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The Modern-Day Teenager: How to Age in the 2020’s

Written by Hanaa Yousof

The writing loops up and down on the page; illustrated with little smiley faces and hearts after a
particular event, and repeated exclamation points in moments of intense thought. It seems fervent
and hasty, as if there is a clock to beat. A shaky hand and an indent where pen and palm meet,
outlines of what could almost be dilapidated buildings in this small curve. Lights twinkle in the
background, and everything is quiet, save for the sound of scribbling onto paper.
This gruelling task was that of my teenaged journal-writing, a dedicated mission I sat down for after
every big event or life-happening to track and make sense the messiness of these years. As I flip
through the pages today, I both revere the unique vulnerability of teenagehood, and disdain the idea
of ever reliving it – only a few years out of it. There is very little this world can find harmony in
these days; we are in an age post-serious global health issues, a question of what our planet will look
like years from now , and doomscrolling as we find more bitter news to lament over. But something
at least a significant portion of us seem to agree on, everybody hates the teenage girl – including the

teenage girl herself. Including me, as I lived through it boxed inside the world of my A5 notebook.
So why do so many of us, now, want to go back?

Who is the modern-day teenager? The moniker has always seemed to transcend its literal definition;
girlhood itself is defined as the period between being a girl and being a woman. A ‘teenage girl’ is
socially perceived as annoying and whiny and emotional, overly passionate and an overwhelming
source of negativity. She is a figure that has been both mythologised and oft-misunderstood, passed
through iterations over time; I think of the evolution of the teenage girl of the 2010s in shows such
as Pretty Little Liars or Gossip Girl, to the ever-discussed characters of Euphoria – I think of anything
from the fan culture of the infamous Bobby Soxers, or the later Directioners. Derision of this figure
seemed, and still seems to be a hungry task; no one liked her and yet they capitalised significantly
from her endeavours and interests. Today, however, the teenage girl differs in two ways; not only has
her existence taken on a much more celebratory air than that of the way she was treated, but she can
be repurposed after leaving teenagehood – hence, the twenty-year-old teenager.

By Katarzyna Grabowska | Unsplash

The twenty-year-old teenager, for many women, seems to be largely defined through a lens of
relishing in and celebrating interests and ideas largely taken part in by a teenage girl demographic;
think this summer of reviving Barbie and the ever-present pinkness of it all. And it makes sense; the
twenty-somethings are harsh and getting harsher. “The changing timetable for adulthood” was whatreports from the New York Times over a decade ago characterised a phenomenon of slower ageing,
as more adults moved back into their childhood homes or didn’t hit the traditional ‘milestones’ of
their predecessors. Psychologist Jeffrey Arnett attempted to call this “emerging adulthood”. Today,
twenty-somethings seem to desire a definition for themselves outside of this often constricting realm
of adulthood, instead seeking to revive the time of their youth as a period they still haven’t left. As
such, the ‘twenty-year-old teenager’ could arguably hinge on a longing to stay in the throes of
girlhood and escape the trials of adulthood, with one author describing it as, “why, even though hell
was being a teenage girl, right now she’s all I want to be”. Beyond just the social and political
landscape of adulthood today, reports by The Guardian that the teenage “brain age difference was
about three years” between teenagers during lockdown and before, to both positive and negative
affects, seems to perhaps enlighten this phenomenon of collective nostalgia, of a mourning for this
time lost and attempting to forcefully wedge yourself back to it.

For me, grappling with girlhood and entering my twenties felt like a sigh of relief, initially. My hatred
of teenagehood was a little more localised and inward, than that of the common disapproval of her
by everyone in sight. The inherent anxiousness of such a time meant this age of teenagehood was
something I was more than keen to escape. Fear felt like a near-monotonous experience, and I held a
growing wariness in me – I was insecure in the pivotal way that so many of us are. Every step
towards graduating, every chapter of ageing, was a step that, albeit sometimes scary, excited me. I
wanted to be old and wise and rational; from the outside-looking-in, the label of adulthood
legitimised the complexity of emotions I felt in my youth; now they were real, and not just a
condition of being. Now they were pathways and avenues to maturity, and not childish worries.
Girlhood seems to me to be a spiral of sorts; as a physical condition, it is permeated by a note of
suffering for a huge part of the population that leaves a mark, with research affirming this to
worrying extents.

By Dev Asangbam | Unsplash

All of this pain is true, varying degrees as it may come in. I think of this quote by Simone de
Beauvoir in The Second Sex: “she [the girl] is already detached from her childhood past, the present is for her only a transition; she sees no valid end in it, only occupations. In a more or less disguised way, her youth is consumed by waiting”. Waiting, as a teenage girl, felt routine; I was always looking towards something more, something greater than me, something important. But sitting cross-legged on the floor with the journals of my girlhood crowded around me like some sort of a ritual, I feel a longing for this
incredibly weird age, too. I am only two years out of teenagehood, and I haven’t forgotten it all; but I
find myself nostalgic over the identity of it. As writer Aline Fontanelli puts it: “to find comfort in what
oppresses you is not a way to stay complacent but simply a means of survival.”

The quest to define yourself in this post teenagehood haze is undoubtedly tricky; perhaps we find
ourselves regressing in order to re-figure out this segment of our lives. The teenage girl specifically
has always been interesting because, outwardly, her character seems to be enmeshed with vitriol by
virtue of existence. She is, to a lot of people, a figure that commands fear in various ways, but holds
little power because of it. She is cruel and calculating, frothing at the mouth in thinking about how she will next ruin a life. She is so many things at once – perhaps so much that she is nothing at all.
Nobody can – and nobody wants to – figure her out, really. After all, what good would it do to let
her understand herself? Herein lies perhaps the biggest appeal of reviving your teenage age; a feeling
of holding more control, an adult sense of security that allows you to find the tools to map the
complexity and range of teenage experiences. To then find yourself able to slowly burrow your way
out of it, and take solace in what you define as the beautiful parts of girlhood.
And more complex still, is the experience of existing as a teenage girl when confronted with the
intersectionalities of existence. The recent abaya bans in France come to mind, here; what happens
when we don’t allow young girls to belong to themselves, when we actively and violently police their
behaviour, surveilling them if they step out of line?

And the effects of intersectional identities on girlhood don’t stop there; research from the
Georgetown Law Centre on Poverty and Inequality found that Black girls were viewed as more adult
than their white peers at almost all stages of childhood, beginning most significantly at the age of 5,
with adults viewing Black girls as “less innocent and more adult-like than their white peers”. There is
a palpable trauma that comes from this level of adultification, of being trapped within a suspended
state between your childhood and the womanhood forced upon you. And these narratives don’t exist
as anomalies, with there being a uniquely complex experience of girlhood when this interacts with
your background and upbringing. Arbitrary as this link may seem, I believe there is something to be
said in perhaps being able to be gentle with your youth as an adult, when the society around you
insisted on such a harshness.

Girlhood for me, nowadays, feels a little bit lighter. This summer, soundtracked by mainstream
media inexplicably linked with girlhood felt like something a little more. Should it feel silly, indulging
in the past so much you try to wrap it up into the present? Perhaps. But I feel that allowing myself
that much isn’t as cardinal a sin as face-value would make it appear; for Bustle, counsellor Ravin
Auluk said “We’re at this point in our world where we’re overpathologizing humanness, and instead
of trying to ‘figure it out’ or call it a syndrome, what if we just said: ‘Hey, these are things that I enjoy
and maybe they stem from my experiences, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing”. And as I go back to
my journal with the same haste, although with less regularity than I needed at 17, I think that this is
something I’m at peace with.