Teens talk

What do young teens really think about their parents, their friends, their future? We invited eight kids, ages 11 to 15, to sit down over pizza and tell us about their lives. Here's that conversation

Our participants: Chris, 14; Daniel, 13; Denzel, 13; Khoseem, 12; Miranda, 15; and Skyler, 15; are all from the Toronto area; Cassandra, 12, from Gander, NL, and Trystan, 11, from Airdrie, Alta., joined us by conference call. Thank you to Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada for helping us gather this group.

Trust and freedom

TP: What’s the hardest thing to talk about with your parents, and what’s the easiest?

Skyler: School is probably the easiest. Problems you’re having with friends or in relationships, that’s probably the hardest. Often they say, “Oh, you’re young. It doesn’t matter.”

TP: It feels like they don’t take it seriously?

Miranda: They think you should just suck it up.

Chris: When I talk to my parents about friend problems, they’re like “Oh, I don’t care about your friends, I care about you.”

Denzel: Say if you don’t like something, but then you change your mind, they think your friends are influencing you.

Daniel: Like if I didn’t like rap music and then my dad heard me listening to it, he’d be like “Oh, I see the friends you’re hanging around with are influencing you.”

TP: What would you like your parents to understand about your life?

Miranda: I want to be able to go to parties, not be stuck in the house on the computer.

Khoseem: Not have to be like “I missed the greatest party of the year.”

TP: What are your parents worried about at parties?

Denzel: Drugs.

Skyler: Drinking, drugs, sex.

Miranda: Date rape.

TP: Is it fair for them to be worried about that stuff?

Daniel: Oh, yeah.

Skyler: It’s fair, but we can take precautions. If I want to go somewhere and my mom doesn’t trust the situation, I’ll tell her, “I’ll call you every hour.” That’s what freedom is for people our age — parents can say no if they feel really, really uncomfortable, but they should be open to talking about it with you.

TP: So it’s really about negotiating.

Daniel: I’d like to not have my parents tied to me, to be able to go places without having them say, “Why don’t you let me drive you? I could drive you.”

TP Can you give an example of what you mean?

Daniel: Say I’m going to a party. They’ll drive me there and then come inside — and stay. I have to say, “Go home!”

Denzel: Your parents should understand you’re getting older, not younger, and they should give you more freedom. They tend to want to keep you closer because you’re going on Facebook, meeting people, becoming a young adult…

Miranda: They don’t want to lose you.

Khoseem: Especially if you’re the youngest and the last one off, they really want to keep you in close.

Staying safe online

TP: What else don’t your parents understand as well as you wish they did?

Daniel: Almost everything. They think old school.

Khoseem: “Back in the day, we didn’t use this kind of technology…”

Miranda: They had small TVs.

Khoseem: They didn’t even have TVs!

Denzel: My grandma grew up in Jamaica — she doesn’t know how to use the computer. She’s been in Canada for 30 years and still doesn’t know how to use it.

Skyler: It’s the total opposite for my grandma. She’s on the computer, she has Facebook and it’s really cool.

Miranda: My mom’s all like “Oh, I want Facebook, I want MSN,” but when she talks to me, she says, “Oh, you never know who’s on the other side.” I tell her, “I don’t talk to random people. I talk to my friends.”

Chris: They try to get into your life on the Internet. I searched my mom’s name, and a Facebook account came up for her. She’s probably trying to see my Facebook.

TP: Should parents worry about the Internet?

Skyler: They should tell you to be careful, but they shouldn’t be creeping you [keeping track of everything a person does online, for example, frequently checking who their Facebook friends are].

Miranda: My mom demands my passwords. It’s like “I’ll tell you what’s happening in my life, but you don’t need to do that.” I gave her my Facebook password once, and she changed the email [by accident] so I couldn’t get into it. And she creeps my friends or the people I’m in relationships with.

TP: Can anyone give an example of something that your parents should do?

Skyler: When you first get Facebook, they can check to see if you have too much information. That’s what my mom did. She told me I needed to take some information off, and I said, “OK, I respect that.”

Denzel: You have to be careful on Facebook. People can start talking to you and asking you questions. They can get stuff out of you and you don’t even know that they’re getting it out of you. On Facebook, I’m 20 years old.

Miranda: Twenty-three, right here!

Khoseem: I’m 42!

TP: Why do you go older?

Daniel: Two reasons: They won’t let you in if you’re too young [you must be 13 to have a profile on Facebook]. And you don’t want stalkers.

Miranda: This guy from Afghanistan tried to talk to me. He’d send me messages about what he wanted to do with me. It was very gross. I talked to friends and teachers, and they gave me some tips. I cut off all contact with the guy.

TP: Did your parents know about it?

Miranda: I told my mom.

Skyler: If it’s something little [that happens on the Internet], you don’t want to freak your parents out. You can talk to your friends. But sometimes you need to go to your parents because they’re the only people who can really help.

Fights and bullies

TP: Do you find that parents worry about bullying?

Skyler: I was bullied a lot when I was younger. I can’t say why; I actually don’t know. My mom wasn’t really worried about what they would do to me, more what I would do to them. She’s seen me with my brothers; she knows I’m not going to sit in the corner and cry. I was in a fist fight once.

Chris: When I was little, my parents used to say, “Don’t fight. Tell the teacher.” Now my stepdad says, “If anybody bullies you, kick their butt.” He actually says, “Don’t back down.”

Khoseem: I think that when you try to talk to a bully, to tell them, “That’s not cool” or something like that, it doesn’t usually work. You just get the person angry and they beat you up again. Talking doesn’t always help.

Miranda: It helps me.

Skyler: Me too.

Daniel: It’s different for guys.

TP: So what works for guys?

Group: Fighting back!

TP: What role do adults have? Do they get involved enough or too much?

Chris: Too much.

Daniel: They get involved at the wrong time.

Trystan: There’s a bully at school and I got in a fight with him. My mom got involved; she called the school and everything. But they keep putting me in the same kid’s class.

TP: Were you glad your mom got involved?

Trystan: Yeah, I am. He doesn’t do it as much today.

TP: What about teachers?

Trystan: The teachers don’t help as much.

Miranda: It’s not their life; they don’t really care.

Skyler: I don’t think they stand behind their rules enough. My elementary school always had bullying assemblies, but when I got bullied, all they did was talk to the kids, and then it started again.

TP: What would you rather see teachers do?

Khoseem: Talk to the kid. Tell him, “If you do it again, this is going to be the consequence.” Something like that.

The future

TP: What are you looking forward to about getting older, and what are the things that worry you?

Denzel: I worry about where I’m going to be, how I’m going to make it and — if I get married — will she be the right girl for me.

TP: And what are the exciting things?

Denzel: What I’m going to work at. If I decide I want to be a basketball player, I’m going to try my hardest to do that. I’m going to try to do something that pays the bills.

Skyler: I’m not really looking forward to having a lot more responsibility — a job and then, eventually, a family. That seems stressful. But I’m looking forward to getting out and seeing the world.

Trystan: I’m looking forward to driving a car and seeing the world and doing jobs.

TP: And what are you worried about?

Trystan: Where I’m going to live, what if I don’t get a job.

Cassandra: What worries me is that I’m not going to have a good life when I get older. But I’m not there yet. (laughs)

TP: What does that mean — to have a good life?

Cassandra: Like what kind of job I’ll have, if I’ll have a good family, a loving husband, beautiful children.

Daniel: I’m worried about failing in the future. I don’t want to be a hobo. That scares me the most.

Khoseem: I want to become a basketball player. But I’m also scared of becoming a hobo, having nothing to eat, having to pick through garbage cans.

TP: How is what you guys want for yourselves different from or the same as what your parents want?

Daniel: My parents want me to become something where I’d make money. But I don’t want to be a doctor; you have to work with bodies.

Chris: When I was little, I loved dinosaurs. I wanted to be a paleontologist. Now I want to be a pilot.

TP: Do you want the same things as your folks?

Chris: No. I want to go my own way, be my own person.

TP: How is that different from what your parents want?

Chris: My parents want me to do whatever I want.

TP: So maybe you do want the same thing?

Chris: Maybe, but I want to be my own person.