by Abby Nye
Middle school is a turbulent time where you have to attend a school crammed full of young teenagers battling raging hormones, new surroundings and overwhelming insecurity. When I was in middle school, I believed the most important thing was what people thought about me. Since graduating from the public school system and coming to a university that I chose, I’ve experienced a huge increase in my confidence. Being able to make choices for myself has opened up more doors than ever before. Looking back, I see the confinement that adolescents experience in the public school systems. We must recognize the injustices and discrimination that are placed on youth and be willing to encourage those high school and middle school students to stand up against it.
In general, I’m a rule-follower. Therefore, the public schools treated me nicely. I participated in sports and music and got my homework in on-time. Basically, I did everything right. However, there was a huge piece that didn’t fall into place for me. No extracurricular activities clicked. I was just average all around, and the further I got in school, the more I feared that there would be nothing that I was naturally successful at. It wasn’t until my senior year in high school that I noticed the binding expectations that had been placed on me throughout my teenage years.
I began to see the locked doors of my high school, subtly indicating to me that the administration didn’t believe me responsible enough to go down the street at lunchtime for an off-campus meal. Students would be locked out of classrooms if they were late, forcing them to take the class period in the school office. I saw students get disciplined for skateboarding in the parking lot during lunch, profiled as “troublemakers” due to their leisure activities. This subtle distrust in the students became clear on my last day of senior year with our senior prank, where we playfully tossed the last of our high school paper assignments over a balcony. This prank was violently shut down by resource officers pulling hair and yanking students to the ground. I ended up in the administrator’s office with a few other students telling these adults they were not being fair. We were told we were wrong and dismissed.
This treatment of the younger generation undermines their independence and takes away opportunities for them to learn responsibility. It is up to those who have a voice outside the system to speak up. Adolescents deserve a constructive system that incorporates freedom and responsibility. As those who know this system and the unfair expectations, it is our job as adults to remind adolescents that they have independence and influence. As college students, we have the opportunity to reach out and be an encouragement to these younger students. Volunteering at a youth group or homeless teen shelter, becoming a tutor and looking for jobs in after school care are all ways that we can give our time to be a support and an encouragement for these students. In these positions, we can show grace and love, without expectations.