Reflecting on the struggles and limitations of teenage years, this narrative delves into the contrasts between past and present teenage experiences, highlighting the evolution of understanding and the challenges faced by today’s teenagers.
“O, you teenagers! The day you become a mother, you will know!” quipped Mamoni, for the umpteenth time. All l could do was roll my eyes in exasperation! Was that all that Ma could say?! It was so frustrating, so very exasperating to have her stop me from doing things that l enjoyed to tie my hands every time l wanted to try something thrilling! What did she mean by saying l would know when l became a mother?! If at all l ever became one, l would be the coolest mum this world has ever known! I would be very liberal and give my kids all freedom, of course not at the cost of their safety! I would be their best friend and understand their points of view. I would be a forward-thinking, modern, chilled out mum! Unlike my Mamoni!
She was forever shooting down the brilliant ideas my teenage brain kept churning out and even giving me the occasional spank or boxing of the ear! How oppressed l was! My teenage spirit cried out for liberty….and justice!! The more l read about the French revolution and India’s freedom movement, the more they resonated with me! I could identify with all the feelings of subjugation and suffocation that the nationalists and rebels went through. I felt the stirrings of something similar within me each time an outstanding teenage brainwave was stifled by adult reasoning!
I had a good mind to gather like-minded and like-tortured teenagers and form some kind of an outfit that would fight for teenage rights!
Those days, God forbid, if any hemline should hover even an inch above the knees or the neckline dip to border on the hint of a cleavage! That was it! What would follow was this…..not only would the ‘fashionable’ clothing disappear into thin air for good, but also all such ‘modern’ and ‘rebellious’ lines of thinking emanating from our ‘woolly’, ‘flighty’ teenage heads! Such were the countermeasures!
Choice words like ‘privacy’ and ‘mood swings’ which today’s teenagers brandish and wield over their hapless parents ad nauseam were as alien to us and our creators as Martians from space!
Privacy? What’s that, again?! Sorry, we couldn’t tell you anything about it…never came across the fellow!
You were expected to share everything with your sibling(s), however unworthy he/she/they were, including your precious ‘private’ space, the Mills and Boon novel that you were reading on the sly, the Kit-Kat that you had gone through such pains to procure, the secrets that you had sworn by a blood-oath to keep to yourself… every little thing that belonged to you, belonged to him/ her/ them! Sibling rivalry?! No Sir, in our days sibling ‘revelry’ was more like it!!
Considering everything then, l was kind of blessed! Why? Well, l had a brother for a sibling, thank Almighty! Else even my clothes and other unmentionable items in my toiletry wouldn’t have been my own!!
And as far as ‘mood swings’ were concerned, the only thing that would ‘swing’ at home those days was either a rolling pin (‘belan’) or a comb or a wooden ruler, at its target, more commonly my sibling, or on rare occasions, me, flung by Mamoni with impeccable accuracy! I would often wonder why she had never tried for the Olympics! Such precision!!
To continue, if a teenager in our days, so much as even dared to exhibit any ‘mood’ other than one which fell-in-line-with-parents’-mood, he/she was done for! The next few weeks/days/hours would be spent in ‘remedial sessions’ and proper upbraiding, depending on the extent to which the teenager had strayed from the desired path!!
The general consensus amongst parents in our times was that teenagers were not to have any moods (leave alone swinging ones!), desires of privacy or secrecy, and definitely no thrills or adventures or any-venture for that matter, the blueprint of which, was not minutely pre-examined by the keen eyes of the mother (mostly) and pre-approved!!
Dear teenager, you were not allowed a personality and definitely not a life of your own, yet! We were absolute putty in the hands of our guardians, more or less as a survival instinct! Any deviation, anyway-wardness was dealt with, with an iron hand, literally(ouch!)!
I still remember a certain misadventure from when l was nearly 14 …those days Mills and Boon romantic novels were a rage amongst us teenagers. The best thing about them was the oh-so-thrilling sense of forbiddance! The adrenaline rush we experienced the moment we picked up an M&B paperback, was something else altogether! It was all so very hush-hush! So very thrilling to be doing something adults so thoroughly disapproved of!
This one-night l slipped into bed with an M&B in my hand that a classmate at school had lent me, to read under the blanket. After lights out, l pulled it out from under my pillow and began my (mis-)adventure with full gusto, a little wary though. In the subdued light of the torch, l began to wolf down the novel at a speed that would put light to shame and soon was completely immersed in it. Just as l was getting to the racy part, suddenly l realised that my world seemed to have become a lot brighter! Wonder of wonders, my paperback and l were no longer concealed under the blanket!! But…but….. and then, to my complete horror l looked up to see my father standing right next to my bed and glaring down at me in utter disbelief! I froze right there like a deer caught in the headlights, and put the novel tamely onto his outstretched hand for a closer inspection, expecting to be spanked any moment now! And then, to my equal bewilderment, Babuji walked away with the object of controversy, asking me to go to sleep! Not another word did he say! A very sleepless night later, l was packed off to school in the morning with clear instructions to bring home my ‘lender’ classmate for a chat with my parents! Oh no no no!! This couldn’t be happening!!What terrible embarassment! I much preferred being spanked or sermonised or even having my ears boxed! With a sinking heart, l entered my class and poured out the entire story to my friend, who shot me a ‘l-am-going-to- kill-you’ and ‘l-am-so-dead’ look at the same time! Till date l don’t know how she managed both! Being served a summons from an adult, she had little choice but to comply. Both of us girls defeatedly trooped home and sat through my father’s sombre chastising with hung heads. I know my friend has never forgiven me for getting caught and her first hand embarrassment over the whole incident!
Afterwards, all the adrenaline pumping through my veins simply dried away like drought and any further ideas of teenage rebellion in my head died like candle flames, on their own! I managed to look suitably guilty both at home and at school amongst my classmates, who vowed to never again share their priceless treasures with me! I was persona non grata for quite a while!
Adolescence, they say, is hostage to hormones. And these hormones do nothing short of wreaking havoc on the bodies and minds of these half-children-half-adults! The result? Transitioning bodies and messed up minds! The only constant is confusion!
The one thing that the messed up, confused mind of the teenager does with alarming frequency is lose control of itself and fall head over heels in love with another, commonly a teenager! Now, depending on the durability of the feeling and attainability of the object of desire, it was either termed a ‘crush'(usually a short term, tempestuous kind of emotion, towards an ‘unattainable’ target) or ‘serious love'(generally the long term, saner variety towards a more ‘attainable’ target!). Parental regulations back then ensured that most ‘crushes’ were crushed beyond recognition while ‘serious love’ was seriously and out-rightly rejected by them as an impossible phenomenon! How could a teenager know anything about an emotion as deep and complex as love?! It was unfathomable for our parents! It was nearly impossible to broach any matters of the heart with the older generation and such things had to be kept strictly under wraps, with the only pair of sympathetic ears often being your partner(-in-crime)if one was lucky!
Another gift of raging teenage hormones that l was a victim of was …l still shudder to think… pimples! Those teeny weeny, apparently harmless little things that popped up on our faces in the most embarassing of locations, at the most inopportune of moments and left ugly tell-tale marks! As l agonized over every single zit that showed up and proceeded to apply anything anyone suggested, ranging from fruits to vegetables to raw grains to Fuller’s earth, my Ma remained completely oblivious to the immense self-consciousness and low self-esteem l was experiencing thanks to these little red devils! Appearance has always been of prime importance to teenagers, already caught between changing voices, morphing bodies, hair turning up in the most unlikely and unspeakable of places…and then imagine a tiny, red, angry-looking zit on the top of your nose rendering you powerless, just like that! How bad could things get!! They wouldn’t disappear overnight, no matter how important it was to look good on the morrow and whatever express measures you put in place! They took their own sweet time, coming and going at will, playing with the vulnerable self-esteem of us teenagers! And all that our parents could do was click their tongues and say with doubtful sympathy,” The hormones, dears…the hormones”! As if that helped!
Looking back at my teenage years, l now realise that my peers and l felt so many things at so many times, but we were not informed or brave enough or rather, lacked awareness regarding issues that could trouble adolescents. We never quite managed to put into words several complex and conflicting emotions that fought for recognition and acknowledgement in us. Our parents, God bless them, had little or no real understanding of teenage years or adolescence being a very special and fragile period of life, where their children had special concerns and special needs. There was no concept of mental health issues of the teenager…and hence no vigilance, nothing by way of redressal. There was no internet and its progeny, social media, and hence no exposure, timely or untimely, to phenomena peculiar to teenagers.
By comparison, the teenagers of today are a blessed lot, though l am not sure they are counting their blessings! As parents to GenZ, we are a lot more in tune with the needs, wants and problems of our teenagers…yes, we may not understand them a hundred percent or agree with everything, but the awareness and intent are very much there. And it is much more than can be said of our times.
Our teenagers can talk to us about anything under the sun, and that includes topics traditionally considered ‘taboo’ like gender dysphoria, doubts about sexual orientation, relationship issues etc. With our limited understanding and ongoing deciphering of today’s teenage-psyche, we do try to help them negotiate the sudden bends and curveballs in the journey of their lives…. but whether we’ve really made a difference and what they make of it , only time will tell. Though l do acknowledge and accept, that being a teenager in these times is also no easy task.. the precocious exposure to needless information plays havoc with the regulation and development of some very important instincts.
Unrestricted access to the internet and social media platforms has interfered with the normal timeline of maturing of the teenager’s mind.
It is rightly said that teen-age or adolescence is a bridge between childhood and adulthood and hence like all good bridges, it is important that this period transports the individual from one end to the other safely.
No matter how orthodox and authoritarian our parents were, how unversed they were in matters of the teenage-mind, how unaware of teenage-lingo, they did manage to keep us on track, instil the right values and see that we, as a generation, grew up to be well equipped to handle frustrations. Teenagers these days are grappling with mental health issues……their coping mechanisms are next to non-existent.
Though we, as parents, are so much more approachable and accessible to our teenagers, though we have taught ourselves to be their friends and speak their language, it is quite obvious, is it not, that we are doing something wrong somewhere? Isn’t it our sacred duty to see that our teenagers make it to the other side of the bridge, in sound body and mind, as complete individuals? It surely is. The battle is far from over.. the jury is still out.. we, parents, have miles to go and promises to keep!!
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Puja is a child specialist by profession and a humanist by passion, her soul is stirred by humane acts of selflessness and love. Her other interests are reading,writing ( prose and poetry ), singing, listening to music. She is a tigress mom and a fiercely loyal friend to have! And last but not the least she is a softie with a sharp tongue and a hopeless romantic who believes in all ' happily-ever-afters'!!