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June 3, 2011
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Teenagers in the US - help?

Journal Entry: Fri Jun 3, 2011, 12:24 AM
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OMG, over a hundred replies? :faint: Thank you all so much for your input. It'll take me a while to get through all you've written, but it's all so very much appreciated! The general tenor seems to be "it depends", with a lot of you feeling that what's being portrayed is cliché - but the sort of cliché that happens quite often anyway.

The funny thing about your replies is that so many of you are not in the cliché category because we all here, for the most part, are/have been the guys and girls sitting way away from the hubbub with a Fantasy book in their hands or a drawing pad on their lap. ;)

__________________________________


Hey guys, I'd love some input, mainly from those of you who live in the US and are still at school, or have gone to school until very recently. ;)

I'm currently reading "Thirteen Reasons Why" by Jay Asher with my Year Nine. www.thirteenreasonswhy.com/boo… It was the students' idea and thus far, it's pretty good to work with in class. Now I had one boy posing a question that I honestly couldn't answer, and that's where I hope you come in.

Brief synopsis, although I hope some of you might know it: A High School student named Clay is sent a shoebox full of audiotapes. There's no address, and when he starts listening, he realises that they were recorded by Hannah Baker, a classmate who killed herself two weeks previously. On thirteen sides of the tapes, she addresses the thirteen people who were responsible for her suicide, through those sorts of little actions that all teenagers do, never think about, and which, accumulated, drove Hannah to swallowing pills.

Now this student of mine said that he didn't like the book because it was too cliché. Teenagers being concerned mostly with initiating, avoiding, bragging about, or having sex, parties, working on their breakdown cars and sitting in diners. (To clarify, it was *not* the suicide theme he thought was handled in a stereotypical way, but the way in which everyday life of U. S. teenagers was being portrayed.)

I could neither say yes nor no, because my image of America, obviously, was obtained in the same way as most of the world's image of America: Through Hollywood. If you take that as a basis, the book definitely fits in with all those teenie romance movies that I never watched because I always felt having seen one was enough to know them all. How accurate is that image? The most useful answers would be from those who've actually read the book and know the nuances, which of course I can't bring across in the short synopsis here.

In Germany, I've always felt that teenagers think they have to live up to what Hollywood tells them to be like. The girls think unless they look like the cheerleaders in the soaps, they're fat and ugly. They all think if you haven't had sex before the age of fifteen, there's something seriously wrong with you. I know it wasn't that bad when I was a teenager, though that was about twenty years ago (and the Hollywoodesque expectations of life were there, but they were so incredibly far removed from my own reality that dreaming about Hannibal or Legolas was *way* more realistic). The dating didn't really begin until you were sixteen or seventeen, and then the ones who *were* seen dating (and who were usually very much in-your-face about it) were quickly termed the class's more undesirable members. And if anything beyond kissing happened before you were seventeen or so, we would have been scandalised if we'd found out. I *was* scandalised when I saw, in Year Ten, that one (!) of my classmates wore make-up. Okay, it was the eighties. Being dressed in neon-coloured potato sacks and too-short, bleached, baggy jeans probably didn't help there. :D Today, the eleven-year old girls dress in things that I didn't dare to touch before I was twenty-five, and wear make-up from Year Eight onwards.

So, what's it like at US schools? Does "Thirteen Reasons Why" portray the reality? (Quite apart from the fact, by the way, that the plot of the book is highly contrived and unlikely to happen like this; still makes for a great read.)


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  • Reading: Thirteen Reasons Why
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:iconbluetiger24:
bluetiger24 Featured By Owner Jun 8, 2011  Hobbyist Photographer
First off, I love this journal. It truly shows curiousity! Also, my friend read that book and said it was really good. I'm in the very end of the seventh grade and I guess I don't know many people in the high school, but I know people do enjoy high school parties. There aren't as many diners around where I live but there are many places where groups of kids like to hang out and some of them do do drugs. However, most I think wouldn't brag about having sex or anything. Many many schools are not that Hollywood style. Kids are really nice to each other.
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:icongold-seven:
Gold-Seven Featured By Owner Jun 14, 2011  Professional Traditional Artist
Thank you! :)
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:iconbluetiger24:
bluetiger24 Featured By Owner Jun 14, 2011  Hobbyist Photographer
you're welcome
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:icontatjahnah:
tatjahnah Featured By Owner Jun 6, 2011
I don't think High School is as much of a challenge socially as it used to be - it's Middle School that is the challenge. I went to two different Middle Schools and three different High Schools, so I've been able to observe different "cultures" between schools. Since kids are so eager to grow up so fast, all the crazy pressure to be cool or sexy lands on the shoulders of middle-schoolers and as a result those years (grade 5-8) were like living locked in a cage with blood-thirsty chimpanzees on psychedelic drugs. All that mattered to middle-schoolers was who was developing the fastest or who was sleeping with whom - it was almost all about sex. No one gave me any crap for being a virgin when I was in High School, but in Middle School (gross), it was all anyone would ever talk about to the point where when I was fourteen and I said I was still a virgin, my friends laughed at me and even went so far as to set out to "fix that problem" - as if waiting for the right time is a real PROBLEM!

I think that we're so emotionally exhausted from trying to grow up so fast in Middle School that by the time we get to High School and we've matured a little more, we just don't have the energy to care as much. Of course, there are exceptions - sadists will be sadists and there are many in American schools that run unchecked (look up the suicide of Phoebe Prince). I think the majority of kids learn to just duck the drama of the popular kids so by the time senior year rolls around, the cool kids are relatively unimportant. The way Hollywood presents American schools is mostly wrong. We don't party or go on adventures or anything like that - we're bored so we torture each other. And besides, that crap takes place in Middle School nowadays, not High School as much anymore.

Hope that makes some sense.
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:iconscruffylad:
ScruffyLad Featured By Owner Jun 6, 2011  Hobbyist General Artist
Admittedly, it's been a while. But I did go to one of those huge California high schools (graduating class of 950, and that's not counting the dropouts), and hopefully have a bit of perspective to go with it, since it's been a few years now.

In such a huge high school, you can't really have the "popular clique that controls everything" like in the movies. The school is too big. Yes, you still have "types" - smart kids, theater kids, drawing kids, jocks, cheerleaders, etc. But it's not that simple.

Now, some people fit the stereotype. (Dumb jock, ditzy cheerleader, awkward smart guy, etc.) But those are the exception. For most people, there's a ton of crossover. A lot of people don't fit in just one category. Smart jocks. Theater cheerleaders. Etc.

I haven't read the book you're referring to. Certainly, at that age, everything seems like a big deal, and may be subject to misunderstanding. If the book maybe reflects that, it might have value. But it should be viewed as a *flawed* perspective on reality. (For example, if each tape turned out to be inaccurate.) Real high school students aren't as one-dimensional as it sounds like they're being portrayed. And there's more to high school life than sex, drugs, and cars.

Yes, some high school students will have sex. (They're teenagers, after all.) Many will not. Possibly most will not. (A lot of that depends on where you are, and in my experience, small towns start the sex much sooner. (I grew up in a small town, before moving away for high school.))

Some high school students will try drugs. Especially the softer ones, like marijuana. Most will not use regularly. Some will drink, but most will not be drunks.

A few will work on their cars. Most people I knew didn't, and many didn't even have their own. If they did, it usually wasn't a great car, but they usually didn't need regular work all the time. (That's something from a few decades back, not more recently, where cars are more reliable.)

My friends and I did occasionally go to Denny's or IHOP (closest thing to a diner, around here) but it was only every few months. Not very common at all.

Basically, I think what happens is that Hollywood takes the most sensational, exciting, crazy parts of high school, and blows them up until they're the whole thing. Maybe for a few people they are. But most of the people I knew spent a lot of their time being more productive: studying, playing sports, developing their art talents. Maybe they dabbled in sex, drugs, cars, or diners on the side, on rare occasions. I don't think I knew anyone that had that as their life, though. I'm sure that there must have been a few people like that (huge high school, after all) but it would have been a pretty small number.

When you watch a cop drama, Hollywood focuses on car chases, gunbattles, tense moments, etc. You don't get a lot of the tedious day to day bits. (It's hard to make an exciting movie out of an officer filling out paperwork.) Hollywood high school isn't too different. The scandalous, titillating, and exciting is what's focused on. Not much excitement to be had with "Diligent Diane Does Her Math Homework."
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:icongold-seven:
Gold-Seven Featured By Owner Jun 6, 2011  Professional Traditional Artist
Hee hee, diligent Diane :D

That was very insight- and helpful, thanks!
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:iconmisinmyname:
misinmyname Featured By Owner Jun 5, 2011
To the best of my understanding (In a week I'm graduating from a four-year career in a bay area, California public high school), high school is just as clique-y as it's portrayed in movies and such. There are groups of cheerleaders, band people, jocks, theatre kids, the Valedictory crowd, and so on. That being said, though, there has never been any kind of hierarchy, no real exclusivity to any of the groups. As much as everyone in high school is a jerk, almost everyone is willing to pretend to be friendly for a pretty good length of time, making it possible for anyone to talk to anyone without incident. You're allowed to be friend with whoever you want; there are no rules banning a theatre kid from talking to a cheerleader. People just tend to gravitate towards others who are similar to them.

As far as sex goes, nobody really cares in my group of friends (a mixture of theatre, band, and valedictory people). Some of us have, some of us haven't, and we don't think any less of each other for it. My theory on sex is that girls feel the pressure to be attractive enough to get a guy to have sex with them, and boys want the reputation that goes with good female relations.

As far as weight goes, American teenagers are idiots and don't know how to take constructive criticism. When shown an image of whatever supermodel you care for, a girl with a larger body will feel bad about herself. Some get over it, some starve themselves, and some eat more. That is how we have somehow ended up with such a huge amount of both anorexia and teen obesity in this country. Girls who are not very overweight and healthy enough starve themselves, girls who are overweight learn to accept themselves rather than realize that their lifestyles aren't healthy, and girls who are physically fine but binge-eat, a very self-destructive habit. It's not everyone, but I think there are more such cases in America.

Americans, from a young age, are told that they are wonderful and perfect. Because of this, they (I should really say we) don't know how to take anything in stride, and little things that we over look hurt a lot more than they would someone who got shoved in mud once or twice as a kid.

Also, though, it matters person-to-person. A lot of the things that hit hardest differ from person to person. A comment that means nothing to one can bring up a terrible memory for another. If you're having a bad day anyways, it could just add to the pile of annoyances. There is no failsafe way to categorize American teens, but they do have the tendency to follow certain preset paths. Hope this helped.
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:icongold-seven:
Gold-Seven Featured By Owner Jun 6, 2011  Professional Traditional Artist
Very much so! Very candid post, thank you!
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:iconthe-only-one91:
the-Only-one91 Featured By Owner Jun 4, 2011  Hobbyist General Artist
I read the book back when I lived in Montana and barely remember it since I read so many books in the first place. But I remember thinking basically the same thing as your student. I didn't know anyone who was like that. I understand the car part - most kids who get a car tend to get a junker unless their parents give it to them. It seems to be a matter of pride for guys to get a fixer-uper so they can work on it. America's general image of men is 'macho man'. Tough guys who snub anything they deem girly. Working on a car seems to cements their self-images in it and they start early with this imaging.

As for parties, that is by area too. Big cities, especially on the coast, seems to hold the huge party and clubs deal. When I talk to kids they always are planning to go to this part at so-and-so's house and this new club that opened. In central America you don't really hear as much about parties in normal conversations but there are keggers and druggies still about but its more on the hush.

So those I understand, but the bragging about sex and the status obsession still was very California. Now it may just be because it's along the coast, but since I moved to rural SC (the city has one small high school for the entire county. Graduating class of about 200) the kids are the cliche kids you described in movies. Mostly what I think of as normal but then sex and popularity actually seems to mean something here other then the bragging rights all guys appear to want to claim. To be a cheerleader means you are in and football players are gods.

Sex as a teenager is more of a region thing on how much of a social taboo it is. Hollywood repeatedly publicizing it has made it even more publicly common then it was but I can't picture it being that much different since they are hormonal teenagers. Some places you do not talk about even admitting to thinking about it. Others it seems that is all everyone talks about. But I will say when the kids are so driven to be popular they seem more willing to go that 'extra' step in their relationships.

You may want to watch the movie 'Easy A'. It does a pretty good showing on the various American opinions of sex and how it is connected to the popularity scale all while comparing everything to The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. It is also very funny.
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:iconthe-only-one91:
the-Only-one91 Featured By Owner Jun 4, 2011  Hobbyist General Artist
I also have to say to *jess-o statement. I don't really think heavy religion states have anything to do with it. South Carolina is in the bible belt. One of the more concentrated areas where it is just assumed that you are Christian. There is multiple churches on every road, and everything closes early/isn't open on Sunday. Don't even think about alcohol on Sundays either because it's illegal and no one knows about the separation between religion and state. I lived in a huge city and then a tiny town here and it was still the same.

Now before that I lived in Michigan and Montana. For the part of this conversation, we'll just say MI was kind of like SC but rougher and without the religion fanaticism. Now in MT, though it is known for being a hard right wing state, they are very relaxed on religion. I lived one of the largest cities there. The people I knew who went to whatever religious service was their choice generally went at most once a month as opposed the never miss a service of SC. Now in SC, you can hear the expression 'a good Christine' a dozen times a day. But here, almost half the kids in high school already have kids of their own or are expecting. Where as back in MT I knew maybe a handful.

Religion may have something to do with it all because most people get their idea of acceptable standards from their religious groups (and it may be a part since I'm still convinced the bible belt crazy is responsible for most hate crimes here so why can't it be responsible for other moral indignities) but as to the religious heavy idea. I can't see it.
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