I worked a weekend retreat for junior high students a few years ago. This was my first time as a counselor, and I was terrified. There were your usual cliques: the popular group, the nerds, the polite girls who whispered back and forth while taking slight glances towards certain boys, and the adults who mused amongst themselves. As I canvassed the room, deciding where I should try to join in I watched as two girls retreated toward the bathrooms. They were dressed in black, had black nail polish, dyed black hair, and a thick line of black framing their eyes; to the older generations they are known as the rebellions.
“I just don’t know what to make of them,” one woman said, “they just have to stand out in their own way I guess; but you keep an eye on them because they are bad news.”
The next evening there was a group activity and the girls again hung back. I was sent to scold the ‘heathens’ and bring herd them back. When I approached them one was crying and the other gently hugging her, or holding her up- I’m not sure which. My fear of being the ‘punisher’ disappeared when I saw the pain in their eyes.
“I know” said the one crying, “We’re supposed to be with the rest of the group. We’re going.”
“What’s wrong?” I said stopping her.
After some hesitation they began speaking and it just poured out. “We don’t wear the same clothes they do, chase boys around, or join in group activities. So they make fun of us, call us names, even shun us; but the thing is we don’t want to be different. This is just how we are. I don’t chase guys because I’ve been taken advantage of. I stray away from the groups because I feel so much pain from my past that I don’t know what to do. These baggy black clothes help me to hide from the rejection. We just wish that for once they would try to understand us, rather than laughing in our faces.”
Later, I thought about the way we group people; especially the way teenagers are categorized- by adults and by themselves. For some reason we all participate in the prejudiced society-whether we know it or not. We are all the same, no one better than the other; but we continue to put everyone around us down in spite of this fact, hoping someone will see us as something valuable. We receive labels as children ourselves and then carry them through life, afraid to break the status quo. If we would stop judging the youth of our society, we would in turn be able to stop judging our selves and trying to fit into a cookie-cutter mold, leaving us free to do the things we normally wouldn’t. By setting those boundaries aside we could make this world the better place we all dream of; this I believe.
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