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On life as a half-kid, half-adult - Tactical Ninja

Oct. 13th, 2010

10:18 am - On life as a half-kid, half-adult

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After yesterday's discussion of the "It Gets Better" campaign, I went home and had a conversation with The Kid. Apparently his school has implemented a policy whereby if someone's late to class by more than 5 minutes, they get sent to the admin office and go on some register. And if the reason isn't considered good enough, they call the parents on the spot. So yesterday, The Kid's train was late and he had to do this. The queue to go and explain yourself to the admin staff was 25 minutes long!

Spot the unintended consequences of policy, right there.

Anyway, him relating this led to a discussion of the agency of teenagers. The process, for those who care, went like this:

Him: If they make school suck too much, people won't go. It's not as if they are getting paid, what's the incentive?
Me: Well, the law says you have to, and I'm responsible for making you. Thus, avoiding beatings is the incentive.
Him: I hate that I'm expected to act like an adult but I'm a child under the law. I have no rights.


I mean, children do have rights, under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (known in my Social Policy dept as UNCROC). NZ is party to the convention and our legal age of majority is 18. Here's a summary of those rights:

The right to non-discrimination based on all the same things adults have the right to non-discrimination for.
The right for decisions made on their behalf to consider their best interests.
The right for their rights to be protected by the State.
The right to parental guidance (from what I gather, this means 'over that of the State').
The right to life, survival and development (ie education and access to healthcare).
The right to a name and a nationality, along with the right to know their parents.
The right to an identity recognised by the State.
The right to live with their parents (unless it is bad for them).
The right to family reunification in the case of separation through moving countries.
The right to State protection against being illegally removed from their country.
The right to respect for their views in decisions made on their behalf. This right has clauses about taking into account maturity and also ensuring the ultimate authority is with adults.
The right to freedom of expression.
The right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
The right to freedom of association.
The right to privacy.
The right to access to information.
The right to protection from all forms of violence.
The right to know their rights.

There are actually 54 articles in UNCROC, but the others mostly cover more specific details of the things covered in the ones listed above.

What children don't have the right to is agency - all of the rights they have under the Convention assume that other people will be making decisions on their behalf. When children are very young this is fair enough. But as they get older they become more invested in the outcome of decisions made on their behalf, but are often frustrated in their attempts to direct their own lives.

As a teenager, The Kid is in the middle of this - he has these rights but no agency. He doesn't get to vote in elections that bring about the Government that makes decisions about his welfare - yet, he learns all about these decisions in school. He must attend school even though he's perfectly aware of the institutional indoctrination he's receiving and often questions its validity. Part of attending school means being subject to arbitrary rules such as the instance from yesterday with the trains - and has zero say in how these rules are developed. At 15, he has only just reached the age where he can work for money, and in order to get the kind of job people give to 15 year olds, he must subject himself to a criminal background check and answer personal questions about whether or not he's ever been the subject of a Family Group Conference. And if he gets the job, he's not entitled to the minimum wage until he's 16. So he has little agency with money or privacy either.

Meanwhile, he has to produce ID to prove he's at school when buying child fares because he's tall and the default assumption among ticket sellers is "Teenager - he's lying to me". To which I go "Why the hell would any teenage boy be on a train into town at 7:30am on a weekday if he weren't going to school, huh?" He gets arbitrarily moved on from places he's hanging out, people feel free to make comment on how he's dressed, his haircut, what he should be doing, where he should be and who he should hang out with, because he's young. Yes, even strangers. And I've written before about some of the discrimination he experiences due to being young.

*cough*

As he puts it, "I am not a full citizen, am I?"

And I have to say to him "No son, you're not."

So anyway, he got to thinking about this in terms of some of the stuff we talk about in relation to feminism, and he has a question for you all - what are your thoughts on the similarities and differences between the lack of agency of teenagers and the lack of agency experienced historically by women? Enquiring young minds want to know.

And after that conversation, he showed me this. From the guy that brought us "Bagders Badgers", I bring you "Narwhals":



Because we're that mature.


And from the 'some folks are just too flexible' file:



O.o

Comments:

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From:anna_en_route
Date:October 12th, 2010 09:35 pm (UTC)
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Can't really articulate my attitude towards feminism/the way society currently treats young people (a new experience for me) except to note that the "it gets better project" has highlighted just how harmful society can be towards even ostensibly priveleged kids.

There's something deeply and fundamentally wrong with the way we treat teenagers en masse.
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From:tatjna
Date:October 12th, 2010 09:39 pm (UTC)
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Yeah, I have felt that for a while as a gut feeling after seeing some of the things that happen to The Kid.

I also have the adult perspective on being a teenager that admonishes me to remember that teenagers are inexperienced and often take risks or make decisions that may have long-term consequences they are not equipped to deal with.

I would like to see teenagers have more agency and be treated less like second-class citizens, but I'm really struggling with the how.
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From:ferrouswheel
Date:October 12th, 2010 09:49 pm (UTC)
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I liked 7th form at school because they started treating us as adults.

I actually found University hard though because I still felt like I had no real agency. I was poor and wasn't creating anything or contributing to society (just absorbing knowledge and working on contrived projects). I still looked like a kid so people wouldn't take my ideas seriously, etc.

It does get better eventually though.
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From:tatjna
Date:October 12th, 2010 09:54 pm (UTC)
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Do you think you could pinpoint a time/place/experience when you realised that it had got better? Or how you recognised it?
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From:laoke
Date:October 12th, 2010 10:05 pm (UTC)
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For me, because I was pretty much brutalised at school (by, I hasten to clarify, other students not the staff), I basically said 'Fuck this for a game of soldiers, I'm offski' and fucked off for most of 6th form.

Where did I go?

To the library, to study and learn on my own. Yeah, I broke some rules doing it (and there was a slight amount of hell to pay when it was discovered how good a forger I'd become >.>), but I learnt more on my own in so much more pleasant surroundings that by the time 7th form rolled around I was actually able to deal with the institution again.

Then I left school, went to polytech and university, and discovered that people actually liked me for who I was. That was the point that I realised it had gotten better - I'd already taken control of my life to the extent that I didn't let others make decisions for me so that was less of an issue - for me, the thought of turning up to a class and having the chance of being assaulted down around 5% was where I personally went "This is better".

My experiences are probably not going to help this question much mind you, but it's interesting that the point where [b]I[/b] made decisions about my life and acted on them is where it started ticking upward.
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From:anna_en_route
Date:October 12th, 2010 10:02 pm (UTC)
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I liked 7th form too (and conincidently it was the year when bullying dropped off to almost nil although whether it was a result of voluntary attendance or just a result of a group of people acting up to people's expectations I don't know).
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From:richdrich
Date:October 13th, 2010 12:21 am (UTC)
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My 16+ education was at a separate college from the younger kids. Which was great, because we were all there voluntarily and hence got treated much more as grownups (if you didn't take class seriously, you pretty much got asked why you were wasting your time going). It was also a better preparation for university.

I'm amazed that the Kid is asked for a criminal record check, and even more amazed that they can ask about family group conferences - I thought that sort of stuff was meant to be strictly confidential?

I haven't had a criminal record checked ever despite having had access to the credit card details for half NZ. (Don't worry, I didn't bring them home).
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From:tatjna
Date:October 13th, 2010 12:22 am (UTC)
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That sort of stuff is strictly confidential until you consent to it because you desperately want a job and you know that if you refuse, your application will get thrown in the rubbish bin.
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From:anna_en_route
Date:October 13th, 2010 02:00 am (UTC)
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Sort of like the trial employment period?
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From:tatjna
Date:October 13th, 2010 02:00 am (UTC)
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Pretty much.
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From:nessaneko
Date:October 12th, 2010 11:07 pm (UTC)
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For me, my high school treated us ridiculously strictly and with no thought as to our responsibility for decision making (notable example: horrible February storm involving hail and flooding and half the school not being able to come because the roads were blocked with slips, so we girls put on our long winter skirts and jerseys and stockings/shoes instead of the knee-length cotton skirt and sandals. We were all given detentions for being in the wrong uniform, despite the boys being able to make the choice at all times between formal winter uniform trousers and summer shorts. SO UNFAIR and also ridiculous, given that my dad had been bringing me up since the age of five to be able to make appropriate clothing choices for the weather).

HOWEVER. My dad was utterly fantastic in that he assigned me a lot of agency and decision-making, with the general assumption that decisions I made would be good ones and I wouldn't let him down with the freedom he'd assigned me. This led to things like me not showing up for first period school in 7th form since it was a free study period and instead I was sleeping in and going out for breakfast, and when the Dean called to complain self-righteously about my non-attendance, Dad's response was "Oh, don't worry, I'm sure she and boyfriend are still in bed, they'll be along soon." Sadly, according to society teens shouldn't be granted this kind of agency - but I'm now finishing my second degree, have a great job, etc... so by the achievements that seem to matter to indicate success, I'm doing fairly well despite (or, probably, because of) my agency and respect assigned to me as a teen.
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From:pombagira
Date:October 12th, 2010 10:15 pm (UTC)
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maybe it is to do with the way that our society raises it kids, in that no expecting them to understand that their actions have consequents.. umm.. kinda.. it is something that has to be learnt but as it stands there is a lack of teaching? explaining, instead of teaching our children to be free thinking individuals instead society is teaching them to be institutonalised and not to rock the boat and to follow the rules with out questioning.

school is weird and while you are there it is everything in your life, but when you leave, espeically for those that had a difficult and in some cases feckeing hard, time or it they eventually come to realise that actually school didn't mean a hell of a lot.

how to fix this.. umm.. not really sure, *ponders this*.. perhaps it should start with how we shcool, and how we teach, and how we want our society to be, also realising that these teenagers are actually teh future... hmm..

of course to balance this with that, what i believe to be cognitive change between self adsorbed to self aware, that everyone goes through in their teen years..

*ponders more*

hmm.. *ponders even more*..
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From:bearus_maximus
Date:October 13th, 2010 12:30 am (UTC)
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I think I'm going to spectacularly fail at answering the question at hand, but here are my thoughts:

Speaking in broad generalizations:
I think it has to do with how the rulers of society (a.k.a white, land owning, males over the age of 35) constantly attempt to criminalize any and all behaviour that they see as 'other' or 'contrary' to their own sensibilities. Hence the constant attack on women and children. These are groups that historically have been unable to defend or provide for themselves and so in exchange for the so-called protection and basic provisions, society's ruler have felt it was their right and due to take what they want and treat others as less then, since they perceived them as less than. I think that people who work in organized government bureaucratic structures (i.e. school) have spent so much time and energy conforming themselves to fit the pigeon hole, that they expect everyone else to do so as well in the best interest of not rocking the boat. It comes from a place of fear. Fear of losing their status to someone who is better equipped to handle it. Fear of having to acknowledge that someone has a better way of doing things. Fear of being found out to be a fraud for saying that guiding and encouraging children is why you became a teacher/administrator but in reality you loathe being in the same square kilometer as them.

And I've now lost my train of thought. :(
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From:tieke
Date:October 13th, 2010 01:04 am (UTC)
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Hopefully my sister will drop in and comment later today. She's really knowledgeable about this stuff (although she will probably be embarrassed that I just said that). I think she'll have some interesting things to say.
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From:pythia
Date:October 13th, 2010 01:20 am (UTC)
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I don't know the ins and outs of it, but in the UK, Lee's sister gets a small allowance each week for as long as she stays in school (I think past the equivalent of 5th form). Seems like a good idea to me.
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From:thatgirljj
Date:October 13th, 2010 01:21 am (UTC)
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There's a contortionist who trains at our studio who does these:


Without a spotter. Sets of 10. We were hanging on the silks, watching, like. 0_o
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From:tatjna
Date:October 13th, 2010 01:23 am (UTC)
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To which I go "Ouch."

And wish I had that kind of balance.
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From:thatgirljj
Date:October 13th, 2010 03:10 am (UTC)
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I wish I had that kind of strength.
And balance.
And flexibility.
And the time to do such things with them all!
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From:vernacularity
Date:October 13th, 2010 02:15 am (UTC)
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There's good reason for locking them all up all day!
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From:thatgirljj
Date:October 13th, 2010 03:11 am (UTC)
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Awww...
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From:ophe1ia_in_red
Date:October 13th, 2010 09:08 am (UTC)
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I certainly think teenagers suffer in ways comparable to those that many other oppressed groups do, including women. A lot of the time I think their abilities are simply grossly underestimated.

I watched a Charlie Brooker slot a few years back about television aimed at ‘young people’. He showed a group of teenagers half an hour of several different TV programmes. Some were supposed to be for their age group—there was the highly-acclaimed teen drama Skins, as well as a frankly dreadful madcap gross-out humour variety show—and some were ‘adult’ programmes including the Adam Curtis documentary, The Power of Nightmares (which is pretty challenging viewing). He asked the teenagers to hold up signs to indicate when they got bored with the programmes. It turned out that the stuff they enjoyed most was of the best quality: they liked Skins a lot, but they held out the longest for The Power of Nightmares, some obviously disappointed when it was switched off after half an hour. Brooker concluded that it’s pretty offensive to assume that young people have reduced attention spans and are incapable of enjoying and appreciating high-quality media.

When I’m out and about, I see teenagers helping people with buggies on stairs, opening doors, chatting to homeless people, and looking after their younger siblings. I wonder if anyone notices; the public perception seems to be that all young people are all binge-drinking, knife-wielding louts with no concern for anyone except themselves. I still feel bothered by those attitudes because I remember being a teenager very well, and also, despite being 23, I still get mistaken for one pretty regularly, and treated accordingly.

This is kind of rambling. The point is: I agree, teenagers are an oppressed minority and the way they are treated by society at large is ignorant and often harmful.
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From:tatjna
Date:October 13th, 2010 07:18 pm (UTC)
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Thank you for this.

I think many teenagers have the capability to be both awesome and awful - and this is the same as adults, only in teenagers both extremes are perhaps more obvious.

I have seen teenagers being amazingly perceptive and empathic, mature and reasonable, then half an hour later acting like they're in kindergarten. I think that's part of being an adolescent and that we should accept this rather than vilify the less mature behaviour as somehow 'wrong'.

Like you say, I think people see an adult-size person acting immature and paint all teenagers with that brush, and completely miss the same adult-size person acting like an adult.
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