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Dear Society: Sheltering Teenagers Helps No One (Thoughts from a Young Adult), a guest post by Zack Smedley


Hi! The following is a piece I wrote the night before my 20th birthday, almost four years ago. I’ve never posted it anywhere before, but I wanted to share it now. In hindsight, the only footnote I’ll add is that I say “teenagers” when I should really be saying “privileged white teenagers from middle-class families.” Forgive my far less developed cultural awareness from back then.

Without further adieu, I yield the stage to 19-almost-20-year-old me.

Today I wanted to discuss what it’s like to grow up as a teenager in today’s (American) society. Why? Because as I approach the hilariously old age of 20, I’ve finished developing a list of complaints I have about how the world handled teenager-me.

I should begin by saying I’ve grown up blessed with a plethora of good fortune. I have two happy and healthy parents who love me relentlessly, my family lives comfortably, and I’ve managed to get into college and survive as a Chemical Engineering major (so far, anyway). A good bulk of teens reading this are, I hope, fortunate in similar aspects. So why do I say we’re all getting screwed? Why have I, for years, been so fundamentally unhappy with my transition from childhood to adulthood?

Picture this! Growing up as a teenager twenty or thirty years ago, life was different. Kids got jobs at 16 to maintain their junk cars. As soon as they could drive, they were able to roam around with minimal supervision. They had to sweat a bit to make ends meet, but by the age of eighteen, they had gotten enough practice living as adults that they were ready to take off the training wheels.

(Or so I hear, anyway. I myself wasn’t a teen thirty years ago).

Here’s what inspired this post: today I was sitting in lecture when I realized I didn’t have a single idea how to do taxes. TAXES. The only thing you’re required to do on this earth apart from dropping dead.

Which leads me into a brief rant: why the hell didn’t any teacher in high school bother to sit down us wide-eyed little 16- and 17-year old selves and say “here’s all the information you need about mortgages and credit unions and taxes”? Is the point of high school not to prepare kids for the real world? Why is it that I—and every other peer of mine—has reached their twenties without having been taught a single strategy for managing credit lines or sketching out a plan for IRA’s?

BUT THANK THE LORD I KNOW THAT THE MITOCHONDRIA IS THE GODDAMN POWERHOUSE OF THE CELL.

That said, my gripes here extent past my ignorance towards the Internal Revenue Service. One quick YouTube tutorial can, and will, fix that issue. But let’s dive a bit deeper for a second.

I earned my driver’s license a few days before my senior year of high school. My parents, God bless them, weren’t comfortable with me taking the car past the driveway for another six weeks. (The ol’ “it’s not you we don’t trust, it’s everyone else.”) Several of my friends were in similar situations.

And I know what you’re thinking! Hey, why didn’t you just buy your own fixer-upper car with the money you had saved from your high school job? I would have loved to do that. Except that I—along with, once again, most of my friends—wasn’t allowed to have a job in high school. My parents and teachers must have rehearsed their lines together, because it was identical sound bytes from both: “school is your job.”

To be clear, I understand this pattern is no one’s fault. It’s not my teachers’ fault for assigning me the homework they’re required to give, and my parents didn’t do anything wrong by having me focus on school. But it’s gotten to the point where we’re sending kids off to college—and I was absolutely among this group—that have never had a job, never taken care of their own car, and never been allowed to make their own mistakes.

If you’d like to know what the powerhouse of the cell is, though, by God will I knock your socks right off.

Now. I’m thankful every day for my wonderful parents & teachers. And I realize that if my biggest problem is them caring about me too much, I probably shouldn’t be ranting at all. But I’m going to, because these issues I’m describing a) extend far, far beyond my own household, and b) are way too important to not talk about.

Our society is screwing teenagers by not letting them grow up sooner. Parents and schools say “oh, we just don’t want you to have to worry about working, or maintaining a car, or dealing with long nights” but that’s the stuff that turns kids into adults, man! We have to get our hands dirty sometime, and in my opinion, parents and schools of the modern day are shoving fundamental skills aside because, “worry about that when you’re 18.” It’s entirely understandable why they do this—after all, kids are coming home with six hours of homework a night. The answer isn’t to “power through it.” And I’m not here to propose any concrete solutions. But the first step to solving a problem is recognizing there is one, and Houston, we’ve got a big one here.

Parents—especially the great ones, like mine—are so driven to protect their kids from everything. But hardship, and mistakes, and pain…those things shape us to be stronger. And dealing with life experiences (such as jobs and cars) early on can help us teenagers learn how to overcome those challenges for when we’ve truly grown up.

And now here I am—finally filling out my own job applications, driving my own car, managing my own finances—and I couldn’t be happier. But I’ve had to spend a few years playing catch-up, and that was a heavy weight on my shoulders.

In short, to any parents with teenagers: I know how scary it can be letting your kids go, but it has to happen sooner or later. Just be mindful of when they’re really going to become adults, so you can make sure they’re ready to face the world when they step into it.

And high schools? If you’re going to make me sit through a class where I learn how to build a bridge out of popsicle sticks and craft glue, the least you could do is make sure I know what a goddamn FAFSA is.

Meet Zack Smedley

Photo credit: James Ferry

Zack Smedley is a chemical engineer who recently graduated from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. As a member of the LGBT community, his goal is to give a voice to marginalized young adults through gritty, morally complex narratives. Deposing Nathan is his first novel. Find him on Twitter @zack_smedley. Twitter @zack_smedley.   

About DEPOSING NATHAN by Zack Smedley

“A heartbreaking and important read.” —Caleb Roehrig, author of Last Seen Leaving

“[A] layered, complex depiction of questioning (bi)sexuality..A heartbreaking case worth revisiting again and again.” Kirkus Reviews, starred review

Nate never imagined that he would be attacked by his best friend.

For sixteen years, Nate was the perfect son—the product of a no-nonsense upbringing and deep spiritual faith. Then he met Cam, who pushed him to break rules, dream, and accept himself. Conflicted, Nate began to push back. With each push, the boys became more entangled in each others’ worlds…but they also spiraled closer to their breaking points. And now all of it has fallen apart after a fistfight-turned-near-fatal-incident—one that’s left Nate with a stab wound and Cam in jail.

Now Nate is being ordered to give a statement, under oath, that will send his best friend to prison. The problem is, the real story of what happened between them isn’t as simple as anyone thinks. With all eyes on him, Nate must make his confessions about what led up to that night with Cam…and in doing so, risk tearing both of their lives apart.

ISBN-13: 9781624147357
Publisher: Page Street Publishing
Publication date: 05/07/2019

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