Teenagers have always amazed me They’re learning to rely less on that lawless amygdala and more on the cultured frontal cortex, which is a big ask of anyone’s biology. They have serious ideas about changing the world, but they still have the energy and fun-loving nature of younger children. Teenagers are full of righteous anger, relentless optimism, and an absolutely uncanny sense of the best lighting for phone pictures. Unfortunately, they’re often maligned in the media and by older generations, which is how I find myself arguing with Aunt Patty over Christmas dinner when she notes how entitled young people today “just want cash.”
In defense of these amazing people, I’m undoing five popular myths about teenagers.
1. They’re the worst generation.
Every generation thinks the latest generation is the worst. Even in Ancient Rome, the popular belief about teenagers was that they were lazy and selfish. Seneca the Elder wrote in the first century, “Our young men have grown slothful. Their talents are left idle, and there is not a single honorable occupation for which they will toil night and day.” The Boomers today who love to hate on Gen Z for their moral failings were once told by their parents and grandparents that their love of rock and roll would usher in a societal apocalypse. My point: The kids are fine.
2. They’re self-absorbed.
From my own experience with teenagers, I’m willing to posit that today’s teenagers are more inclusive, accepting, and open-minded than any other generation. But their selflessness is backed up by data. According to a recent study, Gen Z is not only remarkably generous when compared to other generations, but they are just as engaged with the issues of today as previous generations (and may even be better at tackling them).
3. They’re “soft.”
I don’t know, y’all. Let’s look at what older generations can’t handle. Pitching unhinged fits at retail workers or restaurant employees over slight inconveniences. Banning books they find “offensive” for promoting values different from theirs. Equating having to wear a face mask to atrocities in the Holocaust. You’re going to tell Gen Z they’re the soft ones? (For the record, I’m making a broad generalization about older generations to show the error in making similar generalizations about teenagers.)
4. They’re lazy.
I don’t know about you, but if I had to sit in seven back-to-back meetings with 30 minutes for lunch (aka a normal school day for teenagers) and then did it again for nine months out of the year, I would balk at anyone calling me lazy. And that’s without the commitments most teenagers have before and after school for things like homework, sports, clubs, jobs, community groups, helping with childcare at home, and other responsibilities.
I’m constantly amazed at the doggedness teenagers have when they put their minds to something, whether it’s mastering an elaborate TikTok video (a very simple one took me four hours last week) or challenging a school’s archaic dress code in creative and inarguable ways. We often underestimate their persistence and energy, but their ability to make meaningful change has no bounds. Which leads me to my next myth:
5. They’re incapable of big change.
Teenagers and young people have long been leading the charge on social, environmental, and other justice movements. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (or SNCC) played a huge role in the Civil Rights Movement, but Black teenagers were mobilizing for equity as early as the 1870s. Teenagers today are creating and leading movements for Indigenous water rights, access to period products, ending gun violence, and other issues they’re passionate about. They’ve invented tactile writing systems, helped diversify children’s literature, and raised $2 million for causes in less than a week.
Dr. Kaitlin Popielarz, one of my most informative Twitter follows, recently posted this about teenagers’ oft-overlooked abilities:
I, for one, am not about to stand in their way.
Kindergartners, however? Terrifying.