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Posts Tagged ‘What’s In A Name’

When I saw Nigel Latta on TV talking about teenagers I was at first amused until I realized what a load of crock he was talking. Not only was he talking rubbish, but his theories about teenagers are not funny, they are dangerous. Calling teenagers another species or aliens is marginalizing and isolating them. Categorizing people, giving them labels, mocking them, dehumanising them has been done before. The nazis did it. Bullies do it in the classroom and in the workplace.

Comedians do it, but usually it’s done to make us look at ourselves, and to highlight an issue that’s wrong. Perhaps Latta thinks he’s a stand up comedian or an entertainer. The thing is, he’s an educator, and I think that what he says about teenagers, and the way to treat them is wrong. An element of truth there may be, but this is what makes what he says so dangerous, so insidious. He can hook you with a half-truth, make fun of it, and, wham, he can reel you in.

You can group people according to age: toddlers, pre-teens, teenagers, young adults, the middle aged, the elderly. And you can find something to endlessly mock in each group. The self centred, tantrum throwing toddler; the rude obnoxious teenager; the lost middle-aged person in crisis; the senile, forgetful oldie. Or you can show respect for people regardless of age, race, religion … We can choose to be inclusive, embracing the wonderful human-ness of others, celebrating our differences and seek to understand and learn from others.

It’s not funny to marginalise the teenager. At a time when someone is seeking independence, security, self-awareness, an emerging sense of empathy, questioning of identity … Hell, that could be me now … The difference is that I’ve reached a point in my life when I realize that I don’t know who I am, and that it doesn’t matter because change is good, complacency is not.

I like teenagers. Their minds are developing at an extraordinary rate, and their perceptions of the world can provide us with an opportunity to take a fresh new look at our own world that may have become stale, fixed or cynical. We can choose to be threatened by their questioning of mores and values, or we can choose to honestly re-evaluate ours. We can choose to outright reject their ideas, or we can choose to defend and rationally argue our own positions. Teenagers are learning to control and co-ordinate their thoughts. We can assist or resist.

Teenage angst, can be positively redirected to creative or sporting activities. Some of the most insightful poetry I have read has come from the troubled minds of teenagers. Same with stories and music. Teenagers have shown me that expressing creativity is a path to personal fulfillment and a sense of self. The discipline, team work, and focus that come from physical activities are captured by teenagers who discover the joy of successfully implementing strategies and tactics and the comfort and excitement of being part of something larger than themselves.

Realising that we are tiny specks in the universe can be terrifying or it can be empowering. Following a teenager’s journey to find a place where she feels comfortable is an opportunity to make that journey myself. To be part of that journey is a privilege, and the rewards are infinite.

Sure, teenagers can be smelly, hostile, hurtful, inarticulate and incomprehensible, but they need us (adults, parents) more than ever to love them despite this, perhaps because of this. They’re pushing boundaries, pushing parents, seeing what they can get away with. They need boundaries, but these boundaries can often be negotiated and mutually agreed upon. Where there’s room to compromise we should, but some things are so important we must only say no. That’s going to test our ability to explain our reasons. Teenagers force us to develop communication skills, to become negotiators, and enforcers. Being around teenagers sets us off on a journey too.

We may not enjoy dealing with aggression from toddlers and young children, but we accept that we need to learn strategies to constructively deal with it. We may not like the behaviour but we don’t resent the child throwing a tantrum, nor should we resent teenagers. We don’t isolate and marginalise the toddler, nor should we isolate and marginalise teenagers.

I delight in seeing the world through the eyes if a toddler – stopping to marvel at the butterfly or the snail trail. I delight in seeing the world through the eyes of a teenager – discussions about social injustice, corrupt political and financial structures; learning to negotiate through minefields of personal responsibility.

I love the certainty with which teenagers hold their convictions. I love their wisdom and their insight. I don’t think I’m any wiser now than I was as a teenager, I’ve just learnt a few more skills. I love being reminded that we are all on a journey, no matter our age, and that we choose our destinies. Oh, the angst …

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The use of labels to describe someone has irked me for some time. I would variously describe myself as womanly, paraplaegic, mother, christian, feminist, humanist, able … the list has changed over the years and I expect will change again.  Some labels seem to be mutually exclusive. Priorities change. Meanings change over time. Perceptions change. We are complex.

I don’t know about others, but I don’t want to be put in a box. I prefer to describe myself in terms of ideals I aspire to, be they noble, frivolous, challenging, or simply time wasting. For one thing the label on the box can mean different things to different people; for another, labels can lead to intolerance, stereotypes, and narrow thinking. Conversely, prejudice, intolerance and bigotry thrives on labels.

If you think this is trite consider this link sent to me by a friend. It’s a cute/tragic post about a five year old boy’s choice of Halloween costume and the absolutely appalling reactions to it. Nerdy Apple Bottom writes in “My Son is Gay”

My son is gay. Or he’s not. I don’t care. He is still my son. And he is 5. And I am his mother. and if  you have a problem with anything mentioned above, I don’t want to know you.”

If you haven’t read this post I suggest you do so now. Read the epilogue too. Her story made me mad, but it also inspired me. I admire and respect her principled and loving stand. If you need any further encouragement to read this post take a look at what she is standing up for:

(I hope that Nerdy Apple Bottom doesn’t mind my reproducing the photo of her son here.)

When did gender stereotyping become an issue for little kids? Why would you want to label a child gay, or use sexuality as a label for a child? One of my sons, when he was three years old, used to stand beside me when I was putting on my make up and practise putting on lipstick. Now that he’s twenty eight perhaps he borrows his wife’s lipstick. I didn’t care then, and I don’t care now because he’s always been a funny, loving, delightful, kid, popular with his peers and those around him because he’s so positive and cheerful. My other son used to like wearing pink, he probably still does. He used to collect and play with soft toys. He liked teddy bears. He probably still does. This caring loving kid has become a killer litigator… a label that he’d probably like, but he has lots of other attributes and he’d be just as proud if he were described as a caring socialist.

It’s not particularly helpful to use an occupation as a label either, although in social situations, often the first question people ask is “So, what do you do?”  I’m a lawyer, cleaner, teacher, public servant, secretary, house husband, musician, accountant … only promotes stereotypes. Why do we want to put people in boxes?

I think that labels get in the way of freedom – freedom to choose who we are, to make choices, to be independent and individual. That’s why I prefer to describe myself in terms of the ideals I aspire to. Freedom to choose and to be autonomous are feminist qualities I promote and aspire to, but I wouldn’t call myself a feminist. The idea of loving others as I love myself is one I fervently believe in; it is at the core of christianity but if I call myself a christian I am likely to be grouped with the judgemental, intolerant “christians” of Nerdy Apple Bottom’s church school, the evil, corrupt “Bush fundamentalists” (christian fundamentalist – now there’s an oxymoron!), or the excessively pious self-indulgent preachers who want to pray over me. Not to mention hypocritical religious clergy. (Who deserve a rant in a separate blog)

Even those things that I am passionate about – freedom of speech, human rights, my children, being creative – can only describe part of who I am. I admire the strength and power with which Nerdy Apple Bottom defended her son’s choice. I hope that I have been as good a mother as she is. But I am many things, and I’d rather not be labelled by any of them.

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