Hammed is 17 years old, and wants to do well in school but he finds himself stuck in one of the lowest echelons of secondary school society – that of the “social outcast,” “rebel,” “goth,” or to blanket all terms, “geek.” The logic today is, if you are clever as a teenager, you had better belong to a happening group in school or you would be scorned by peers, whereupon adults will start crossing the road to avoid you.
“People are so negative about teenagers,” says Tolu Ogundipe, a secondary school teacher, “whereas most of them are adorable, funny, interesting, imaginative, brave, generous, loyal, hard-working and helpful. Why are so many people so negative about teenagers and so rude to them? I’m not talking about the ones who fight each other at bus stops and torment each other to suicide on social networking websites, about whom we read so much in the scared and scare-mongering newspapers. I’m talking about everyday, normal teenagers.”
Teenagers, observe some psychologists, are often stereotyped and maligned and most adults think they deserve to be badly treated. “It is not every teenager who gets the opportunity to be a hero should be adored,” adds Ogundipe, “but in my experience they are not lazy sods who never get out of bed.”
Stella is a 16-year-old student who says she works out an average teenage school day. She is up at 6.30am, leaves at 7.45am for school; out again at 4pm, extra curricular stuff till 5pm, home 5.45pm, three hours of homework, to 8.45pm, by which time, if she is to get the recommended nine and a half hours’ sleep, she should go to bed.
“Teenagers do, physically, need around nine and half hours sleep a night,” says Nike Solanke, a medical practitioner, during which new brain cells are wired, thus increasing intelligence, self-awareness and performance. “They get on average about seven hours, whereupon they often become cranky, slower-witted and resentful,” Solanke says.
According to her, teenagers’ brains work better during the afternoon. “They are not lazy, they are biologically programmed. There are simple reasons why they never clean up. First, they have not the time. Second, nobody clears up as much as someone else might want them to. Third, they are not usually as good at it as adults. They have not had the practice,” she explains.
Problems teenagers are faced with today can take so many forms. Even in stable, solid family units, teenagers will face confusion and uncertainty with themselves and life. But in today’s world of divorce, broken homes, unsafe sex and alcohol abuse, teenagers face issues that show themselves in different ways to different individuals.
Some teenagers think they are not badly behaved. “Everyone expects you to rebel,” says Kehinde, a 6ft, 16-year-old karate black belt holder with the voice of an angel and a cute afro, “so people go along with it because if you don’t, other teenagers reject you, because they are scared of being rejected.”
Everybody wants to fit in; everybody wants to stand out is a common syndrome among teenagers, and Ronke, a 17-year-old, says: “The worst thing is that some of us act exactly how we want because we are teenagers, but others feel as if they should act a certain way to be a teenager.”
“It’s a vicious circle,” agrees Sandra, 16. “People say, ‘Oh, she’s weird,’ to make themselves look not weird. To look bigger by putting someone else down. I hate it.”
“Possibly, the rudest thing adults do to teenagers is to assume they are always trying to steal from their parents or drink,” adds Ogundipe. “Some are and, of course, they shouldn’t. But can we bear in mind that they are constantly being told that particular items are “must haves” and led to believe that possession is the source of all joy?”
Flora, 15, who lives in the North but comes to Lagos once in a while, this rather disqualifies her from being a teenager at all, given their public image. “I actually really enjoy the suspicious looks. I find it absolutely hilarious that anyone could find me intimidating or think that I’m dangerous in any way,” she says.
“I think there is an insidious tendency to moan about our own children in order not to appear smug. It may be part of the great female self-deprecation habit, whereby no woman will admit to being even passably good-looking. If this is the case, we are making a big error: our children are not us. Would we belittle our friends? I think not. Husbands and partners? Maybe, but when people do that in public don’t you wish they wouldn’t? Our teenagers still, more than ever, on that long journey from childhood to adulthood, want, need and deserve our encouragement and admiration,” says Tope Adeoti, a parent.