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Walking down the hallway of my high school at the beginning of lunch on May 2nd, I see one, two, three girls with a full face of makeup pass by. I try to make out what they’re saying through the noise.
“Steph was so drunk last night. I think she fucked, like, three guys.”
The girls laugh, but I hope Steph is okay. Steph is only fourteen. Further down the hallway, there’s a grade nine girl wearing a Pandora charm bracelet, another with hair dyed a bright blonde, and a test on the ground with a big fat 12/35 circled at the top. Anyone in the senior grades might take a look and roll their eyes and think, I never even knew what Pandora was in ninth grade. Grade 12s talk amongst ourselves about how the grade nine girls are “growing up too fast.” Their brand knowledge, experimentation with hookups, alterations to their bodies, and their vulgar behaviours in the hallways, and their desire to be heard and seen suggests that they are trying to mimic the senior grades, but they’ve missed the mark. Their attempt to be adult have shown to be the opposite. Grade nines are maturing slower than ever.
Through my investigations, I found that it is less a matter of whether grade nine girls are growing up too fast, but rather what their perception of what it means to be “grown up” is that is causing this behaviour. To them, being a “grown up” involves heavy drinking, exposing themselves, making impulsive decisions, and engaging in a variety of sexual activities. They do it in an attempt to be adult, but it is exactly their hunt to prove themselves that makes them childish.
As different as grade nine girls appear to be now compared to four years ago, a key element remains unchanged: the desire to fit in. Grade 12 student, Elizabeth Scovell says, “In grade nine I was always trying to be part of a friend group, part of a crowd. I felt like I would do anything to fit in.” Myself, I remember how easily one could convince me to do even the littlest things, because being an outcast seemed like a nightmare. Grade nine girls, always and forever, are vulnerable at that age, making them so much more susceptible to influences.
The matter still remains, however, that grade nine girls’ behaviour have progressively intensified since the senior grades were freshmen. According to grade nine student Margaret Koca, a grade nine girl’s day-to-day concerns consist of, “boys, school, and not getting pregnant. And by ‘school’, I mean passing school.”
What exactly is changing grade nine girls’ new perception of what it means to be grown up? One factor is the media and the evolution of technology. We are so connected through the internet now that “there isn't really an excuse not to know the latest trend, or not act in a certain way or buy certain things,” says grade 12 student, Kyla Ion. And in grade nine it feels as though not following the trends is even less acceptable.
Humanities teacher, Mr. Hobson, added another perspective, saying, “When I was younger we had a distinct ‘public world’ and ‘private world,’ and kids today don’t have that. Today they are up in their rooms on their phones until three in the morning on all sorts of social media, but I think that hasn’t been giving them the ability to learn private space, which is the core of individuality.” And individuality is a significant part of what it means to be grown up.
Social media has also made us forget how important just hanging out at the mall can be. What seems like aimless conversation is really trying things out, experimenting, and learning about interactions kids today are missing out on. For one, from a young age kids are learning a significant amount of their interactions on a screen instead of in person. Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair, a clinical psychologist says, “There’s no question kids are missing out on very critical social skills. In a way, texting and online communicating — it’s not like it creates a nonverbal learning disability, but it puts everybody in a nonverbal disabled context, where body language, facial expression, and even the smallest kinds of vocal reactions are rendered invisible.” We are increasingly uncomfortable in social situations from a younger and younger age, and drinking becomes an excuse in social scenarios. Whatever you do is understandable because you were drunk. But carelessly putting yourself at risk, blaming, and impulsivity are not signs of being grown up.
Teacher, Ms. Wolfe, says “As you grow up, you learn to manage your risks and value yourself.”
But who is teaching them? Regina E. Coley, executive director of the organization called Leading Ladies of Legacy, says “Girls are taught and told to be happy with themselves, but very seldom do we really teach girls how to love themselves and explain what that means.” Self-love isn’t an important enough word in a grade nine girl’s vocabulary, but that needs to change. We need to teach young people how to value themselves and others without crutches.
Maybe then they will be all grown up.