A favorite scene from Little Miss Sunshine came to mind recently while reading Jennifer Senior's New York Magazine January 28, 2013 cover piece, "High School is a Sadistic Institution:"
Dwayne: I wish I could just sleep until I was eighteen and skip all this crap-high school and everything-just skip it.
Frank: Do you know who Marcel Proust is?
Dwayne: He's the guy you teach.
Frank: Yeah. French writer. Total loser. Never had a real job. Unrequited love affairs. Gay. Spent 20 years writing a book almost no one reads. But he's also probably the greatest writer since Shakespeare. Anyway, he uh... he gets down to the end of his life, and he looks back and decides that all those years he suffered, Those were the best years of his life, 'cause they made him who he was. All those years he was happy? You know, total waste. Didn't learn a thing. So, if you sleep until you're 18... Ah, think of the suffering you're gonna miss. I mean high school? High school-those are your prime suffering years. You don't get better suffering than that.
Senior's idea is that in what is now known to be the most impressionable years of our lives, we are put in a big box with hundreds, if not thousands of other people at the same stage of life. A century ago, the majority of teens spent most of their waking hours alongside adults. Teenagers today, according to the piece, spend just 16 hours per week interacting with adults. "Such a situation...is likely to reward aggression. Absent established hierarchies and power structures (apart from the privileges that naturally accrue from being an upperclassman), kids create them on their own, and what determines those hierarchies is often the crudest common-denominator stuff--looks, nice clothes, prowess in sports--rather than the subtleties of personality."
Poor kids. It's not enough they have to deal with raging hormones, acne, college applications, and prom dates, or lack-thereof. High school is an environment "where it's treacherously easy to be labeled and stuck on a shelf." Those labels, and the resulting shame, stay with us ALL OF OUR LIVES even if we finally become successes.
So what is the takeaway? Be kind to your teen. They've had a hard day.