Tag Archives: teen angst

Should We Re-Think Our Expectations Of Teenagers?

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When I was a teenager and in a particularly bad mood, which happened more often than I care to admit, there was this one thing my parents often told me that really pissed me off.  It came out in many forms, but this was the underlying sentiment.

“If you EXPECT it to be a bad experience, then it’s GOING to be bad experience.”

I can’t recount how many times I heard something like this. I just remember it pissing me off even more every time I heard it. They usually said it to me whenever we were going out to do something that didn’t involve me sulking in my mood. Being the great parents they were, they didn’t let that happen. They got me off my ass and out of that mindset.

They probably didn’t know at the time, but that bit of good parenting reflects a real phenomenon within our collective psyche. It’s called expectancy theory and it’s kind of what it sounds like.

It’s based on the principle that if someone has certain expectations about something, it’ll affect how they approach it. If they have a positive, hopeful attitude, then they’ll be more likely to evoke positive, hopeful outcomes. If they’re negative about it, as I often was, then it’s not going to turn out well and confirmation bias will help make it worse.

With that in mind, I’d like to apply this to an experience that’s pretty much universal for everyone. Specifically, I want to focus on our expectations as and towards teenagers. Now, I know I’ve given teenagers a lot of crap on this blog, often highlighting how they tend to do dumb things and have misguided attitudes. In my defense, my own confirmation bias has somewhat affected that.

I did not have a good teenage experience. I had a terrible attitude for much of my teenage years and, despite having great parents and amazing social support, I found ways to make myself miserable. However, for the purposes of this discussion, I want to focus less on my own experience and more on the concept as a whole.

Take a moment, whether you’re a teenager or not, to ask a few important questions about the sentiment you have towards teenagers. Don’t just think about how you feel about it, personally. Think about how we collectively approach the teenage experience.

Are teenagers more deviant because of basic developmental biology or because we expect them to be deviant?

Are teenagers more immature because of basic developmental biology or because we expect them to be immature?

Are teenagers disrespectful because of their basic developmental biology or because we expect them to be disrespectful?

Are teenagers more prone to risky behavior because of basic developmental biology or because we expect them to do risky things?

See the pattern? There seems to be this underlying assumption about teenagers that rarely gets scrutinized. It’s this idea that all the biological changes that teenagers go through with puberty somehow transforms them from these sweet, innocent children into these reckless, irresponsible, proto-adults who aren’t capable of managing themselves.

It’s fairly likely that all those biological transformations that teenagers go through has some affect on their mentality. However, even the most up-to-date research on the issue concedes that our understanding of the mechanisms behind the process are extremely limited. What that means in a scientific context is we should not assume that our assumptions at the moment are wholly valid.

It may very well be the case that our expectations about teenagers have a significant impact on how we treat them. In turn, how we treat them ends up affecting how they act in response. Then, when they react, we use confirmation bias to justify our expectations. It comes off as one elaborate self-fulfilling prophecy to which we all contribute.

When you think about it, the signs are there. If you’re a teenager, just look at how the world treats you. If you’re an adult, think about how you were treated as a teenager and how you treat teenagers now.

We impose strict curfews about what they can do with their private time. We don’t trust them to consent to sexual activity until a certain age. We regularly send them to educational institutions where their lives and schedules are strictly controlled, not unlike that of prisoners. Whenever there’s a crime or an act of deviance, we tend to expect teenagers to be involved.

From my own experience, I can attest to this. When I was in high school, I noticed a distinct change in the way adults and teachers dealt with us, compared to middle and elementary school. Suddenly, everything we did was subject to greater scrutiny. It was as though everyone thought that we, a bunch of hormonal teenagers, were just one impulse away from becoming violent deviants.

I’m not going to lie. I found that kind of insulting. Teachers, adults, and even police officers would talk down to us whenever they discussed things like sex, crime, and even our personal lives. It wasn’t just that we were expected to screw up. It was almost as though we were supposed to screw up.

It never really crossed my mind that being a teenager could mean anything else. The idea that these attitudes were somehow flawed never entered my mind. I don’t think many people, including other teenagers, give it much thought now. That may very well be a problem that only makes itself worse the longer we have these expectations.

Part of what inspired me to write about this topic is an article from TheVerge that pitched the crazy, yet oddly logical idea that we should consider those under the age of 24 to still be teenagers. I admit I thought it was a joke at first, albeit not of The Onion variety. However, the author does make some interesting points.

Compared to earlier generations, youth today are staying in school longer, marrying and having kids later, and buying a house later, writes Susan Sawyer, the chair of adolescent health at the University of Melbourne, in an op-ed published today in the journal The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health. The transition period from childhood to adulthood lasts far beyond age 19, when it is popularly thought to end. As a result, she writes, we should change our policies and services to better serve this population.

In a sense, the author of the article is doubling down on the expectations. Now, it’s not just people who don’t have a two in front of their age to which we should ascribe these assumptions. We need to apply that to people even older because somehow, they’re still not meeting the other expectations we have of functioning adults.

Personally, I think that’s taking things in the wrong direction. If we’re going to start expecting more deviance and immaturity from more people, then that’s what we’re going to see and not just from confirmation bias. Just as I did as a kid, my negative expectations led to negative manifestations. Now, they may follow young people beyond high school.

It’s not magical thinking to say that attitude matters when it comes to dealing with people. Human psychology is extremely complex and varies wildly from individual to individual, but humans are still a very social species. As such, treating others with respect and maturity will provide them with incentives to do the same.

I don’t deny that certain assumptions are difficult to escape, especially when some of them are incorporated into actual policies. Even if we woke up tomorrow and started treating everyone over the age of 13 as a responsible adult, it probably wouldn’t resolve the many issues we still have with youth in society. However, as I came to learn as an adult, having a good attitude goes a long way towards achieving a good outcome.

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Why Nice Guys DON’T Finish Last (Or First)

We’ve all heard it before. It’s the primary plot of nearly every teen movie ever made. It’s the secondary plot of every underdog movie ever made. It’s also the title of a classic Green Day song. Say it out loud in almost any context that isn’t on the set of a porno and most will agree.

Nice Guys Finish Last

When we look at the world through our irrational, caveman brains and glean our information primarily from movies, sitcoms, and Fox News, that certainly seems to be the case. It’s almost obvious that we live in a world nice guys solely exist to act as toilet paper to the Biff Tannens, Bernie Madoffs, and Kanye Wests of the world.

In a sense, it’s comforting. Being a nice guy means you’ll carry the spirit of a lovable loser and who doesn’t love a lovable loser? Sure, Cleveland Browns fans would probably beg to differ, but it’s that very mindset that makes us content with the status of nice guys and gives us an excuse to scrutinize the concept through the harsh lens of reality.

As I’ve made clear before, I don’t care for excuses that don’t involve donuts, comic books, or nudity. That’s not to say I have anything against nice guys. I too consider myself a nice guy. You won’t find me punching a small animal just to impress a couple of cute cheerleaders. There are far more honorable and pragmatic ways for that sort of thing.

Instead, I’m going to add a little bit of context to the whole concept of nice guy finishing last. I’ve already highlighted how being a nice guy is a laughably low standard with which to base your appeal as a person. Most of the people on this planet are nice. The only reason you know about the assholes more is because they’re the ones that end up with TV shows and professional trolls.

So even if there are mostly nice people in this world, does that mean they finish last? Well, to answer that, it helps to build a story around the context. I could try to cite studies that show that just being likable tends to get you more opportunities in life, but that’s not very sexy. Nobody comes to this blog for scientific studies that don’t involve sex robots. They come here for sexy stories.

With that in mind, here’s the story that every nice guy should learn before they hit puberty:

You walk into a casino with all your life savings and you have to gamble it all of it on just one game.

In some of those games, the risk is high and the reward is high in the short term, but that reward naturally decreases no matter how much you win at other games.

In some of those games, the risk is very low, but for each dollar you don’t bet, you end up losing twice as much in the long run.

Then, there’s this one game in the middle of it all where if you bet on it, you probably won’t win big, but you won’t lose either. The odds are stacked in such a way where that over time, your money increases. It’s slow and tedious, but it does go up. It’s just a matter of patience and playing the odds, which are objectively on your side.

With all this in mind, which game do you play?

If you’re a smart gambler in any sense and don’t have any self-destructive tendencies, then the choice you make in this story is fairly clear. You end up playing the third game because that’s the only game that, in the long run, will increase your life savings.

That third game is basically what it means to be a nice guy. It is akin to investing in an index fund in the stock market. Ask nearly any financial guru, including Warren Buffet, and they’ll say the same. An index fund is the safest, most effective investment anyone can make. It won’t beat the market, but you won’t lose to it. Just not losing to the market is enough to make a lot of money in the long run.

Being a nice guy is one of the best investments you can make in yourself because, on the whole, it increases your value as a person and as a functioning member of society. In general, people want to deal with nice people. People want to work with them. Some even want to have sex with them. It is, by far, the easiest and most effective way to get ahead in the long term.

The main problem is the payoff sometimes takes a while. There is also some element of luck involved, but not in the Vegas odds sort of sense. For those willing to take more risks, being a nice guy just isn’t enough. Being a nice guy just takes too damn long.

That’s how you end up with the professional trolls I’ve mentioned before. These are people who are gambling that being an asshole will help them stand out. It’ll help them get attention, which they understand on some levels is a valuable asset.

That attention may be negative. In fact, it often is negative. Being an asshole in a world of nice people helps you stand out. It makes you different, exciting, and charismatic to some degree. However, all that is a quick short-term gain. In the same way these crazy things get people’s attention, those same people will just as easily get bored or frustrated with it. As I’ve said before, there is a lot of power in boredom.

That’s why a lot of those arrogant, Biff Tannen jocks from high school end up pumping gas, digging ditches, or getting shanked in prison. Being an asshole, in the long run, decreases your value because it hinders your ability to form social connections. Without those connections, there’s going to be nobody to help you up when you fall flat on your face.

That’s not to say that being an asshole doesn’t pay off big for some people. Alex Jones, Milo Yiannopoulos, and most successful YouTube stars are proof of that. They do finish ahead of the nice guys. However, they are the exceptions and not the norms.

Most of the assholes are so far behind the nice guys that they have no hopes of ever catching up. Some just quit the race entirely and cede their rank to the nice guys because they know too many people hate them to hope for a break. It can be somewhat tragic, but it does benefit the nice guys.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, you have the overly careful type people who despise both the nice guys and the assholes. I knew people like this in high school. I was almost one of them. These are people who are so bleak in their outlook on life that they don’t bother being nice or mean. They’re just a walking ball of gloomy nihilism.

Other than grunge rock and Marilyn Manson, you don’t see too many instances of this paying off in the long run. Even if you’re not an asshole who kicks small puppies for fun, people will still avoid you if you’re a pain to be around. If every hour of your day involves whining about how terrible and awful everything is, then nobody will want to work with you, help you, or sleep with you.

As a result, the nice guys beat those gloomy goths with ease. They finish ahead because, and it’s worth emphasizing, people prefer to work with those who are likable. They will help, befriend, and have sex with those who are nice to be around. Again, it won’t happen all at once. It will take time, but in the end it will pay off.

So in a sense, Green Day got it wrong. Nice guy’s don’t finish last. However, they don’t finish first either. Given how few of those who try to finish first ever make it, your best bet is to just make sure you don’t finish last. In that sense, being a nice guy is the safest bet you’ll ever make that doesn’t involve jello shots.

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The Death of Chester Bennington, Linkin Park, And A Piece Of My Youth

I was going to write about this sooner. I intended to put a pin in everything I’d been working on so I could talk about this still-developing story. I had to step back and give myself a few days because it was just too hard. As much as I value writing about feelings within a particular moment, some just can’t do justice to the feelings behind them.

By now, many have already heard the terrible news that TMZ broke last week. Chester Bennington, the lead singer of Linkin Park, is dead. His death has been ruled a suicide. For fans of Linkin Park and the music world, as a whole, it’s a terrible loss.

Bennington, whose suffering from the scars of child abuse and various forms of substance abuse is well-documented, used his powerful voice to put into words a pain that is unique, but profound to all those who hear it. For those who came of age in the early to mid 2000s, having listened to the raw, unbridled passion of their music, the loss cuts much deeper.

I know because I was among those who grew up listening to Linkin Park. Their music came along at just the right time. I’ve talked before about how messed up I was as a teenager. I was socially awkward, depressed, and constantly struggling with my insecurities.

Linkin Park, and the powerful voice of Chester Bennington, made those feelings tangible and real. It made it feel as though I could grasp these painful feelings. They became less overwhelming and less distant. It put into words the thoughts I could not process. It also rocked in ways that defined a time, a place, and a feeling.

Their first two albums, Hybrid Theory and Meteora, have a special place in my heart. Even though my life has gotten a lot better since those dark days of my adolescence, the music still resonates with me. It reminds me of what I felt, what I went through, and how it made me stronger.

That’s why the death of Chester Bennington really hit me hard. Compared to the issues he endured, mine seemed so minor. For a man to have that kind of voice and that kind of passion requires a special kind of talent. That talent, mixed with his own personal pain, helped define a generation. For that, I will be forever grateful to Bennington and Linkin Park for giving that generation a voice.

To Chester Bennington and his family, Rest In Peace.

To anyone out there who is dealing with pain, be it emotional or physical, please seek help. As part of Linkin Park’s ongoing effort to help those dealing with suicidal thoughts, they are spreading awareness of suicide prevention. So if you, or someone you know, is struggling with thoughts of suicide, please call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.

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