This piece was originally published in Voices of Youth Advocates, in their “Notes of the Teen Underground” Series in October 2015. I was 18 at the time of its publication. I still stand by the intentions and main kernals in these early essays. However, I was new in my development of my opinions and the language needed to properly express them. These pieces can be clumsy, and contain missteps.
My language, eloquence, and beliefs are continually refined, and hopefully my writing mirrors that improvement now.
This iteration is lightly edited for typos and clarity only. Enjoy.
Many adults talk about the “Real World” in settings with youth who are not yet legal adults, or those who are not yet teenagers. It’s a phrase that’s used to mean that each age is not yet in the real world, that we are somehow living in a fake world often thought of as softer than the “Real World”. Before you’re eighteen you hear it so much that you begin to think you’ll never be living in a real world.
Though, the way the real world is described, maybe that’s a good thing. It’s a place of seemingly boring responsibilities and goals, tasks, and safety hazards; where you have to listen to the person above your rung of the ladder, no matter what your conscience or heart says. So maybe we shouldn’t want to live there, even though society holds it up as a goal. But then again, this world isn’t all that great, however fake and pretty it seems to the adult telling you how harsh the “Real World” is. We still have boring responsibilities, boring goals, boring tasks, and horrible safety hazards. We are still forced to learn from and respect people whose morals and consciences can be far inferior to our own. Just like all the other “Real Worlds” we’ve heard about or seen. Which world is truly real, which world should we aspire to? Or perhaps both worlds are a societal illusion?
I hear a lot of people talk about the “Real World” as a place that’s not got a bit of decency or any kind of ideal in it, and you’re told to throw away your sense of self to fit in and “succeed”. We’re supposed to aspire to a fictional “Real World” that is even more frustrating than the world we already live in, the supposedly fake world. Perhaps the world of the teenager seems unreal or surreal to adults looking out from their own world, but that doesn’t mean it’s not actually real. Sometimes I think adults feel that our world is too real for us to handle as such delicate young creatures, so they pretend we live in a fantasy world where the only problems are the ones we invent for ourselves – instead of trying to deal with the actual problems.
Our world is as unreal, surreal, and too-real, as the adult world. Each is no more or less real than the other. They certainly may be different, but difference does not question reality. Describing adulthood as the “Real World” and implying that the teenager’s or child’s life is not does nothing good, and does much harm.
The myth that we’re waiting to start living hurts. It seems the “Real World” where we will finally be accepted, as warped and corrupted as we will become in the process of getting there, is just out of our reach. It hurts more than the single person who strives for that world – and can never make it to a place that never existed – it hurts all of society.
Teaching teens that they’re never living in the real world means that our actions have no consequence, that everything we feel or think is fake, that we’re always waiting to truly live. And that is not the kind of adult you want to have around you. I’m not saying that all teens should suddenly have the same consequences as adults, or be thrown into the next stage of development before they’re ready. I’m saying that real is a word that describes all stages of life, and that reality should be dealt with rather than ignored.