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The wonder years: What it's really like to be a teenager

Exam results are out — and the pressures now begin to mount for our young people. But how difficult is it to cope with 21st century adolescence? Ursula Corrigan, 17, from Jordanstown, tells it as she sees it

Young people today strive for perfection. The perfect grades, the perfect body, the perfect boyfriend, overall the perfect life. However, we wonder is this dream attainable in today’s society?

I, like any other 17-year-old, am no different. Our generation has always been encouraged to aim higher and to not accept failure.

This week is highly significant as many young people like me received their exam results on Thursday and are trying to cope with the fact that our prospects are less than ever before and the future that much more uncertain, due to universities warning that places this year are much more difficult to attain.

I did very well with my AS-levels and am pleased, but that does not mean my academic future is as assured as it was before the axe fell on education spending.

As a member of the younger generation in our community, I feel I am offered a range of mixed messages from those considered our ‘elders’ — those who ‘know better’. I feel somewhat confused about what lies ahead: it’s hard to stay positive when the world is becoming a game show of survival of the fittest.

I am lucky enough to feel confident within my own skin, well, most of the time that is. With the media consistently putting pressures on teenagers to become size zero, and then telling us that size zero is unacceptable, I don’t know what is the ‘perfect’ size, what boys my age like and, indeed, is that even important?

My friends and I probably would not go one day without speaking about boys. Who likes who and why, and we would regularly discuss how to act a certain way when with boys in order to gain their attention.

Every girl wants someone in their life, someone to concentrate on, so they can turn to them when life gets tough and when they need a distraction from the ups and downs of life.

However, as a single 17-year-old I have noticed how many girls my age become dependant on their boyfriends, on their ‘other half,’ therefore when something goes wrong, other aspects, including education and friendships, get battered too.

It is very hard to find a perfect medium especially when our lives are getting busier by the day with more concerns and goals to be met and hopes and aspirations to be reached for.

On top of striving for academic success we are always expected to look beautiful, act responsible, study harder, plan our future and also find time to go out and have fun; no wonder young people are feeling the pressure.

There are also for many, many teenagers the insidious pressures of drinking too much alcohol at too young an age or trying out soft drugs.

Many issues that teenagers face are swept under the carpet. Okay, we often do stupid things, act inappropriately — however we do have our insecure side and our emotions aren’t always addressed with many parents believing their teenagers are simply going through a ‘phase’.

It’s times like these that we |turn to our friends, those who know us inside out and have been there to give us advice, to stand |up for us when other peers may make us feel insecure and to cheer us up when we are having a bad day in school.

But I often feel in a way I have a few different personalities — one I portray for my family and one I portray in front of my friends. I usually don’t tend to mix these two people up as each one provides a break from the other one, a time to switch off.

Then again there also is a ‘school mode’ switch and this mode is the one you show your teachers, who we aim to impress, to show that we are, in fact, the right student, the one who can achieve more than is ever expected of us. Although the older generation are quick to point out that our dreams will never be achieved if most of us spend 60% of our day on Facebook!

Of course, every parent wants the best for their child, and my Mum and Dad are no different. I know there are many, many teenagers who have not had the luck or privilege of my upbringing, who fall off the radar. My parents let me know that I can achieve anything but as I grow older this vast choice becomes limited and I begin to realise there is a very slim chance that I will actually become hugely successful and insanely rich.

But I dream, for we all must have our dreams.

In reality, though, many young people throw themselves into a university course in order to make their parents proud and provide them with a ‘topic of conversation' when chatting with their friends and relations.

We desperately strive not to disappoint them.

I know my parents will try and do everything to make my life happy. But, unfortunately there is often not a lot they can do in reality, the future is in our hands, or so we are told repeatedly.

Although many adults discuss frequently that parents these days do not have enough control over their children, I totally disagree. I believe that my parents control a huge segment of my life; they effectively decide my religion, my school, and even sometimes influence my likes/dislikes etc.

But I believe this role is somewhat essential, they have the right amount of control, control that I will be reluctant to recoil from when I turn 18. Their ‘control' — if that is the word and it's not really — helps me feel cared for and loved.

With exam results out, bringing with them a range of mixed feelings from elation to disappointment, young people need to fully consider our options for the future.

Many students like myself |have spent the last year endlessly sifting through hundreds of university prospectuses trying to find one that would best suit our career aspirations.

But we need to become realistic and recognise it will not just be a good degree that will land us a perfect job but a range of different skills from good teamwork to even learning a foreign language.

Trying to secure a job and a future these days is like trying to win the lottery.

As a young person I need to make sure I stand out from the crowd so I can have the best chance possible.

Progression to further education has become the ‘norm' to most and a good degree in the past has almost guaranteed a well-paid job.

However, due to the increasing number of new graduates combined with the difficult financial climate, we young people are facing a ‘dog eat dog' world where having a degree doesn’t necessarily cut it.

This is illustrated in a recent statistics by the Higher Education Statistics Agency who state that 10% of graduates are currently unemployed. It has been argued that schools are too ‘university focused' and young people should be encouraged to consider other options such as learning a trade.

However, while this may have been a viable path in the past it too has become a very difficult area to penetrate in the last few years.

I feel our generation needs to remain optimistic about what the future holds because if we want something badly enough we will seek to obtain it no matter how many obstacles are in our way.

We are only young once. We should enjoy this time.

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