Age is relative – three years between you and your partner means nothing in your mid-40s, but in primary school it’s freaking creepy. There are people who make masterpieces aged 16, and those who only start creating once they’re retired. An 18 year old and a 77 year old can have a fantastic conversation together on the effects of the media, and a 44 year old and a 52 year old could be the absolute worst people at discussing the same topic.
That’s accepted by now, for the most part. However, we still have lots and lots of…restrictions, you could call them, on what people of certain ages are allowed to do. It always makes me wonder how valid age restrictions are, and if there is such thing as a ‘perfect age’ for, well, anything.
For instance, what is the right age to start having romantic relationships? I came across this really excellent video about homophobia, ‘If ‘Heterophobia’ Were Real’, and I thought it was great in the way it made you think about society’s treatment of gay people. My only issue with it was what I saw as the ridiculously young age of the protagonist and her love interest.
It’s an American film, of course, and Ashley seems to be a middle school student, judging from the classroom setting. To me, she looks even younger than that, maybe 10 years old, but I tend to be a little off, so I’m happy to accept that she’s probably about 12 years old, a normal age for children starting middle school.
That, essentially, is my problem with Ashley’s character. She’s 12. She really shouldn’t be having any kind of romantic relationship with her peers, she should be playing Neopets or climbing a tree or something. In my opinion, children are being brought up in an increasingly sexualised world in which open sexuality is seen as somehow equivalent to maturity, when that is in actuality only a small part of it.
I realise that this is partially because I personally feel no need to have boyfriend, or even to date. That’s my personal, individual stance – I’m 15 years old, and I don’t think I should date because I don’t really want to, and that’s fine. One of the reasons I don’t is that it seems a little pointless to me, because I would never do anything more than kiss and cuddle with my boyfriend at this age – I think 15 is far too young to be sleeping with people, regardless of whether both are willing and consenting or not. A 15 year old is, under most circumstances, simply not mature enough to properly weigh the consequences of something as serious as sleeping with someone.
American society seems to be particularly bad for sending children the message that they need a boyfriend or girlfriend to be normal. In the film, the teacher concerned about her heterosexual tendencies suggests that she gets a girlfriend. The figure of authority actively encourages the young people under his care to pursue romantic relationships with one another.
I can’t pretend to fully understand it, but I have a relatively deep understanding of American culture due to watching so many of my closest friends live it, and of course from being raised on Hollywood ideals, and in general consuming so much American media, whether in the form of blogs, books, songs or anything else. American teenagers begin to date early and also ascribe a lot of importance to these relationships (obviously this is not limited to American teens, I am merely using them as my prime examples).
To me, this seems like something we should be changing. Of course, a certain amount of this dating is lovely, wholesome-American-family, innocent, holding-hands-and-not-much-else. That’s all it should be, until perhaps age 16 onwards. Until then, teenagers are really just glorified children, aren’t they? Yes, they’re gradually moving into the adult world, and of course this transitional period can be very difficult, I realise that. A common lament of teenagers, shared on Facebook and retweeted on Twitter by the younger denizens of the sites, is that the reason teenagers find life in general so difficult is that ‘adults treat them like children but expect them to act like adults’. However, I find that to be a little unfair – yes, there are some people who treat teenagers like 10-year-olds and they’re really not the same people, but most treat them like the specific, separate group they are – teenagers – and few people really expect teenagers to act like adults. Except, it seems…in terms of relationships.
For some reason, teenagers seem to be encouraged to have relationships just like adults, though obviously minus certain aspects like perhaps living with each other, as most teens still live with their family. Presumably, this is the result of media constantly feeding young children messages about how getting a girl (or guy) is pretty much the most important thing ever – no matter what other fantastic things they might be doing (or not so fantastic), in the end of almost every movie, book or show that our children are brought up on, there will be a romantic pairing – the girl protagonist ends up with the boy, or more commonly, the guy gets the girl he’s been trying unsuccessfully to get throughout the show. Of course, there’s a whole new issue here with sexism and our society’s idea that men should be rewarded with a beautiful girl if they succeed. But my point is, all these media forms train children to think that romantic relationships are our main goal in life, and, with very young characters pairing up, and just from consuming all this media from such a young age, the general public comes to think that the sooner you get a girlfriend or boyfriend, the better you are. This media never stops to point out that for a romantic relationship to be worth anything, each participant must be mature and actually understand what’s going in such a relationship.
With the influence of all this media, and the vicious-cycle effects of watching their older siblings and other older role models in their life also succumb to this ‘must not be single’ thinking, teens begin to date at an earlier and earlier age. Apart from just being ridiculous – even teens agree that ‘twelvies’, that is, 11-13 year olds who make a fuss about their relationship woes, are stupid – it’s dangerous, because teenagers simply aren’t equipped to have this kind of complex relationship.
Somehow, our society expects teens to act like adults with relationships – yet wouldn’t dare expect them to be so mature in most other areas – teens aren’t expected to be able to budget by themselves, think about the long-term consequences of their actions, realise that having Vans really isn’t that important, or be aware of national politics or international issues that aren’t being promoted by the media.
This encouraged sexuality only leads to more issues occurring earlier in life – for instance, referring once more to Ashley, the straight little girl from the short film – if children (and that’s what they are, children) weren’t constantly being told that relationships were central to their happiness, their own sexual preferences wouldn’t be called to attention, and if someone’s being gay isn’t brought to attention, then, well, it shouldn’t cause much of an issue – that’s their personal persuasion, and their only issues should be the exact same as a heterosexuals – liking somebody who doesn’t like them back for whatever reason, whether it’s because the object of their affection doesn’t share the same sexual preferences, or just that they don’t like the particular person in ‘that way’.
Look at it this way – how often do 13 year olds bully each other over their personal political views? Yes, there may be some circumstances where this does occur, but let’s face it, it’s very uncommon. Caring about politics is a sign of maturity just as much as caring about who you’re ‘with’, so why is it that relationships are the only aspect of maturity that teenagers embrace?
I am aware that things like puberty and hormones all factor into this, but I still believe what I have just written about. To put it quite bluntly, no matter what awakenings of desire, or however else you might choose to put it, are present in a teenager mind, they can be controlled, and would be controlled, if only our society didn’t encourage such thoughts not only be allowed to continue, but also to override other aspects of a teen’s mind, and to start at an earlier and earlier age.