Teens talk about teens

These Truckee Meadows young people come together to discuss the issues of the day for our annual teen issue

Photo By David Robert

What is the truth about being a teen?

Change. Being a teenager is one of the biggest transitions humans experience. Part of being an adolescent is living in a constant state of change, but most people don’t realize that teens are also constantly changing the world around them.

As part of our annual teen issue, we wanted to get a group of high-school students together to discuss the issues that face them each day. We wanted to discover the truth about being a teen, so we asked principals, counselors and teachers to recommend students to share their thoughts and feelings about this time of change.

The participants began as strangers with different backgrounds and different interests but left with a more complete understanding and acceptance of each other. We are featuring an abridged version of the discussion that took place in the hope that you, too, will acquire a broader understanding of teens.

What is the best part about being a teen?
Yvez: I don’t have the responsibilities of an adult yet, and the girls are hotter.

John: As far as responsibilities go, you don’t have to worry about being an adult…

Sarah: But you wouldn’t know, either. You wouldn’t know what the responsibilities are like.

John: You look at your parents. You don’t have to pay all the utility bills, gas bills, electric bills. I have the luxury of living at home right now, so from now till the time you move out, you don’t have to worry about car bill, insurance bill, cell phone, the house, electric and maintenance bills.

What is the hardest part about being a teen?
Yvez: Trying to live up to the expectations of my parents. They always come up with the excuse that they never had the chance to go to school. Being Mexican, they’re always talking about, “We never had the chance when we were little. Now you have to do it.” That pressure kills you.

Francisco: That’s true, you have to work hard at school and everything trying to—

Stephanie: Live up to their standards.

Francisco: It’s hard, but it’s something you have to do, you know?

Francisco Torres<p>Age: 17<p>School: Galena High School<p>Activities: Varsity football<p>Favorite Class: History Hobbies: Boxing, going out with friends

Photo By David Robert

Sarah: I am the oldest of three girls, so yes, it is hard for me because I have to set the standards, and I will be a fourth-generation UNR graduate if I attend UNR. Blahddy-blah, so I’m bound to UNR and getting into UNR, which isn’t that hard.

I think it’s hard being a teenager because you are discriminated against so much. You could walk up to any store dressed any possible way, you’re still going to get “the look.” If you’re driving, oh my goodness, if you’re driving, people look at you so dirty, and you could be “10 and 2,” perfect little driver, and they’re still going to look at you.

What are the biggest issues facing teens today, and how do you think these issues will change in the future?
Francisco: Drugs. Big one, right?

Stephanie: Pregnancy.

Francisco: Girls getting pregnant.

John: Drinking, cliques.

Sarah: Oh yes. Cliques.

John: Cliques in high school. Either you’re jocks or you’re skaters or you’re straight edge, you have the punks, the nerdy kids that are in chess club during lunch, the bowling club, the rifle team, there’s those who don’t like athletes, the ones who don’t like the jocks, the ones who say, “Well, why do you get more respect than we do?” Yeah, a bunch of cliches among the cliques in high school.

Mike: The whole non-unity thing is a problem. If everyone was more united, I think we’d be better off. If every single 18-year-old in America voted, they could have changed every single presidential election in the past couple of decades.

Do you feel that the media misrepresent teens?
Sarah: I think so. If you look at the media, in magazines, they’ve got teens all looking gorgeous—girls especially. They’re all dressed skimpily and cheerleaders, they never portray the drama kids or the academic kids. I’ve never seen a rifle team person or a ROTC person in a magazine. I’ve only ever seen jocks, the ones that are very stereotypical.

Mike: I’d have to disagree. I think teens are pretty much fairly represented. I’m a theater student, and I’m in the IB [International Baccalaureate] program. I did ROTC, and I’ve seen pictures of myself and my peers who are doing ROTC or band.

Sarah: In national magazines?

Mike: Sometimes, not often, but how often are teens represented at all? And when they are represented, they’re represented as cheerleaders and jocks because that’s what’s more popular, and there are more students doing it.

Yves Vasquez<p>Age: 17<p>School: McQueen and TMCC high schools<p>Activities: Golf at McQueen<p>Favorite class: PE<p>Hobbies: Working on my car, buying clothes

Photo By David Robert

Stephanie: It also depends on what you’re watching on TV, you know—if you’re watching a soap opera or something.

John: When you see the magazines, you see all the cheerleaders, the sports, that’s the “model teen” for most of us teenagers to live up to. For a lot of them, the model teen is the one that looks good, the jock, the baseball player, the football player, the basketball player or whatever. It’s the model American teen.

Sarah: And the movies too, if you’re in other academics, then you’re made fun of, like in 10 Things I Hate About You or all those other chick-flicky teen films and stuff; it’s ridiculous, actually.

John: Yeah, theater movies, like the ones that have six months previews in advance, are the ones—like Not Another Teen Movie—where they have to turn a geeky girl into a popular girl. It’s always just the same thing. If you’re a geek or a nerd or into academics, then you’re not cool. To be cool, you gotta be a jock, a cheerleader, Miss Popularity, prom queen, prom king.

So what do you think about the courses that are provided at school? Do you think there are enough options, or are there too many?
Francisco: I think there are enough options. Like at our school, in the past two years, we got all these AP [Advanced Placement] classes, honors, all kinds of stuff you can do. When I was a freshman I didn’t hear about those classes all that much. I think there is a large variety of classes you can take; if you want to take the easy route you can just fool around taking weights, art, but then there are those challenging classes that you can take and then get somewhere in life.

Stephanie: It just depends on what you want.John: I think schools need to work out when the classes are offered. I play basketball, and there’s like kids on the basketball team that play basketball and also want to be in the band, but they can’t because the only time they have band classes is after school. How are you supposed to do sports if you’re on the sidelines playing an instrument? They could either try to offer sports or practice at a different time for those who are in band.

Do you think people are getting punished for getting involved in many things?
John: I was in band in middle school, and they put me in band when I went to high school, and I told them I couldn’t do that because I played basketball. They made me choose.

Mike: As far as the band at Wooster goes, they’re revamping it, and there’s a new teacher. The teacher is on a part-time schedule, so she takes one of the classes after school and three are during the day, and we actually don’t have a marching band.

Is that because of budget cuts?
Francisco: I think that at our school they took away driver’s-ed class and SHARE [Sexuality, Health and Relationship Education], and I think those classes are really important. You have to take driver’s ed in order to get your license, so I think that they should include that back in, and in SHARE, they don’t just tell people about sex; they try to prevent disease and stuff.

John: As far as driver’s ed goes, I think that’s important, but if you don’t know about SHARE and what’s going on by the time you’re a junior … you’re lost.

Francisco: I’m serious, but I mean your freshman year, that’s what they need to do.

John: They had it for a while. You had it eighth grade, too, and the eighth-grade and freshman year SHARE is exactly the same.

Francisco: Well, for me, I didn’t know a lot of stuff. I mean I know some stuff, you know what I’m saying, I’m not that dumb, but I didn’t know the side effects and all that stuff—so I think that’s important.

Stephanie Orozco<p>Age: 17<p>School: Hug High School<p>Activities: Tennis and track<p>Favorite Class: Art<p>Hobbies: Dance and listening to music

Photo By David Robert

Stephanie: You get your parents to tell you that stuff.

Are current concerns in the media relevant to your life? Have the war and other things that have happened, like Sept. 11, have they had an impact on your life?
Francisco: I thought 9/11 was a wake-up call, because we thought the U.S., the greatest country in the world, nobody can ever do anything [to us], then along comes those [terrorists]. I think Bush was right in going over there.

Yves: No, it has not affected me in any way, personally.

Stephanie: Really?

Sarah: Probably not, since we’re not even near it. Maybe if we had family members or something.

John: I have a friend who goes to Reed. His brother was back in Iraq. There was a Humvee attack, it flipped and a couple of guys died and one survived. The one that survived was his brother. I’ve been really good friends with the kid since seventh grade, and when I found out, it somewhat affected me. Just that much, but otherwise, not really.

As a teen, what are your priorities?
Yves: School, my car and my girlfriend. Social life. My friends and everything else, but basically, school. I see school as my highest priority because I don’t want to be working at Taco Bell. I want to actually have a good job, right?

Francisco: Yeah, that’s true for me, too. School. Finish school. Take good classes so that I can get into college. Go to college, be somebody in life because my dad only had a third-grade education, and my mom had like a sixth-grade education.

Yves: That’s important to our family. It’s something we value a lot. I’d put school before anything when it comes down to it.

John: I’m sure school is going to be a very high priority for everyone in this room. For me, it’s school, family, my friends, not so much the girls, because pretty girls are always going to be there, no offense. The last six months of high school I’m trying not to slip you know? I’m trying to focus on school but still spend some time with my family.

Do parents make being a teen harder or easier?
Stephanie: They just don’t know what’s going on in the world, I think. They know what their life was, but they don’t live your life, so it’s kind of hard for them to understand how it is to be a teen now. I’m not saying they’re old; it’s just the fact that they don’t live your life, you know, it’s different.

Yves: I disagree with that. My parents, they know. They understand. A lot of people have the stereotype that our parents don’t know what we’re doing or anything, but that’s not true. Without my parents I wouldn’t be going to TMCC—or anywhere. I couldn’t even go to college because they’ve been saving up for the past three years, four years. If I don’t tell them anything, how are they going to help me? You have to talk to them, tell them. So me and my dad, we’re like this, we’re close and that’s why I think I’ll be successful. I’ve seen a lot of people that can’t be as successful as me because their parent’s weren’t there for them. That’s why my parents are, like, everything to me.

Francisco: I think it makes it both easy and hard. Easy because you know they’re supporting you money wise but you know, telling you what to do or whatever, but then it makes it kinda hard because you have to live up to their expectations or whatever.

Mike Cabrera<p>Age: 16<p>School: Wooster High School<p>Activities: Band, jazz band, drama, National Honor Society, TMCC band, IB program, volunteer for American Lung Association Teens Against Tobacco<p>Favorite class: Wooster Jazz Band<p>Hobbies: Music

Photo By David Robert

Mike: I know that I really don’t have any free time at all during the week. I’m the Key Club president, Honor Society, public relations officer. I’m in tons of clubs, I do theater, I do band, and I do extra classes at TMCC and at UNR, and if I don’t tell my parents exactly where I am all the time then they can’t always be there for me. Sometimes I need help with my homework because we have so much. I get home from school at like 10 after TMCC, and I do homework from 10 until 3, and then I wake up at 5 to be at school at 6. I need my parents to support me.

Sarah: I’m very privileged to have very nice, wonderful parents because I’m going to Brazil next year as a foreign exchange student and that would not be possible without my parents. My mom was a foreign exchange student. She went to Denmark, and I want to follow in her footsteps because she still talks about it to this day. I brought that up to my parents, and they were all for it. They were all for me traveling, seeing the world and the country. I would not be where I’m standing right now if it weren’t for my parents.

How do you feel about the prevalence of stereotypes in high school?
Yves: They like to stereotype Hispanics as the lazy troublemakers, when really it’s nothing like that. There were a lot of people who I could hear talking their smack at McQueen when I was there, and now I just look back. I don’t have to say anything, they can just see that I’m actually going to college at TMCC, and they’re not, and I make my point.

Francisco: Yeah, I think that’s true that Hispanic people are seen as troublemakers. They go to school, but they’re not trying to get anywhere, an education, you know. There’s always those bad apples in any race.

John: I think there’s a lot of stereotypes on clothing too.

In what ways do you hope your life will improve after leaving high school?
Yves: I think it will open my mind up to the world. Like in college, you get together, and you really don’t think about the races or anything else. You’re there to study with other people who want to get somewhere, so it’s not like you’re trying to close your mind. You just get together, and you start studying, and it’s a good thing. That’s what I want to improve, personally, my open-mindedness to the world.

Sarah: I have to agree. I’m going to go and see the world. I don’t just want to see the pictures of little starving children in Africa; I want to actually see the good things there. I don’t want to let the media drive my mind. I want to see England; I don’t just want the British Parliament, I want to see what makes that country that country.

Are teens good or bad examples for those younger than them?
Stephanie: It depends on who you’re looking at.

Sarah: I totally agree.

Mike: I’m a teen provocateur against tobacco. I’m starting this group called TATU, Teens Against Tobacco Use. We go out to elementary schools, and we do skits for little kids. I know the elementary-school kids look up to teenagers, and so if you’re setting a good example, if they see teens out there doing good stuff like the TATU group, I think that that’s a good influence.

What do teens contribute to society?
Sarah: I think we contribute an open mind. If you look back on all the people who are elderly right now, they lived in a time when America was still segregated. There was no African-American, there was no mesh like we have now, and I think teenagers can stand for a stance that is very multicultural. We’re not racist; we’re very accepting toward other cultures, and we might stereotype—like I’m sure we all came in today and looked at each other, and were like, “Oh, my God,” but we’re all learning from each other.

Yves: Like that movie, Color of Fear.

Stephanie: We contribute flavor.

Sarah Wilson<p>Age: 18<p>School: Reed High School<p>Activities: Student body treasurer, 2004 fall homecoming queen, spring musicals, fall plays, leadership, yearbook, band<p>Favorite Class: Yearbook and Leadership<p>Hobbies: Collects mermaid figurines, volunteer at Sparks Washoe County Library

Photo By David Robert

Mike: I think we provide a lot of the pop culture, all the music, all the movies and stuff is aimed at teens.

Do you feel music has an influence on teens? How? Is it good or bad?
Yves: It’s pretty bad; they’re always talking about killing and stuff.

Sarah: And drugs and sex, especially sex. Sex sells.

Stephanie: It depends on the music you’re listening to.

Yves: It’s not like Nelly’s going to be rapping about, “Oh, let’s get good grades.”

Stephanie: You just listen to it. I don’t know. I listen to a lot of Spanish music. It depends on what you’re listening to. You just have to look for what you like.

Mike: The question was, does it influence? … With the exception of a couple people, music influences everyone. It’s a big deal, and for me, I think it’s my greatest influence. I listen to absolutely everything, from classical to rap to country to whatever. I love jazz and stuff, too. Not everything has words—classical and jazz—you get feeling out of that. There are studies that if you listen to classical music in the morning, then you’re going to do well in school for the rest of the day.

Yves: And the old school like Bobby Brown, it’s tight. It just like calms you down, you know, you don’t get so—there’s different styles—some of it makes you drive faster and stuff.

Francisco: Like going back to that school shoot-out or whatever.

Stephanie: Columbine?

Francisco: They were blaming it on, what’s his name, that crazy guy?

Various: Marilyn Manson.

Francisco: Exactly, I mean, I don’t think that it necessarily influences you in that way … just because I hear a song doesn’t mean I’m going to go shoot out a school.

John Fotoohi<p>Age: 17<p>School: Wooster and TMCC high schools<p>Activities: Basketball at Wooster<p>Favorite class: English Hobbies: Playing basketball and going out with friends

Photo By David Robert

Sarah: And to go along with music and all that, certain stereotypes, like the “skaters.” I don’t see skaters listening to classical music. They listen to, like, hard rock, so it’s like music kinda plays into the whole what you are type thing.

Mike: I don’t think you can stereotype that. I think it depends on each individual.

Sarah: Well, I mean, they’re not going to walk around school with their headphones blaring Mozart.

Do you think people sometimes use music as a way to define themselves?
Sarah: I definitely think so.

Mike: I think so, but I think it’s just a phase. It’s a way for them to define themselves because they haven’t established an identity for themselves yet.

John: I’m just going to say one quick thing, going back to what he was saying about Columbine and Marilyn Manson, I think that music does have an effect on you, but you get people who argue that violent music, violent TV shows affects children. I think the parents play a big role in that, too, because your parents should teach you what’s wrong and what’s right. They try to say, “It’s all Marilyn Manson’s fault; it’s all the faults of the violent cartoons, The Simpsons, Itchy and Scratchy,” when it’s your parents that should be telling you, “It’s not right, don’t do it.”

Whose expectations do teens have to live up to?
Yves: Parents.

Sarah: Parents.

Yves: Parents, friends.

John: Friends, period.

Stephanie: Our mothers.

Sarah: Our mothers, and our friends. [For example], if you’re in the mall, and you like a cute shirt, but your friend tells you it’s ugly, then you’re not going to buy it because your friend told you that it’s ugly. We have to live up to the expectations of our friends, which [means] you should pick your friends wisely. Your friends set standards and if you don’t qualify for those standards, they’re always looking for something to pick on you for, find your weakness.

Are issues like sex and drugs in high school exaggerated or downplayed to the public?
Francisco: Exaggerated.

Stephanie: I think they’re exaggerated.

Francisco: Parents and the media say that kids are using more drugs, but I don’t think so at all. I think it’s going down because now we know the side affects. Before, it was the cool thing to do, but now, you just look at [users], and you’re like, "You’re stupid."