I was sitting here, knitting a pair of gloves for myself when the fall season comes around, and a television show came on -ok, a talk show- where a 16 year old girl took to prostitution and the streets rather than being at home with her mother. As is the usual fashion, the mother was first on the stage, telling the world how awful it is that her daughter won’t listen to her and how she doesn’t understand why her daughter is on the streets. Also customary, the teenager was framed as the problem.
What the mother neglected to say, and what she amply demonstrated after her daughter (who she hadn’t seen in 35 days) entered the stage, was that as a mother she thought it appropriate to scream over her daughter when she tried to talk and hit her with belts and 2×4 pieces of wood to perform “tough love”. Her mother screamed at her to “shut up” and to “listen to her because she is the mother” as the young woman attempted to tell her side of the story. It was by this time I knew I needed to write.
I felt compelled and actually upset and unnerved after seeing this, because I have had a very similar experience as the mother/daughter duo, but now as an adult, I cannot be slapped in the face or have my hair yanked to stop me from talking.
Now, I’m going to talk. In defense of young people and teenagers, who I have incredible sympathy for in today’s confusing and often outright contradictory society.
When I was younger, my mother’s “friends” thought I was a problem child. And true enough, I was argumentative and very angry. I was even nicknamed “Wednesday Addams” from the television and film “The Addams Family” because I almost never smiled. Oh, but I guess that’s “normal” with teenagers, right? WRONG.
Well, I admit I was a “problem child” to some degree, but only with my mother. And why was I? Because I was socially suffocated, ignored and abused both physically and emotionally. No one in my house listened to me, no one ever validated my voice or my mind. I felt empty, sad, alone, and valueless. And when I had anything to say, it was rewarded with snide comments, slapping, or arguing. I was given no way of building my own sense of self-worth, value or independence.
My response to this was very different than many of the young people I see in similar situations on television shows. I did not run away from home, cut myself, start having sex, drink alcohol or begin doing drugs. I internalized everything and moved in with my dad when I got the chance. Of course by then, the damage was extensive and quite already done. Now I’m 30 years old and finally pulling myself together because I choose to live extremely healthy, mentally and physically, and that took huge effort and major support from others to accomplish. That’s a lot of years taken away by being burdened with something I have never understood: why is this ok to so many parents? Why is physical “discipline” ever endorsed by any parent, when physical violence is never allowed in society to any end or means? Many of you may argue that what I endured was abuse and not discipline, but how is any form of violence acceptable?
I remember vividly what it felt like to be afraid to be slapped, screamed at, or even pinned down on the floor by a person I am told by society I am supposed to respect and listen to. Honestly, would anyone have any respect for someone like that, parent or otherwise? I remember that all I wanted was to feel like I was important and mattered just as much as anyone else, and not have everything I thought or said reduced to an act of violence or blank-minded, ignorant ranting. I remember how I responded to the violence and insecurity: I buckled down and focused intensely on just getting by until I could get myself away from all the mess and could be on my own. This defense mechanism eventually became an involuntary reflex, which resulted in many of my young adult years being spent in the same way, barreling through life with my head down, not enjoying a thing, numb to most experiences, still waiting for when “real life” begins.
Of course, by the time you realize that life has been happening all along, it’s a bit of a shock.
I’m sure I wasn’t alone either. Many teenagers and young people are constantly dealing with the idiotic notion that they are somehow supposed to respect and listen to their parents, while their parents act like violent, ignorant punks. Some young people are going to respond by hurting themselves through drugs and other risky activities, and others -probably more others- will do what I did, and inject themselves with apathy, expecting it to wear off one day but unaware that it doesn’t….without serious help.
How about we stop insulting the minds of young people? How about parents stop thinking that they have some innate right to be respected and obeyed by other human beings, and earn it by actually being what they think their young adult and children to be? Sure young adults and children need boundaries and protection; they aren’t mature enough mentally to be fully independent. But how about parents approach young people in light of what they actually are: thinking, feeling, independent human beings with their own ethics, morals and viewpoints, the same way everyone in society should afford respect to strangers because we are all so wonderfully different.
I felt the need to say all of this because I get tired of teenagers and young adults being treated as if they are never valid in their feelings or actions, but rather a ticking time bomb fueled by some ambiguous concept of “raging hormones”; someone not to be considered a real human being, but some object in progress. I certainly felt like this, and not because I was a “problem child”, but because I had a “problem parent”.
Did I mention that the mother on the talk show also admitted to stripping her daughter naked and putting her outside after telling her she was fat, to “keep her from running away”? Her rationale for this behavior? Apparently no one will run off outside naked. The talk show host later said about her mother, “…she has made some mistakes but clearly, she loves her [daughter].” The host also managed to get the daughter to return home with her family, a real “success” story. Yeah, trauma and humiliation are about on par with love, sure.
When would that ever apply to any other situation in society?
Just my thoughts on the matter, I’m sure my readers may have some interesting insights…