Teen Spirit

Photo by Jacquelyn Rodriguez

By Jacquelyn Rodriguez

An analysis of teen spirit when you feel like you never really had it.

Turning 19 felt different than turning any other age – and I don’t mean that in an I-suddenly-woke-up-feeling-more-mature-type-of-way. What I mean is that turning 19 made me realize that I had entered my last year as a teenager, and it made me uneasy. When I take a moment to think about it, I can rationalize that 19 is not much different from 20. My schedule would still be a constant rotation of school, work, extracurriculars, cups and cups of coffee, and the occasional hangout with friends. Besides, I had friends that were already 20, and their lives didn’t look much different from mine. I knew that I wasn’t growing out of my “youth” or whatever, since 20 is still very, very young in the grand scheme of things. If I could list off all the reasons that turning 20 wouldn’t be a life-changing event, then why did I hear a shaky voice rising from within, telling me to run, run, run to something that was slipping away?

What is teen spirit anyways?

In my head, it was the essence of those cheesy, coming-of-age teen blockbuster movies. It was wild parties, adventures with friends, first kisses, and high school sweethearts. It was the freedom of venturing far from home (without parental supervision!) on some distant journey towards self-discovery. 

Looking back at my own teen years, I felt like I never really had that. Bad people skills, a chronically low social battery, and RBF didn’t help my social life at all. Talking to people was nerve-wracking, and I focused more on being likable than making sure that I actually liked socializing. In the end, I hid a part of myself (however cringy she was) because I was too worried about not being someone’s cup of tea. Going on a crazy teen adventure was also super hard when your parents were incredibly strict. It wasn’t until I turned 18 that I was given more freedom, but even then, I didn’t know what to do with it. 

The truth was, I was scared of turning 20 because I felt like I had missed out on a memorable part of my life. After all, teenhood is often romanticized as the pinnacle of youth, the best years of our lives, and a period we’ll romanticize forever. Some lucky people can have stellar teenhoods decked out with parties, adventures, and loads of friends, but others do not. Maybe the reality is that teen spirit takes on different definitions for different people. Maybe teen spirit can be the opportunity for growth and transformation. Maybe it can be that awkwardness, that cringe, that trial and error. Maybe it can be the growing pains we have to go through before we flourish into our most radiant selves. 

My teen years were confusing, painful, and very, very lonely at times. The most important part, however, is that they’re over and done with. There isn’t much I can do besides take the good and put the bad to rest. Moving forward, I have to silence the what-ifs of the past and ground myself in the present. Even though I didn’t have many exhilarating teen adventures, I did have the chance to grow and figure out who I am. There’s no doubt that I am happier, more comfortable, and more confident in the person I am now than I was a few years ago. I’m sure I’m not the only one that’s had these thoughts, so please feel free to share your own feelings about what teen spirit is to you!

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