My daughter and I watched American Teen, tonight. I think I expected something much more horrifying – a glimpse into the world of teen drug use and dangerous sexuality or something like that. But it was nothing like that, thank goodness! The subscript says, “Remember high school? It’s gotten worse.” But I’m not so sure! It’s been 25 years since I graduated from high school, and this 2007/2008 portrayal of high school felt incredibly familiar! All that teenage angst!
“American Teen” is set in small town America where politics are predominantly Red and almost everyone is a conservative Christian. It’s not particularly racially diverse although it is economically diverse.
The school I attended and the school my kids are attending are not “small town” America. I grew up in an affluent suburb of Dallas and my kids are growing up in a somewhat affluent suburb of Austin. Like Warsaw High, both are overwhelmingly Red, politically; and both are overwhelmingly conservative Christian. The racial demographics of my high school were probably quite similar to that of Warsaw’s. The school my kids attend is far more racially diverse, although not particularly economically diverse.
I’m not so sure the social cast system at Warsaw High existed in our high school. Neither of my kids think it exists at their schools, either. I don’t remember feeling like part of a particular social group. I was friends with all kinds of people.
Although, digging through those cobwebs…
We moved from Houston to Plano 6 weeks before the end of my junior year. I didn’t fit in at the high school in Houston at all! I hated it and dreaded every single day!! I’d never smoked pot in my life but people called me a “jell brain” because I was shy and listened to Led Zeppelin. I was also called a “Brain” because I made good grades. I failed a test on purpose in Chemistry because I wanted get in good with some of the kids in my class. That high school definitely had a social cast system going on!
It’s funny – I spent the majority of my high school years in Houston, but that’s not what comes to mind when I think about high school. I guess it’s one of those negative memories I was able to successfully push into the background because Plano was a much better fit for me. I had an absolutely fantastic senior year, turbulent though it was!!
What worries me a bit is that every single kid in the documentary, except Hannah, ends up doing what their parents expected of them – and they seem happy about it! Hannah didn’t have parents around to set an expectation for her so is pretty much able to go her own way. (Her parents objections are extremely weak.) It would be interesting to know how the lives of these kids turn out 15 years or so from now.
The concern I have is that I was one of those kids who did what was expected of her, too. But by the time I was a senior in college, I really wished I had had the courage to do my own thing. I tried to set my own course my senior year of college by enrolling in a Masters program in Psychology. I had gotten a decent paying full-time job that was willing to work around my class schedule and was able to pay for both school and my living expenses. But my plans were met with heavy resistance from my parents, in part because the degree would be delayed until I completed the Masters program (it was a combined program) and also because my parents were “old school”. Psychology was akin to mumbo jumbo and my momma didn’t raise a hippy! (Well, she kinda did, but that’s beside the point.) I needed to do something practical. So I backed down and followed through with what they expected of me. I got my degree in Education. Then I got married. They weren’t happy with that, either, and refused to come to my college graduation or my wedding.
I was so disappointed in myself for not following through on my own goals that had I backed down from that marriage, I probably would have committed suicide. I think marriage was my feeble attempt at controlling my own life and was probably one of the best things I ever did for myself, even though it was a crappy marriage. I’ve never forgiven myself for not following through with the Psychology degree, however.
I’ve been raising my kids very differently than how I was raised. I encourage them to follow what interests them. But maybe this isn’t a good thing? I don’t know. My son tells me that he feels a little unnerved because everyone around him is so sure of where it is they are headed. Their path has been laid out for them which definitely makes things easier. But does that make them “better”? Maybe we never really grow up until we finally set out on our own path?
I believe with every ounce of my being that things would have been better for me had I had the courage to venture out and made my own mistakes rather than allowing my parents to have so much influence. So, until someone can prove to me otherwise, I’m just going to keep raising my kids to follow their hearts and personal interests.
Both my daughter and I agree that my son, who will be a senior in high school next year, is a male version of Hannah. He’s a musical atheist who can’t stand the idea of living the suburban life when he grows up. He may stay in town, but that’s only because Austin has one of the best music scenes in the world. He’s not particularly interested in going to college but plans on going simply because if he can’t make it in the music scene, he wants to work in the music industry in some capacity. What he really wants to do is go to London and get involved in the music scene there.
My daughter is only 13 and is still in middle school. She was fascinated by all of the characters but didn’t relate to any of them. She’s an extremely eclectic kid who does her own thing but also stays within the rules and regulations much better than does my son. Her dream right now is to go to college in California and study a hospitality related form of business. (She also has dreams of being a chef and opening her own restaurant.) Unlike my son, she’d love to have a nice home in suburbia.
I got “American Teen” from our local library which prompted a discussion with the librarian who has a one year old child. I mentioned, “Ah! So you’re just getting started! Enjoy every stage – it goes really fast. Both of my kids are teens now.” He made some comment about how it must be difficult to raise teens and how all his friends say it was so much better when their kids were little. I told him that hadn’t been my experience. In a lot of ways, it’s way easier now that the kids are teens than when they were little because you can reason with them so much more easily. And it’s a lot of fun relating to them as teens. Each stage provides a new perspective. I remember crawling around on the carpet when my kids were one years old, trying to see things from their point of view back then! It’s always interesting trying to see things from your kids point of view! It’s not always easy, but overall, I’ve enjoyed the entire parenthood ride so far.
My son turns 17 tomorrow and I can barely believe it. These wonderful beings are our responsibility for such a short while! It goes so fast!! Enjoy them while you can!