A few weeks ago, my AP Language teacher had enthusiastically announced the topic of our next essay to us, explaining that for the first time in years, we were ahead of schedule and able to finally start synthesis essays in February, perfectly timed because the topic of our essays would be to "define love."
I had been equal parts thrilled and terrified — thrilled because of the new fluidity that I would be granted with the essay, something that academic writing did not usually offer, but simultaneously terrified, because of the required personal aspects and experiences that I would inevitably have to add. As a sixteen year old who has never experienced romantic love, I felt like I would lack in that department of personal experiences, despite the fact that the assignment had never specified intimate or romantic love. To put it quite aptly as I paraphrase what one of my friends had said during English class, “As teenagers, we try to find [romantic] relationships because it seems like a challenge. Once we are involved with someone and it gets down to keeping it together, we grow bored and lose the excitement, which kind of explains why it’s so hard to keep a permanent relationship at our age.”
Given that I’ve never been in any sort of relationship despite having past crushes of my own, I understood what she meant. My peers and I grow up in a society and atmosphere where we are encouraged to make the most of our lives, “live young, wild and free,” and fraternize with whom we wish at the ages that we desire, because after all, “you only live once.” However, at the same time, we are pressured to decide what and who we are going to be as adults in the high-stakes game of our lives when we are only teenagers and the frontal lobes of our brains have not fully developed at the age of twenty-five. As we endure the trials and tribulations of high school, college applications, our first jobs, and loaded responsibilities all over, we don’t necessarily have the time or energy to commit, because we know that we must salvage the last few years of guided independence that we have now, the freedom to do as we wish without all the weight of adulthood and permanence carried on our backs.
The idea that I must grow up to depend on myself has always been thrust at me from all sides, and it has worked itself into my mindset by now that I was completely capable to doing everything on my own. Homework, of which I used to always call my parents over to define words on; friendships, of which I’d always have to turn to others to help me understand during conflicts; even things which I knew and have been told that I didn’t need to go through alone, such as anxiety or stress or seasonal affective disorder, I dealt with on my own because it had been ingrained into me that I should not have to bother others with my trials and troubles. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has heard multiple times in recent years, in progressively increasing tones of passive-aggressiveness or frustration, that maybe it’s time “I grow up and deal with [things] like an adult.”
The thing is, however, we as teenagers are growing up, and as we do so, we are learning how to cope at the same time. The idea that we are not always quite capable of grasping is that adolescence is a critical period, and not just in the sense of importance, but in that this is a time of development and maturation, which we discover is a process. We are only now learning to take first steps in certain aspects of our lives, such as getting our driver’s licenses, or getting our own jobs, or being immersed in the careers we aspire towards during internships. If our parents wanted to give themselves an excuse to keep documenting their children, it would be that we are still taking first steps, and although we have not yet learned to ride our metaphorical bicycles through life, this is the moment where all of the training wheels come off and we are given tastes of independence, tastes of true adulthood, tastes of honest freedom to make our own choices. The step that we never remember is that we are not alone, and as we navigate these turbulent times during turbulent years, internally and externally, we should never forget that we are capable, and doing the best we can for ourselves in terms of growing, because all that we do is all that we are; adolescence was never supposed to be easy, but the idea that we are all breaking free from our cocoons is something to be taken in the gladdest of strides, as we evolve and adapt to being fully independent.
Stephanie Tom is a high school student who lives in New York. She's an editor for her school newspaper, and an assistant editor for her school literary magazine. She has previously won a Gold Key from the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards for her poetry, and her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Dear Damsels, Hypertrophic Literary and elsewhere.