Author’s Note: This article was originally published in the Voices of Youth Advocates magazine for their “Notes From The Teen Underground” series in August of 2014. At the time of writing, I had turned seventeen. For this iteration, it has been lightly edited for typos and clarity.
Don’t hide the world from us.
When Buffy Summers of Buffy The Vampire Slayer is suddenly thrown into the position of caretaker to her younger sister when her mother dies, she adopts the same parenting techniques as her mother did – to protect the young innocent girl from the entire world. Watching this process was one of the most frustrating and painfully irritating plotlines of the entire show. It was such a relief, and a triumph, when Buffy suddenly came to the realization that she didn’t want to shelter her from the world– she wanted to show it to her. This moment is a fantastic one, because it’s so simple and definitely something more adults need to realize.
Too many parents, teachers, and adults think that children and teenagers need to be sheltered from the harsh realities of “Real Life”. But this is not the right way to bring about a well balanced adult who is capable and confident. Firstly, even if adults succeeded in sheltering their kids until their eighteenth birthdays, it would certainly be a rude and crushing awakening to find out all the things they haven’t been allowed to know yet. Second, it’s not possible to bring up an innocent child, especially if they participate in things like: Education, Literacy, Spoken Language, Social Interaction, Internet, and Television. No matter what parental controls you think you have. Third, if you try to bring up an innocent child, they learn about the “harsh realities” from the wrong sources. From the boy next door, from the bully in the school yard, from the sex ed teacher whose hands are tied, eyes are blindfolded, and mouth gagged by misguided parental paranoia along the lines of “if we don’t say it, it doesn’t exist.”
Frankly, this pisses me off. Shit, I’m not eighteen yet, I can’t say a swear word. I can’t know about sex, I can’t know about anything really. And yet, out of the teens I know, who are around my age, I am the relatively innocent one. The people I know have had sex, sometimes years ago. They’ve all tried various drugs, they all smoke pot, and several have dated way out of their age range. They go to parties and do seriously crazy shit. And I live in a relatively rural town with a pretty small town mentality. I can’t even imagine what goes on in a more urban, or city environments. So don’t think that the harsh realities are going to be a surprise for most teens. There is really no such thing as too graphic for teenagers. We should be exposed to the graphic and harsh in the right ways, by critical sources who can help us analyze and navigate our place in the harsh reality, and how to keep it from crushing us in the meantime.
The only thing you’re protecting after the age of twelve is really your naïve illusion that we are still completely naïve. Perhaps you’re also protecting the teachers from having to deal with the difficult, awkward subjects that are some the most important ones in our entire lives. That sounds like a great system. I project society will deteriorate, or revert back to Victorian times, in just a few generations. This mentality of insulation and silence has to shift, or we’re all doomed to more generations of sexist, emotionally illiterate, or hateful men; women a who have to be afraid of themselves, afraid of men, to survive; and thousands of gender diverse people who are pushed away from their truths.
Don’t hide the world from us. Show us the world. And let us help fix it.