Instagram is one of the most popular social media platforms out there. There are over 300 million users that use its online mobile photo-sharing, video-sharing and social networking service. Instagram has quickly surpassed Facebook in its popularity among young people and it is no wonder with all the visual stimulation. It’s addicting! In terms of accounts…
Oh, To Be An Albanian Teenager!
***The following article— “Oh, To Be An Albanian Teenager” by Ashley Elizabeth Wood is not an official Albanian Voices article. The views expressed in this article are entirely those of their author and do not necessarily represent the views of Albanian Voices or any of its partner organizations.***
I am lucky because Albanian Voices gives me the excuse to talk to a lot of people. I get to know folks from all walks of life, but I’m most commonly contacted by teenagers and young adults. Our organization relies heavily on social media, so it is no wonder that teenagers are the most common group to reach out to us. Teenagers are quick to love us: they shout out to us on social media, they make collages with our photos and they comment on tons of our posts. The excitement with which they support us, write to us and talk about us on social media is contagious. Sometimes it makes us want to stand up and cheer. Other times, when they lash out at us, we want to hide our heads. When we have been slow to respond to messages, some teenagers get deeply hurt: sending us dozens of emoticons and writing emotional messages rife with evidence of their pain… and too much punctuation.
Many have begged to be a part of the organization and we have tried to bring them on board, but their lack of experience and maturity usually do not allow us to finalize that process. It breaks my heart because I so badly want to allow everyone to participate, but I don’t know how. On more than one occasion, a teenager has wanted to give us a story, but when I insist that they must have their parents’ permission, they are not able to get it. Parents are correct to be cautious of what their children send us and I’m glad that we take the time to make sure no one suffers unintended consequences of publishing their story with us. The teenagers I come in contact with seem to be stuck in limbo: wanting to participate in the adult world they see around them, but unable to control their emotions enough to do so. They desperately want to be understood and see our organization as a way for themselves to feel validated. These teenagers come to us for help. They ask us for support. Their energy buzzes all around me and I admire their excitement for life. I want to help so badly, but sometimes I don’t understand them, or know how to guide them.
Between my work with Albanian Voices and my work as freelance Spanish tutor, I hear from teenagers who are having problems with everything from lack of confidence to developmental issues to sibling rivalries or issues with technology. They often say that their parents do not understand their reality and have no idea how to keep kids safe online. The social life of a teenager is ruled by rumors and gossip as friends are very important. At the same time, everyone wants to be loved by a boy or a girl, and the teenage years are when that need for that love is the strongest. The ironic part is that parents seem to want to do everything in their power to discourage young love, which goes completely against a teen’s biology.
I recently saw a documentary on CBC’s The Nature of Things with David Suzuki called Surviving The Teenage Brain that got me thinking about Albanian teenagers and why my experience with them has been like it has. Not only that, but when I started understanding a little bit more about teenagers, I realized how special they were due to their unique way of seeing the world. As I learned about the nature of the the teenage brain, I realized that this is precisely why it is so hard these days for an Albanian teenager. Many of them grow up in families that are far more socially conservative than modern life demands and this new world, full of technology, is a minefield. Stuck between respecting their families and needing to learn this technology for their careers, the Albanian teenager is truly caught between a rock and a hard place.
The film interviews National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) neurologist Dr. Jay Giedd, who is one of the world’s foremost experts on adolescent brain development. He says that through recent brain scan technology, they have been able to analyze what is happening during the teenage years. Adolescents are not victims of puberty. When you’re older and you have observed a certain set of limitations, you feel there are barriers to moving in a particular direction. Teens do not see these barriers. The essence of the teenage mind is to bring a fresh perspective to old problems and challenge supposed limits; and this behavior is the key to our success as a species.
Our prefrontal cortex is still maturing well into our twenties. It is the part of the brain that allows us to consider the past and the future and wonder “what would happen if I did this?” Adults, like me, forget that understanding the consequences of your actions is a skill that has to be learned. Long range planning, impulse control and strategy are all developed later in life by the prefrontal cortex. According to the documentary and Cambridge evolutionary biologist Dr. David Bainbridge, author of Teenagers: A Natural History, our skills are not passed on through genes, but rather acquired during adolescence. Survival is not about who is toughest and most clever, but rather who can best adapt. The adaptational components of risk-taking and questioning authority are what allows our species to survive; and it’s what teenagers do best. Albanian teenagers are no different. When these teenagers send me stories, they are taking a risk. And who can blame them? They are children of parents and grandparents who subverted Enver Hoxha during communism and great-grandparents who refused to hand over Jews to the Nazis during WWII. Albanian teenagers are the descendants of adaptive people, so, it’s no wonder that they are adaptive themselves. Their parents cringe at them mixing English with Albanian and fear their culture would be lost. It won’t be. To expect Albanian teenagers to maintain the exact way of life their parents grew up with would be unrealistic. This generation of Albanian teenagers will find its own way to preserve Albanian culture and its beautiful language.
Albanian society is conservative and for most Albanian parents, it is vital that to be able to certify a daughter’s virginity. For this reason, they do everything in their power to make sure their children remain chaste. Beyond prohibiting physical contact, many Albanian parents prohibit all contact with the opposite sex (except family), depriving their children of the necessary risk-taking, falling-in-love behavior that is so necessary for their development. Heartbreak is a near universal experience, and through heartbreak we learn to adapt. Biological anthropologist Dr. Helen Fisher explains that if we don’t have these negative life experiences, we don’t learn how to deal with them. Most parents have a tendency to diminish the importance of love and friendships for teenagers. Brain scans show that people who have been rejected in love have a lot of activity in the nucleus accumbens, which is the part of the brain that is associated with craving and addiction. Scientists now believe that romantic love is an addiction: A perfectly wonderful one when it is going well and an absolutely horrible one when it is not. According to adolescent mental health expert Dr. Stan Kutcher, teenagers have exactly the same feelings in their brain when they are in love as older people do, but they don’t handle it the same way because they don’t have the same life experiences. This becomes especially critical when they have that love taken away from them. If they have never been rejected before, they feel that this is the only person who will ever love them and the sense of hopelessness can be overwhelming. Saying, “It’s just puppy love” or “There are plenty of fish in the sea,” does not acknowledge the power of dopamine withdrawal that a teenager is feeling. It is important that we understand the importance of teenager relationships. Many of these relationships are cultivated through the use of technology.
According to innovation and technology expert Don Tapscott, author of Grown Up Digital: How the Net Generation is Changing the World, this is the first time in human history that children are an authority. In the past, 11-year-olds were an authority on model trains. Now the 11-year-old is an authority on a digital revolution that has changed business, commerce, government, education, entertainment – every institution in society. This digital revolution brings the world closer together than ever before and calls on teens from all over the globe to participate together to solve problems. Albanian teenagers need to answer the call and interact with the rest of the world. They need the freedom to become part of the digital revolution. This digital revolution, combined with the current teenage generation, which has access to one another on a global scale, is very exciting (and a little frightening!). Adolescents embrace these new changes with enthusiasm. Albanian adolescents are no different; they want to be leaders in this technology.
Teens care a lot about what their parents think, and getting their parents approval is crucial to their overall sense of well-being, even though a lot of teens do not communicate this well. Since teenagers are at such an awkward stage of their lives, it is tough for them to choose between relying on someone else or being independent. But it is important for adults to remember that their problems are real, their struggles are real and their insights are valuable. Listen to them. It is important for all parents, especially Albanian parents to recognize this. Teenagers are like sponges, and they take it in information without realizing it, which means they appreciate what their parents are teaching them even though they do not express it.
In the diaspora, Albanian culture and language risk being lost, so it is crucial that Albanian parents educate their children about their heritage. And it is even more important that Albanian teenagers listen. This new generation of Albanians, the teenagers now, have not seen much war. They have not lived through communism and they do not know the same suffering that older generations do. They are unique and face their own challenges. If Albanian teens study the history of their people, then they too, like their parents, will realize the importance of preserving it. Their way of preserving it will be different; unique to their generation, as it has been for generations before them. However, I firmly believe that this generation of Albanian teenagers is special and will use its understanding of the world to change it for the better. In a century so full of impending crisis and war, they’ll have no choice but to adapt. And luckily for us, that’s exactly what they do best.
Anonymous (2013). Teenager Problems: The 15 Most Annoying Things About Being In High School, According To Reddit. Huffington Post. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/12/teenager-problems_n_3431351.html> Retrieved 2/20/2015
Bainbridge, David (2009). Teenagers: a natural history. Greystone books.
Suzuki, David (Host). (2015). Surviving The Teenage Brain [The Nature of Things with David Suzuki]. Canadian Broadcasting Company. <http://www.cbc.ca/natureofthings/episodes/surviving-the-teenage-brain>