Child development-- which as a former child, ended up being quite helpful in processing a few things that have forever been circling my psychic drain.

You know, its funny the way children- particularly adolescents are routinely pathologized for displaying what amount to typical "growing-up" traits-- anxiety, discomfort, confusion, experimentation. And although we all go through those unflattering phases, it still makes society uncomfortable, when we see these tendencies displayed in the "youths" that we come across. Why? because stigmatizing angst in young people is an effective means of dismissing them.

Think about the most cutting thing you could call someone. Stumped? Try recalling what we compare any emotional person to, when we're trying to put them down?
A teenage girl.

Everything related to teenage girls is considered lesser-- from the way young adult fiction (meant for girls in particular) is deemed trashy, to the way the (developmentally sound) self-absorption that characterizes the ages of 11-21, is reviled. (Newsflash: self absorption is inescapable during those tumultuous years, and it's actually pretty healthy, because.. guess what? sustained internal reflection is kinda necessary for establishing identity.)

as is..apparently,  brooding before bookcases. (me age 16)

The point here is that all of that newly acquired awareness has manifested into the mentally modifying mechanicisms of a cerebral stool softener...  (if you dig enough you'll find a metaphor about relief, buried somewhere in there.)

This is namely due to the fact that for years, I have been carrying guilt for being "bad" when I was in high school-- bad in the sense that I was dramatic, insecure, underperforming, and impressionable. (none of that is code for drugs or sex, by the way. I actually am serious about that.)

But I did have a tragically warped body image, which consumed my daily life, and rendered all other moments, joys, and interests, comparatively empty. And guess what? It wasn't my fault. It wasn't my fault because I was conditioned to feel like my worth was based on male approval, and at the age of 16 I was falling for that nasty narrative, faster than Lindsay Lohan fell of the wagon on that Oprah reality show.  (Man, I am nailing this metaphor thing.)

It wasn't my fault, because puberty and body development, are by definition traumatic. (which is something grown people tend to forget) And it wasn't my fault, because I didn't have any young role models to look up to, who looked, acted, sounded and thought like me-- (which was probably the key element of survival, I was missing.)

To be fair,  the reigning queens of celebrity at the time were Jessica Simpson and Paris Hilton, so... pretty much none of us had a chance.


But more importantly, I didn't know of anyone who had overcome or even experienced depression - because that wasn't something people talked about. And guess what the reigning emotion (or lack thereof) in my life wasBleak, unrelenting, mother effing depression.
Every single day of middle school and high school experience was brutal, and as it turns out, that stage in life is pretty equally brutal for most sensitive, intelligent young folk.  (Yes, you can feel mildly vindicated at the strong correlation between intelligence and depression-- which is a relationship that needs to be further explored, but isn't necessarily causal.)

Reading pages and pages of text on this period of time in life, however, has given me a more compassionate perspective, towards myself-- and all teenagers (particularly girls.)
It's easy (and lazy) to write off the youthful histrionics of an up-and-coming generation as the side effects of a spoiled, pampered upbringing... but it's more honest to interpret them as distressed.


  1. This was a great piece. Could you explain to me how adolescence is *by its definition* traumatic?

    1. because it's a transitional stage, where you're neither child nor adult. You're suddenly developing sexual organs and urges. There's a surge in hormonal activity, growth spurts, sexual identity.... Not to mention the psychological effects of everything: the confusion, depression... all of which is mired in a new dependence on peer acceptance, and a new need for identity that's separate from your family.