Tag Archives: teens

Being a Teenage Girl is Hard

For The California Sunday Magazine‘s “Teens Issue,” Elizabeth Weil wrote about her experience raising a teenage daughter. The piece is annotated by her own 15-year-old daughter, Hannah Duane.

Weil’s piece is poignant, heartfelt, and self-effacing. Duane’s annotations are, in a word, perfect. I say this as someone who was a teenage daughter, and who still is a little bit a teenage girl. (Maybe we are all still a little bit teenage girls, until we have to raise ones of our own? Or maybe forever? I don’t know; I haven’t yet faced the challenge.)

When Weil writes that her husband threw out his back while climbing, “pissing off” Duane, Duane’s strident annotation clarifies:

I was not pissed off. I’ve told my parents this multiple times. Nobody in my family can understand that I can be disappointed but not mad at a particular person. I was in a shitty mood. I have my own thoughts, OK?

PREACH, HANNAH. Grown women on Twitter announced they needed that quote blown up and framed on their walls. We have our own thoughts, OK?

Duane’s annotations made me laugh out loud and gasp in recognition. She annotates her mother’s praise of her climbing to point out that she actually hadn’t succeeded at a specific move she was trying. “It is a weird experience to have your parents praise you for something you believe you failed at,” she writes, pointing out that it “feels like you aren’t being listened to, or maybe you’re not explaining yourself well.”

She thanks her mother for not letting her run into traffic as a toddler, but later responds to her mother’s concern about being able to protect her with, “Parents underestimate kids’ ability to figure out what is right for them.”

My absolute favorite, though, is when Weil writes about the way teens revert to certain toddler behaviors, taking appalling risks and “throwing tantrums at horrible times.” Duane annotates:

I would like to make a defense of teen tantrums. They may be a little much to deal with, but after it’s over, I find that having had a freakout when you least want to can be liberating. You did the thing you dearly wished you would not do, and you lived. There’s comfort in having it out there.

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In Service of the Slender Man: When Teen Girls Become Murderous

Photo by Julio César Cerletti García (CC-BY-SA 2.0)

To find belonging, teen girls sometimes form obsessive friendships to fend off the isolation that puberty brings at the twilight of their childhood. In this exceptionally well-researched piece at VQR, Alex Mar recalls two real-life events in which teen-girl duos became murderous and why these obsessive friendships devolved into a pact to do evil.

What is occult is synonymous with what is hidden, orphic, veiled—but girls are familiar with that realm. We have the instinct. Girls create their own occult language; it may be one of the first signs of adolescence. This is a language of fantasy, of the desire for things we can’t yet have (we’re too young), of forces we can’t control (loneliness, an unrequited crush, the actions of our family). This invention of a private language, both visual and verbal, shared with only a chosen few, gives shape to our first allegiances; it grants entry into a universe with its own rationale—the warped rationale of fairy tales. Its rules do not bleed over into the realm of the mundane, of parents and teachers and adult consequences.

But in May 2014, the occult universe of two young girls did spill over into the real. And within days of her twelfth birthday, all of Morgan Geyser’s drawings and scribblings—evidence of the world she had built with her new best friend—were confiscated. More than three years later, they are counted among the state’s exhibits in a case of first-degree intentional homicide.

After some time on the swings, Anissa suggests they play hide-and-seek in the suburban woods at the park’s edge. There, just a few feet beyond the tree line, Morgan, on Anissa’s cue, stabs Bella in the chest.

Then she stabs her again, and again, and again—in her arms, in her leg, near her heart. By the time Morgan stops, she has stabbed her nineteen times.

Though they were both a very young, Midwestern twelve, they had been chosen for a dark and unique destiny which none of their junior-high classmates could possibly understand, drawn into the forest in the service of a force much greater and more mysterious than anything in their suburban-American lives. What drew them out there has a name: Slender Man, faceless and pale and impossibly tall. His symbol is the letter X.

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Trans, Homeless, and Turning Tricks to Survive

(William Murphy/ Flickr)

At Rolling Stone, Laura Rena Murray chronicles the dangers young trans women face as they struggle to survive on the streets of New York City. Often the targets of violence, one in two trans women in the city will become HIV-positive before she turns 24. Turning tricks to bring in cash, some have gone so far as to attempt suicide simply to gain access to a bed for the duration of the mandatory 72-hour watch period. “I just needed a bed,” says Scarlet. “I did what I had to do to sleep for Christmas.”

In the Dominican Republic, where Sophie was born, her mother struggled with addiction and sent Sophie to live with her grandmother in New York when she was six months old. Her grandmother, who was able to send the family money, food and clothing, Sophie says, by pimping out undocumented girls, was nearly beaten to death by two men when Sophie was in the fourth grade. Both her grandmother and her father hit her, she says, and sometimes locked her out of the house. “It was more hatred than discipline,” she recalls. “My dad would beat me in the shower with a belt and punch me in the face, calling me a faggot. Then he’d turn around and say, ‘I love you.’ How can you treat me like this if you love me?”

She began living on the streets at 16, attending school whenever possible, but more often worrying about where to eat, shower and sleep each night. “You can’t go to school smelly and drawing attention,” she says. “I would take cat baths at Starbucks.” Now, at 21, she’s hoping to build a civil-rights career, either as a lawyer or a social worker. The next morning, in fact, she has an interview for an eight-week internship at the American Civil Liberties Union. “I know I’m going to be a very successful person,” she says. “I want [my father] to learn he lost something.”

There are now more than 350,000 transgender people under the age of 25 in the United States, the majority in the largest cities of New York, California, Florida and Texas – and an estimated 20 percent of them lack secure housing, though many service providers believe that figure is low. Craig Hughes of the Coalition for Homeless Youth notes that the federal definition of homelessness does not include those who trade sex for shelter; instead, they are considered “unstably” housed. “There are thousands who go uncounted,” Hughes says. “They are disconnected from services, sleep on multiple couches a month and spend some nights trading sex for shelter.”

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‘A Boy with No Backstory’: One Teenager’s Transition

In 2014, Oregonian reporter Casey Parks contacted local hospitals to find transgender patients who were interested in telling their stories. One doctor, Karin Selva, had a 15-year-old patient named Jay who was willing to share his own. Parks met Jay and his mother Nancy the following year, soon after his first testosterone shot, and has spent hundreds of hours with him since — at home with family and friends, on school visits, and during medical appointments. In the first piece of a three-part series, Parks chronicles the realization that would prompt Jay’s medical transition.

One afternoon while his mom worked, Jay called his younger sisters to the living room. They were 8 and 10 — old enough, he hoped, to understand.

“I need to show you a video,” he told them. He streamed one of the YouTube videos on the TV. A trans guy appeared on the screen and explained how he came out to his family.

Jay stood while his sisters watched from the couch.

“This is how I feel,” Jay said when it ended.

“So you’re becoming a boy?” asked his youngest sister, Angie.

Jay paused. He couldn’t bring himself to say it out loud.

“Kind of.”

“Do you want me to tell mom?” Maria asked.

“No,” he said. Jay hadn’t talked to his mother much the past year, but he knew he had to tell her.

The next day, he crept to the other side of their trailer, his heart knocking. He pushed open his mom’s bedroom door, stood in the doorway and watched her play Candy Crush. She was zoned out after a 12-hour workday. Maybe she’d be too tired to talk about it. She already had on her favorite pajamas, gray sweatpants and a tan tank top.

“I think I figured it out,” he said.

He took a deep breath.

“I’m a boy.”

His mom looked up from the phone.

“So you want to be a butch lesbian?”

“No,” he said. He walked toward her.

“A boy.”

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Cincinnati Through the Eyes of 14-Year-Olds

What is it like to be 14 years old and living in three of Cincinnati’s roughest neighborhoods? Cincinnati Enquirer reporter Krista Ramsey and photographer Cara Owsley talked to 14 teens to get their perspectives. Here is Jalen Owensby, who has routinely experienced violence in her family:

“My uncle came and picked up my cousin and me at school and took us to the hospital,” the eighth-grader says, remembering back to 2006. “I saw my brother in the room. I went over to hug him, and he didn’t hug me back. And I realized he wasn’t there any more.”

Her 20-year-old brother, Rodney Owensby Turnbow died a day after being shot by an acquaintance. His death came seven years after a cousin, Roger Owensby, died after a struggle with Cincinnati police officers – a death that led up to the 2001 riots. Last summer, another cousin, Justin Owensby, was found shot to death in Westwood.

“To me, it’s a curse, because a lot of my family members are getting killed back to back to back,” she says. “If I got shot and killed, it would be hard on my parents. I’m the only kid in the house and my dad already lost one. I plan on moving to Atlanta. I don’t want to live in Cincinnati because I don’t want to be an innocent female who gets killed.”

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Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Reading List: Teenage Girls As Role Models

Emily Perper is a word-writing human working at a small publishing company. She blogs about her favorite longreads at Diet Coker.

When I was a teenager (I know, plop me in a rocking chair and call me Grandma), I pored over my mom’s Seventeen magazines from the ’70s and ’80s and amassed a huge collection of my own. My 13-year-old style icon was Lindsay Lohan’s character in Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen (I’m proud of that phase), and later, Freaky Friday. I studiously went out to Best Buy one January after reading the music issue of a now-defunct teen magazine and chose CDs that radically altered my future tastes in music. I was on the edge of the “nostalgia in real time” Tavi Gevinson discusses in her latest Editor’s Letter (see below), but didn’t yet have access to the unmitigated internet archivism and alt-teen community. I think part of me is trying to reclaim my teen years as I listen to One Direction at my nine-to-five job, collage and self-consciously drink coffee with a notebook at hand. I’m learning to be a post-teen: all the insecurity of a twenty-something with the creative menace of an adolescent. I’m navigating a transitional space; my role models are teenage girls.

1. “Lorde Sounds Like Teen Spirit.” (Ann Powers, NPR, December 2013)

Her stripped synth beats kicked Miley out of the number one spot, but Lorde’s not finished yet. Ann Powers posits that she’s the Nirvana of pop music and examines the intersection of class and race with Lorde’s bohemian roots and youth experience.

2. “What ‘Forever’ Means to a Teenager: Editor’s Letter.” (Tavi Gevinson, Rookie, December 2013)

Tavi is one of the most self-aware humans on the planet, so it’s no surprise that her analysis of “Forever” (“the state, exclusive to those between the ages of 13 and 17, in which one feels both eternally invincible and permanently trapped”) is stunning and tender and meta.

3. “Time for Teen Fantasy Heroes to Grow Up.” (Laura C. Mallonee, The Millions, November 2013)

I’d also like to add Eliana’s plea: “petition to make young adult authors stop writing about girls whose lives change when they meet a boy.”


Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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What ‘Forever’ Means to a Teenager

“Forever is when you have the height and width of a miniature person with the density of an alpha-person. Forever is when you’re a human cartoon with every vein and skin cell as exaggerated as Minnie Mouse’s gloves. Forever is when you experience all kinds of things for the first time, as do your hormones, which will never again be this crazed, never again experience things as either so bleak or so Technicolor. Forever is when your brain is still developing, so everything sticks, like a lot. Forever is when you have tunnel vision because you (I) have not yet understood that you (I) are (am) not the center of the world, so you (I) grant yourself (myself) permission to see things as though you (I) are (am). I don’t recommend it as a lifestyle, but there’s something to be said for having this much time to just think about you, what you like, what you believe in, how you feel. When I asked Sofia Coppola why she continually writes movies about teenagers, she said, ‘It’s a time when you’re just focused on thinking about things, you’re not distracted by your career, family […] I always like characters that are in the midst of a transition and trying to find their place in the world and their identity. That is the most heightened when you’re a teenager, but I definitely like it at the different stages of life.'”

– At Rookie, Tavi Gevinson describes what it’s like to be between the ages of 13 and 17.

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Photo: Petra

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