They have huge opportunities and the internet at their fingertips. But they’re also under pressure to achieve – and to be perfect. Teenage girls from across the UK open their hearts to Channel 4 News.
With the awkwardness and the hormones; the sartorial mistakes and the sexting, life as a teenage girl is one big juggling act.
In the media, they tend to hit the headlines in scare stories about “generation sex” and the horrors of internet bullying. Or at the opposite extreme, when exam results and job prospects are in the spotlight.
But how does this generation of teenager girls compare to their mothers and grandmothers? And does the internet and youth-oriented society make life easier?
Ahead of the release of Teenage, a documentary film by Matt Wolf, charting the development of the concept of the teenager, Channel 4 News spoke to teenage girls of different ages – and from different places in the UK – about whether teenage girls in 2014 get a rough deal.
Beth, 13, Lincolnshire: We live our lives on the internet now: every joy, heartbreak, funny cat, new TV show or missing sock is blogged, tweeted, posted and liked for posterity.
It can be a scary place, for some people, with every new story about a fake personality or cyber-bullying incident. And I think we need a sort of “internet mentality conference”, to dispel some of the myths.
You are trying your hardest, yet you are categorised. You are a drain on the funds of the country – Chloe, 18
You see, teenagers and young adults are taking over. We’re talking about the things that we love: TV shows, books, films, comics, anime, and we are laughing and coming up with a whole kind of pidgin language to tell everyone these things, in the most excited way possible, because that cat riding a hoover MUST. BE. SHARED.
And we’re not just using it for laughs and cats: we’re organising protests, signing petitions, teaching people about injustice and rights and how we can make a better world, and it’s working.
So yes, we’re generation internet, and we are reaching out all over the globe: sending hope and “don’t give up” messages to a girl in Brooklyn; asking a womens studies student in Quebec about misogyny; or telling a boy in Birmingham the best way to cook an egg.
So please don’t give up on us and the internet yet: there’s so much we can do, if we all just sit down and agree on it.
Chloe K, 13, Carickfergus: As I was growing up, I always had this far-fetched idea in my mind that being a teenager was all about going out every weekend, leading a busy social life and having loads of hot boyfriends. Not to mention being a straight A-grade student too. But who am I kidding? The idea is nothing but imagination.
Ask any teenager, and I’m sure they’d be able to relate to me when I say that every parent has their own catchphrase which they say when they try to compare their teenage years to theirs. In my opinion there is no comparison.
I would say that I think a lot about the future and do think about what I look like and my weight. I would say teenagers worry a lot – Abby, 14
Becoming a teenager means that I’m not only getting older but I feel like I’m becoming moodier by the day. Quite simply, I feel like one big hormonal mess.
Speaking from a female’s point of view, my worry is my self-appearance: in today’s media, I feel like we are being overwhelmed with constant streams of models and celebrities being photo-shopped within an inch of their lives to give us young people the “perception of perfection”. This leads me and many others to be nearly paranoid of not being society’s definition of “perfect”. Questions such as, “does my hair look okay?”, “do I look fat in this?”, “will people laugh at me if I wear this red top?” circle my mind almost every day.
Personally, I think that we teenagers play a vital role in how the world will be shaped in future years to come. Take for example the issue of global warming and greenhouse effect; maybe if we don’t stop emitting all these gases into the atmosphere, will there be a future for us or our kids?
It’s not easy being a teenager: we get treated like kids but we’re expected to act like adults.
Photo: ‘Roommates listening to the radio’, by H. Armstrong Roberts (www.teenagefilm.com)
Rachel, 13, N.Ireland: All anyone seems to care about is their appearance and popularity. I don’t know why that is, but it’s not stereotypically girls – even boys feel like they have to look a certain way or act a certain way. I wish that I could go back to when I was a child and accepted everyone for who they are, without judging.
Exams and our future worry us too – some more than others – and they have a huge impact on our lives. I think that most of us have no idea what we want to do for the rest of our lives, yet we have to pick subjects that could impact our future. I don’t think adults realise how much pressure that is. The thought of becoming an adult soon is probably one of the scariest things for anyone.
Questions such as, ‘does my hair look okay?’, ‘do I look fat in this?’, ‘will people laugh at me if I wear this red top?’ circle my mind almost every day – Chloe, 13
There are very good things about being a teenager: we have more opportunities, we meet new people and we all get a good education. I guess we won’t value our teenage years until they are gone.
Chloe, 18, YMCA, Rugby: Many think that teenagers live in a world of immediate gratification, where when they want something, they have to have it now. (What girl doesn’t want to try out this new flattering outfit that her favourite celebrity is wearing right now?!) And the culture of advertising, celebrities and music in the UK has had a massive impact on teenagers.
In reality, there’s a lot of pressure: teenagers must choose at the age of 16 their future and the career they want to pursue, while battling adolescence.
You’re trying your hardest, yet you’re categorised. You are a drain on the funds of the country. I was thrown out of my dad’s house at the age of 18, for doing the same teenage stuff my mates did – nothing harmful. I had no idea where to go or who to turn to. I made mistakes and was thrown into situations I had never encountered before. The life of a teenager is full of new decisions and mistakes, so cut us some slack!
Elizabeth, 17, Hove, (south coast): In a general sense, there are a lot more opportunities available for our generation. Women especially have greater choice in their career – previous generations of women felt they could not be doctors or hold managerial roles for example. Now there is great focus on getting more women into the sciences, and campaigns for businesses to truly view women in the same light as men.
Personally, I’m optimistic about my future prospects: I’m thinking of university as a way of continuing my learning while improving my chances of getting a good job. I also know that my gender will not be a barrier for any career path I may choose.
Chloe, 17, County Antrim: In my generation, teenagers are brimming with naivety and inexperience. It is believed that life is simply a series of hoops, which are easily overcome.
Please don’t give up on us and the internet yet: there’s so much we can do – Beth, 13
But many teenagers’ ambitions are to achieve a lifetime of attention. The yearning to be heard and the competition to be the most boisterous has reached fever pitch amongst my generation. The thirst for knowledge has been replaced by the desire to be heard. Teenagers’ ambitions are becoming more egotistical and self-indulgent, with a lack of empathy for others.
Abby, 13, N.Ireland: A lot of people have a stereotype of teenagers. They seem to think that we are troublemakers. It is actually the small minority of teenagers that are like that.
Exams and choices and decisions can put teenagers under a lot of stress. And pressure: in this life today everybody has to be the “perfect” weight and look amazing a lot of the time. Quite a few teenagers feel they are not perfect.
I would say I think a lot about the future and I do think about what I look like and my weight. I would say teenagers worry a lot. I could write a big long list of what they worry about.