In the maze phase of life

In the maze phase of life

Kids today view the age of thirteen as an important milestone in their lives, writes Mala Kumar.

The word teenage almost always brings up the words rebellious, crazy, fun-loving, moody and spendthrifts. Insensitive, noisy, giggly, irresponsible, scatter-brained, the list of defining terms seems long and not so complimentary. However, these are cliched associations as borne out by a random check of the millenium's teenagers.

There are teens who devour Hunger Games, the Twilight series and Percy Jackson like their counterparts in the US or UK. And there are teenagers who do not read books for pleasure, do not know the meaning of the word teenager, nor the social notoriety associated with it. So it would be stupid and immature to draw generalities based on interaction with just a few young people, but the trend does seem to suggest that those stepping into their teens are a cheerful, sensitive, aspirational, and hard-working lot.
For the children born in the year 2000, this is a special year for they will turn teenagers.

Is that really an important milestone in a child's life? “Yes!” says an articulate Srushti Kottai, who turns 13 this year. “We are treated like little kids even now. At family functions, we are supposed to stay with kids and play with them. But I think I am a young adult, and want to be with young adults and have fun.

And yes, I want to be on Facebook so that I can make many, many friends!” Life is already full for this student of Sindhi High School in Bangalore, what with school, dance practice, art classes and sports.

In a village near Dharwad, Laxmi Chavan is a busy young girl about to become a teenager. One of six siblings, her day starts at 5 am. She cheerfully talks about breakfast, dance lessons, and her academic classes. This Lambani girl calmly says how happy she is to be at Kalkeri Sangeet Vidyalaya, an NGO where children get free education, and gurukul-style training in fine arts. Her cousins and many other Lambanis do not go to school. They sell clothes on the beach. So, the word teenager is quite new to Laxmi, and she carefully asks me for the meaning.

“Oh, so I will be a teenager in April,” she says. So does that make her feel special? Clearly, there are other things that make her more excited – her Bharatnatyam classes, her friends at Kalkeri, the things she learns about the world through the newspaper she reads every day, and her future.

“Hmmm, I don't know what I want to be when I grow up, I have to think,” says this teenager calmly. Her favourite subject is Hindi she says, and from that moment, she switches from flawless English to flawless Hindi. As a child from a wandering tribe, abandoned by the father, this girl's life has taken an exciting turn, thanks to her own grit and also the support of the founders and volunteers of Kalkeri Sangeet Vidyalaya.

Teenage is that phase when a person wants to take charge of their own life. Says Srushti, “Till now I have done things that the elders told me to do. But now I can decide things for myself. I want to make my own decisions. I may still not know everything and need help, but surely I can be more independent!”

Life for teenagers is not very easy now. And we're not talking of problems to do with bad hair days. Academically, more is expected of them, and so the pressure to perform well in school is strong. Add to this, the pressure to be seen as 'cool'. Suddenly, coming first in class isn't something to gloat about – some teens actually feel embarrassed to reveal their academic brilliance!

12 year old Disha Gowda’s eyes light up when she is asked about the next few years. “As a teenager, I'll be able to go shopping with friends. We can go see movies without being accompanied by parents!”

The perceived freedom in the days to come make Disha hopeful of exciting times ahead. With child-like wonder, she talks about friends that she has and enemies that some of her friends have, and says seriously, “There is so much to study now, so little time to play. But I want to study well and become a cardiologist. I think when I become a teenager, there will be a lot of fun!”

Teenage is the age of hope. Youngsters at this stage have the energy, strength, and means in this technologically exciting era to have big dreams, and work towards making their dreams come true.

However, “teenage” itself is a western concept, particularly in the English-speaking world with its reference to the years 13-19. So, how do “teens” from a regional place fare? On the outskirts of the rapidly growing city of Bangalore, boys above the age of 13 often go to 'cyber cafe'.

Apart from playing cricket and watching either the cartoon channels on TV, the boys look forward to days when they can afford to go to the cyber cafe that allows them to use the place for Rs.12 an hour. Hemanth, born in the year 2000, studies in class 6 in the governemnt school at Nelamangala. When asked whether he feels good to be born in the year 2000, he nods his head in affirmation, saying “Because very soon, I can have a Facebook account!”

The boys do not have a bank account, they are not worried about the board exams, and nor are they aware that they are 'teenagers'. But they are aware that 13 is the minimum permitted age to have a facebook account, and look forward to that.

“We can have many, many friends from all over the world,” says Hemanth. He is already better informed than many of his counterparts in the city, because he is a member of a well-run panchayat library. He assumes that the internet will make him even more savvy, helping him to get a good job once he is done with his education.

To all the wonderful young people who were born in the year 2000 and have stepped into their teens this year, this is a special year. A year that they step up from being kids and become teens. And irrespective of all the pessimistic pictures of the world that they see in the newspapers and news channels, they are stepping into a world of hope and freedom. The freedom to be what they want to be. Lucky thirteen!

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