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The truth about growing up: Is your youth really the ‘best years’?

“These will be the best years of your life.”

Whether it’s in a teen drama, a YA fiction novel, an 80s movie, or even your dad patting you on the back before your first day of high school, chances are you have definitely come across this expression before. And why shouldn’t you?

Our teenage years and twenties are supposed to be the life of the party, the stuff we reflect on in our old age, blissfully recalling skipping class to meet with a crush or drinking at wild parties at University. Those moments we sat with our friends on rooftops and just talked are the highlights of our lives.

Well, sort of.

History of Being a Good Kid

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Honestly speaking, it’s easy to see why we have an infatuation with our youth. I mean, our media is filled with it.

There are countless songs, movies, and books that are depicted either in high school or have a young protagonist. The teens are usually played by a 20-something in film and tv though.

There are notable exceptions that actually have age-appropriate actors like the film Eighth Grade and ongoing cult series Degrassi, or the latest HBO coming of age skater series Betty. This isn’t to say it’s a bad thing that our media represents youth. I mean, shit, I love Khalid’s album American Teen.

Being a teen is pretty much the last years of being a child but also learning and exploration of newer things that border adulthood. And that comes with the last remnants of childhood innocence.

Which, to be fair, childhood innocence is kind of an old concept. Maybe not as old as you think—childhood innocence first became a full concept in the 19th century.

This was particularly fleshed out during the Victorian Era and was an influence during the Age of Innocence, thanks to writings of Rousseau and Locke, in the 18th and 17th centuries, respectively.

But all this reasoning aside, it still puts a ton of pressure on us, during our youth, to make it the best we can be, and cherish it for all that it is.


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The problem with that is that, of course, being a young teenager isn’t so glorious. I mean, hell, I never cut class to meet with a boy. And my friends sure as hell didn’t care about the highs and lows of high school football as much as some shows make you think you would.

Being a teen is cool because there’s no responsibility, unlike the overwhelming responsibilities of being an adult. But there are a lot more things that you essentially cannot control.

Like worsening politics, that are killing our postal service. Or the fact that North Carolina had their first ‘big’ earthquake since 1916, serving as a reminder that climate change is ever-present.

Teens under 18 cannot vote, they aren’t always able to find jobs (nor are they always allowed to) and go through a lot that is often beyond their control (like this pandemic).

A lot of what’s going on is incomprehensible even to adults. Like navigating love for the first time or handling family troubles. Teenagers have to figure out their major and their whole life track before they even go to college.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t know if my teen years were really worth all that hype. In fact, I preferred adult things like living on my own in an apartment, choosing when to go out, and with whom, being able to travel by myself. I love the autonomy that adulthood brought me.

Media romanticizes youth, because of these innocuous notions that, well, have been there for a pretty long time. It’s also a lot easier, sometimes in a story format. Percy Jackson and Harry Potter are kids who find themselves suddenly in a fantastical world—if they were forty, would it still carry the same appeal? I mean, maybe it should.

But it’s not what’s always on the screens. It’s also an ageist thing. According to the AARP, only 15% of online images represent adults who are 50-plus. And often, this representation is overwhelmingly inaccurate and negative.


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It’s easy to reflect on the happy moments of youth and want it all back. Simple, easy days where nothing was complicated and you didn’t have to figure out how to make rent or file for unemployment or search for a job during a pandemic. However, this does us a disservice.

Getting older means more freedom and power to chase after what we want in life. Obviously, it can also be scary, especially in today’s world—there’s so much responsibility, it can seem daunting. Everything that was out of control when you were a kid, is totally up to you to change when you’re an adult.

But it doesn’t have to be scary. It doesn’t mean we have to let go of doing the things we like or settle for things we don’t. Hell, this pandemic still sucks even for the kids who don’t have to worry about making rent.

There’s nothing wrong with getting old but somehow it feels like there’s everything in our way. Maybe it’s one of those movie hypotheses, you know, the one where it turns out that we were our own obstacles all along. But regardless, life is what we make of it. Or, if you can’t buy that right now, think about this:

Someday, quarantine and the widespread fear of catching COVID will come to an end (or more accurately, be severely less of a problem). This will eventually end and our circumstances will become different.

And what do you want to do when that day is finally here? And even bigger than that, will you be happy with who you are, instead of chasing after what was?