….see? Even the title of this post is self-centred! It’s funny, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten a lot less self-centred (please discount the amount of times I’ve already written ‘I’…).
I was a selfish teenager. You might argue that many teenagers, by their very nature, are inherently more selfish than many adults. I’m not trying to insult teenagers, but I do think that with maturity comes a heightened sense of empathy. Of course there are very selfish adults, and very selfless teenagers but I feel that my own personal self-centredness was intrinsically linked with my youthfulness and lack of life experience.
I wasn’t necessarily a bad person. I suppose I just wanted to fit in with my peers. I was primarily motivated by self-interest- I wanted to be pretty, popular and all those meaningless things that society convinces you that you absolutely must be. In my search for almost complete vapidness, I hurt people. I hurt people and I didn’t really care.
Before you try to reach through your computer screen in the hope of throttling me, let me tell you, I was horribly insecure. I simply wanted to be liked. I had to attend every party, every sleepover, every binge drinking session with my friends. This meant missing family occasions, snapping at my weary and overwhelmed father and ignoring the needs of my siblings. I was the class clown in school, constantly cracking jokes and acting like I hadn’t a care in the world. It was fun, sure, and it made me popular among my classmates, but I never thought about my teachers. Now that I’m in their position, I see how utterly distracting a class clown is. I also see the effect they have on any students in the class who struggle with the onslaught of brand new information each and every day. Someone writing ‘boobs’ on a calculator definitely doesn’t help. *Sniggers*
I think worst of all, I was mean to my family. I put my friend’s needs ahead of theirs, and not necessarily because I was an amazing friend, but because I never wanted to miss out on a social occasion that might bolster my social status. Gah, I even feel like punching myself reading this. I lied to teachers, because when you’re trying to be Queen of Everything, who has time for homework? Even when I met my wonderful boyfriend, I didn’t really change in the beginning. Sure, he is probably the most selfless and kind person I’ve ever met, but it didn’t rub off on me for a while. I actually think, in the early days of our relationship, I became worse. My parents, like any good parent would, tried to get me to focus on my schoolwork and attempted to convince me that a serious and committed relationship probably shouldn’t be top of the agenda for a normal sixteen year old girl. From my perspective, THEY JUST DIDN’T UNDERSTAND OUR LOVE! I still can hear my bedroom door slam even as I write this, like it’s echoing through time. I expected a lot of people to drop everything to help facilitate our long-distance relationship, something I wouldn’t dream of doing now.
I think that most teenagers tend to have two emotions: complete and utter apathy (which I like to call the ‘meh’ feeling) or unbridled passion verging on fanaticism. I loved various boy bands with an intensity that should only be reserved for cheesecake. I loved my boyfriend so much that it brought me to the brink of insanity. I was blinded by the intensity of my emotions; I couldn’t see reason or rationality and I certainly couldn’t see that I was being a selfish git. Not everyone loves what you love. Celebrities shouldn’t define your reason for living. A relationship shouldn’t mean that you all your love and respect can only be directed at that one person. The older I’ve gotten, the more compassionate I’ve become. Don’t get me wrong, I was always compassionate. But it was like that compassion was weighed against self-interest, and losing out. I find myself thinking far more about how my actions affect other people, and far less about the way I look or whether or not people like me. I try to be good, kind and generous. I don’t always succeed, but at least I care enough to try.
So why the hell this post, eh? What made me suddenly reflect on my personal growth? The short answer is Twitter. If you ever give a cursory glance at worldwide trends, they are more often than not dominated by teenagers. They usually revolve around bands like One Direction or 5 Seconds of Summer, or YouTube stars that I’m not even nearly hip enough to know anything about. What has bothered me in the past is the sheer obsession and fanaticism these teens display on a regular basis. And woe betide anyone that disagrees with them, or expresses a dislike of their chosen bands. I don’t care what they post on their own timelines, that’s their business. But sometimes, something creeps into my vision that genuinely concerns me. Recently, One Direction cancelled a concert in Belfast after one of the members became suddenly ill. A local television presenter, seemingly innocuously, pointed out that the remainder of the band could have at least appeared on stage to apologise to the thousands of people who had come from miles away to see them perform. Bad move. He got absolutely slaughtered by the throngs of 1D fans who came online to defend their honour. Of course they have the right to do this, and some eloquently defended the band. The majority, however, spewed such vitriolic bile at him that it made me genuinely angry. After the fifth ‘go kill yourself’ Tweet, I logged out.
I sat in anger for a while. The tweets were disgusting, of course, but what was worse was the support from other fans they garnered. None of them seemed to see how utterly disgraceful it is to tell anyone to kill themselves. I know this kind of online hysteria gets stirred up on a daily basis, and horrific insults get thrown around willy-nilly. What really struck me as sad, though, is how desensitised Twitter users have become to it. I couldn’t be a hypocrite, though. I was once a teenager, and I know what it’s like to feel such inexplicable love and loyalty to something or someone you barely even know all that well. It’s irrational in many ways, yes, but it feels so real, so authentic, so personal. If One Direction and Twitter had existed when I was a teen, who’s to say I wouldn’t have been first in the queue to call Eamon Holmes (the TV presenter) ‘irrelevant’ or ‘ignorant’. I know for sure, no matter what, I would have drawn the line at telling him to kill himself. That’s just plain nasty.
In many ways, I was just like many teenagers are today. I was a self-centred (and hey, I’m still not perfect), passionate, insecure and all that other Marilyn Monroe crap. But there’s one very important difference: there was no social media. My actions rarely had an effect that extended beyond my immediate family, friends, or classmates. I don’t think many teens today grasp the fact that what they choose to post can potentially reach an audience of millions and that’s not necessarily a good thing. Ask any adult if they would have liked Facebook or Twitter around when they were a teenager and you’ll find that the answer would be a resounding NO. It just takes one ill-conceived tweet to be screenshot and re-tweeted or one expletive-laden Facebook status to be shared for you to be thrust into a very unfriendly limelight. Remember: the internet is forever. Once something is out there, it cannot be taken back. It’s a virus that you can’t prevent from spreading. Just be careful.
I don’t want any teenagers who may be reading this to think that I am generalising you all, or deliberately insulting you. I know you are not all raging 1D fans. Some of the best blogs that I read are written by teenagers. I have great respect for teens, that’s why I chose a career dealing with teenagers. I have taught some of the most inspiring and compassionate minds and I know what wonderful things teenagers are capable of. I have also seen plenty of teenagers with their priorities all screwed up. I was one of those teens, once upon a time. It caused me to act pretty horrendously at times, even if the pain I caused was unintentional. I look back now and I regret it, but I’ve grown from it, so I guess I do have something important and useful to take from it all. I just thank the universe on a daily basis that social media did not exist back then!
It’s important for me to reflect on the way I acted during my formative years. I’m glad that I can now look back and realise that I hurt some people, and focus on making it up to them, as well as being a better person. That’s what’s most important to me.
What were you like as a teenager? What advice would you give the teenagers of today?