Teenage Hell

I enjoy reading teen novels, and I’m not ashamed to admit it.  A good teen novel will have heart, humor, and a satisfying ending packed into a relatively small package.   I don’t get as tied up in knots about the problems the characters face, not because the problems are superficial, but because I know they will be met and overcome.  The girl will get the guy, or if not, she’ll learn that he was the wrong guy and get an even better one.   Now, as much as I enjoy teen novels, I would never ever want to go back to being a teenager.   Who would want to experience again all the social awkwardness, insecurity and cruelty of  high school?  Or, even worse, middle school?  

I recently read Deb Caletti’s The Six Rules of Maybe.  There is one aspect of the novel that has stuck in my brain.  I keep pondering  the way the main character attempts to reach out to the social outcasts at her school.  Instead of ignoring them or putting them down to raise her own social status, this girl tries to befriend and help them.  Usually the girl’s efforts keep backfiring.   The weird boy she goes on a date with out of pity begins to stalk her.  She plays matchmaker to two misfits whose problems only get worse when they become a couple.  In the novel, the girl learns that  her compulsion to take care of others comes from her own fear of abandonment.   She begins to take care of her own needs, telling the stalker firmly that she wants to be left alone.   So, the book doesn’t offer any solutions that would help social outcasts themselves, but it sure brought up a lot of memories for me.

When I was growing up, my family moved all the time.  I didn’t get to go to school with the same group of kids from elementary school through high school.  This can be a good thing, especially if you are unpopular.  A new school can be a chance at a fresh start.  Unfortunately, kids can usually always pick up on unpopularity even in a new group.   At my middle school (well, it was junior high in my day, but I’m trying to keep up with the times!) there was this one boy who didn’t seem so bad to me, but he was loathed by everyone.   Well, maybe not by everyone, but nobody had the courage to stand up for him.  He was bigger than average, although not fat, and his hair was wild, and he tried too hard, which is always uncool.   These things didn’t seem bad enough to condemn the guy to unrelenting contempt and torment, but he was subjected to it anyway.  When I first got to this new school, I was nice to him.   He responded by giving me a card and a necklace, and I got scared.  I wanted to be friendly, but I didn’t want a romance.  I rejected him.  My own social status was so shaky, I didn’t have the confidence to continue being nice to him.  Is it worse to be consistently unfriendly to someone, or to be nice to someone and then reject them?   I still don’t know. 

I often wonder what happened to this boy.  I went to a different high school, since we moved again.  I know he made through to high school graduation, because I was still hearing cruel stories about him from old friends.   I think I’m afraid to find out how life turned out for him, but I truly hope things got better.  I realize that he could have easily been one of these bullied teens who commit suicide.  Back when I was a teen, we didn’t have texting and cyberbullying, but I can imagine the added pressure that these things cause.   I would like to be able to say to a 13-year-old—to someone who is gay or being bullied for other reasons—that it gets better.  Still, I can vividly remember how it felt to have those long years of school stretching out in front of me.  How long is too long?  How do you give long-term perspective to someone who hasn’t lived long enough to have any?   I wish I knew.


1 Comment

Filed under Literature, Real Life

One response to “Teenage Hell

  1. Katelyn

    So this topic took me some time to sink in and gave me a few thoughts to ponder. I went to three different elementary schools, but I went to the same one from third to sixth grade. And not only that, the school had a thing called “communities” where the students in each class would stay together as they moved up each grade level. There were certainly both pros and cons to this, as it allowed the students to bond together but also made it difficult when a new student joined the class. There were a few kids in my class who were teased, nothing major to my knowledge but I still wonder if these incidents affected where these people are now. I remember I had a birthday party in fifth grade and my parents specifically told me I had to invite everyone in my class. I was a little nervous about this because there was a “nerdy” kid, as some would put it, who I was afraid to invite for fear of what others would think of me. I even had a friend tell me to just not give him an invitation and tell my parents I did. Well that didn’t sit well with me and I’m glad it didn’t; I gave him an invitation and he came to my party. I think it was a very good thing my parents instilled the quality of accepting everyone as they are, although it still isn’t easy when you’re trying to figure out how you fit in.

    Maybe another reason that quality was instilled in me was I remember my dad telling me a story once (a few times actually but I never had the heart to tell him I already heard it) about a girl he knew in school who had cerebral palsy and a bunch of the kids would tease or mimic the way she walked. Well my dad often carried her books and walked her to class. Although that does go back to your question about whether it’s worse to be consistently unfriendly to someone, or to be nice to someone and then reject them. I don’t know the answer to that, I just knew growing up that being nice just always seemed better than being mean.

    I don’t remember too much bullying in junior high (you’ll be glad to know my junior high was actually called a junior high) and high school, although I pretty much kept to myself and a few friends so I’m not sure I would have noticed. But while being a teenager was never easy, I was very fortunate to have gotten through relatively unscathed. But I know a lot of others didn’t, and it breaks my heart that so many young people often feel there is no way out. So I would like to second your message to younger kids who are being bullied that is does get better. Doesn’t mean it will be any easier now, but never ever let go of the hope the future holds for you. Not to be too cheesy by quoting a tv show, but there was an episode of Private Practice on last week about a kid being bullied who tried to kill himself, and the line that stuck with me went something like, “Somehow when you’re not looking things change. If you hang around it gets good, but you don’t get to see that if you’re not here.”

    So I didn’t intend to write that much but I guess your blog inspired me.

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