Working with teenagers and their families as a psychotherapist and educational consultant provides a unique perspective on the state of the world. Imagine spending your day like I do–listening to the profound as well as the improbable reasoning of a 14 year old. Interestingly, I find that most teens have a sense of the bigger picture, and I believe that most will go on to do truly great things. While it is cliché to say that, “the children are our future,” one can’t deny the truth of this statement.
Many “best of” lists are published each year and some do mention the unusual acts of adolescents. Most, however, don’t pay homage to a group that truly catches our attention on a regular basis—teenagers. This is my “best of list.” These are stories that caught my attention, got teens talking, and shaped the culture of 2010.
- Teen Mom – This MTV show follows the lives of four teen moms and their babies. Teen Mom is also a top-rated cable television show that has drawn more than 6 million viewers. Many, however, view this show as controversial and question if MTV is glorifying teen pregnancy. Those that watch it know the show paints a realistic and unglamorous portrait of life as an unwed “Teen Mom.” These girls have become celebrities and appeared on numerous magazine covers including People and Us and are continuing to make the news.
- Teen Bully Suicides – Tyler Clementi and Phoebe Prince – Teen bullies have always generated news stories. 2010 was a particularly unique year because these acts of teenage torture resulted in two highly publicized suicides. Phoebe Prince committed suicide in May and nine teens were charged in connection to her death. More recently, Tyler Clementi jumped to his fatal end after being harassed and two teens were charged in connection with his death. These teens who tragically ended their lives have prompted national discussions that will, hopefully, lead to specific laws that prevent such harassment.
- Teen Adventurers – Jordan Romero and Abby Sunderland – Most adults think of risky teen behaviors as drinking and drug use. These adolescents took a different type of risk by engaging in positive thrill seeking and pushing their mental and physical limitations. Jordan Romero, at 13 years old, not only climbed Mount Everest this year, but prior to becoming a teen, also attacked five of the world’s tallest mountains. Abby Sunderland, at 16 years old, unsuccessfully attempted to sail solo around the world. While some say this adventure was a poor parenting decision, you can’t deny that Abby is an incredibly motivated and courageous individual.
- Teen Barefoot Bandit – Colton Harris-Moore, aka the barefoot bandit, went on a two year crime spree across nine states before being arrested in the Bahamas. To evade the law, he stole boats and cars and became a self-taught pilot. This “high-tech Huck Finn” reached rock star status with more than 30,000 Facebook followers. While I don’t condone this behavior, imagine what this kid could have done as a member of his high school’s student council. I am sure 2011 will bring a book and movie deal.
- Teen “Sexting” – Sex made its way into the digital age long ago with “adults only” websites. Now, however, teens and some preteens are engaging in a new trend—sexting. And parents—you should be scared. According to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, 20 percent of teens have sent nude photos of themselves and twice as many have sent sexual text messages or emails. Furthermore, until this year, teens caught sexting were being charged with child pornography offenses. Now, however, there are proposed bills that would change the punishment to community service, small fines, and appropriate education. Teaching teens that an impulsive act could alter the course of their lives forever is a valuable lesson to learn that extends well beyond this latest trend.
Glee – Honorable Mention – Glee does not actually star any real teens, which is why it is an honorable mention, but it has got everyone (teens and adults) talking about high school and “teen” issues. Criticized for its adult content this is not a show for young kids, but it highlights real world adolescent problems such as teen pregnancy, emerging sexuality of gay and straight students, self-esteem issues, bully behaviors and much more. Glee also features a diverse cast including minorities and special needs students who rarely get the TV spotlight. And who can resist the catch tunes and well choreographed dance numbers? Glee is both pure entertainment and powerful portrayal of typical teen struggles.