Teenage Happiness 101: an essential guide to important adolescent experiences

Lately I’ve been reflecting on the classic teenage experiences portrayed in movies and TV. As with most imitations, these portrayals usually do not occur in “real life,” but some part of me yearns to have those same experiences–the experiences that apparently result in happiness and sometimes even theatrical lip-syncing to a song that perfectly describes your feelings.

Ok, so maybe my wish is unrealistic. While I enjoy the idea of these teenage traditions, my brief encounters with such have only disillusioned me further with the petty drama and overall bandwagon nonsense that typically go with it. But a girl can dream, yeah? No?

In any case, here are 5 experiences that my incurable addiction to Netflix Instant and cable TV has taught me about finding happiness in the adolescent years:

Join a glee club

“Glee” has illustrated the power of the show choir, the uninhibited feeling you get when singing Journey’s classic hit, “Don’t Stop Believing” with your closest pals. Don’t let my nonchalance fool you; I am whole-heartedly committed to the idea of joining a glee club to solve teenage loneliness, to find a significant other, and to add some unnecessary drama in life. Just look at the indescribable expressions of joy on those faces. I yearn to feel as free-spirited as Artie appears in this photo, spreading his arms wide (symbolically, of course) and casting a lighthearted smile into the distance. Because a little glee (plus creepy teacher-on-student moments, dramatic sighs, and tribute episodes with the illusion of storyline) goes a long way.

Become a member of an inseparable group

The concept of an inseparable group of friends (typically boy/girl for added drama) a la “Saved by the Bell” or “Beverly Hills, 90210” is a TV staple. My older sisters religiously watched shows such as these, and so my lust for a fun, crazy, but undoubtedly solid gang of friends has been ingrained in my head for as long as I can remember.

Now, membership in a particular type of group depends on your personality. Maybe hanging out with a lot of friends all the time just isn’t yours style. And I don’t blame you. I would definitely get sick of the restrictions that come with being in a clique (dating only those in the group if it’s boy/girl, hanging out with only those people, etc.). Perhaps you’re meant for more of a Harry/Ron/Hermione type trio that allows a bit more freedom, or you’re bound to be a floater who hangs out with whomever he or she pleases as I do. It’s obviously your decision.

Just know that if you’re not in a gang of friends, you’re missing out on the pure essence of being a teenager. The illogical antics, the prevalent effect of mass hysteria, and the pressure to always feel included. And perhaps the warm and fuzzy feeling that your inseparable group always as your back. I’ve found the last experience to be rare in the types of groups I have met, but maybe I’m too cynical to keep looking.

Note: if you have already joined the glee club, than huzzah! You have found your gang of misfits.

Fall in love

(Sure Kevin and Winnie are a bit young when they first realize their love for each other, but they are the paragon of adorable puppy love, and I wish I could have had this in middle school instead of a bad haircut and an unending supply of angst, ok?)

First love. The butterflies, the jitters, the sweaty palms and weak knees… You finally find a person that completely understands how you feel on the rollercoaster of emotions that is teenagedom. And then you get the added bonus of a make out buddy!

I’m not the best authority on the subject. I typically just crush on someone and then slowly lose interest once I find someone new. But you find this plot device in just about every TV show and movie out there about high school, so it must be kind of a big deal, right?

Date a brooding vampire

Essentially, if you find your life uninteresting or in need of some supernatural excitement, you should either wait for a handsome vampire to move to your school or you should move to a small town with an excess of clouds in hopes of finding a brooding vampire in your biology class. Once you have found a suitable bloodsucker, simply get him to become obsessed with you, and voila! Your life will never be boring again.

However, make sure that you play “hard to get” or appear perpetually unimpressed by his mysterious persona. This will ensure that he will continue to try to please you and convince you that he is worthy of your time, no matter what he says about “being dangerous for you” or “a threat to your very existence.” NBD, guys. NBD.

(For added effect, make sure your vampire has heavy eyebrows and perfectly sculpted hair. Blue button-down optional, but highly recommended to complement his alabaster glow.)

Find the perfect date, dress, etc. for the school dance

TV and movies typically forget to mention the overall sweatiness and exhaustion that accompanies school dances, instead focusing on the romance and (of course) drama. But there are a few portrayals of school dances I agree with and enjoy for their sincerity: the homecoming dance scene from “Freaks and Geeks,” the school dance scene in “Sixteen Candles,” the initial awkwardness of the prom scene in “Pretty and Pink,” and the prom scene in “Napoleon Dynamite.”

What matters most at these types of dances is having fun. Sure, you want to have the perfect look for the pictures, but what you will remember years from now is the actual dancing. Having a date is great, but not the main objective. “Pretty and Pink” advises that, in the end, you should go with whom you feel comfortable–even if you end up parting on the dance floor (which I still don’t entirely agree with since I would have chosen Duckie over Blaine any day).

Perhaps TV and movies push these ideas of adolescence because they are the memories you look back on and can recall exactly how you felt at the time, the person you were when you first fell in love or first realized you had a solid group of friends on whom you could rely. Sure, the awkwardness is often overlooked on the big screen, but the emotions are real–even if soap opera-esque glee clubs and gloomy vampires are not–and the nostalgia will last a lifetime.


Everything I needed to know in life I learned from “Teen Titans”

Ah, childhood obsessions. They certainly leave their marks.

I can still see remnants of them around my room: my unfinished pig collection from sixth grade, forgotten sketches of Neopets, piles of stuffed animals that I haven’t the heart to let go… But some of these obsessions have carried me through the years; “Teen Titans” is one of them.

To this day I attribute my knowledge of good and evil, the importance of the choice, and the power of the individual (as well as the team) not to “Harry Potter” or the “Eragon” series (although both of these series are quality), but to “Teen Titans.”

“It’s simple: there is good and there is evil. There are those who commit crimes and those who stop them. The two sides are opposite, as different as day and night. And the line between them is clear… Or at least, it’s supposed to be.” – Robin, “X”

Robin teaches that vices and virtues are not as black and white as some children’s stories would have it portrayed. We have both good and evil inside of ourselves, and it is our decision upon which part we will act. When Robin decides to adopt a new persona, Red X, to gain inside information on his arch nemesis, Slade, he discovers inside himself a darkness that he had previously denied. Robin’s internal struggle makes for an interesting debate on the evils of man. That, and he looks quite attractive in his Rex X getup. Just sayin’.

As one of the most controversial characters on the show, Terra definitely left an endearing lesson: we always have a choice. She tried to run away from her problems. She even tried to blame other people for her decisions, citing that she was helpless and that she “didn’t have a choice.” But in “Aftershock, pt. II,” after serving as Slade’s apprentice and nearly destroying the Teen Titans in a stunning act of betrayal, Beast Boy reminds her that it is never too late to make things right:

Terra: You have to stop me Beast Boy. Please….I don’t want to fight anymore…
Beast Boy: Then don’t let Slade control you anymore!
Terra: I have no choice…
Beast Boy: That’s a lie! You’ve always had a choice! You chose to work for Slade, you chose to betray us, and now you’ve chosen to give him control. Slade isn’t doing this Terra, you are!
It’s your life, Terra, your choice. It’s never too late.

Terra subsequently takes this advice to heart and sends Slade into a pit of lava. Unfortunately, she ends up being turned to stone in the process, but her story is immortalized: we always have a choice.

Of course the Teen Titans work as a unit, but there are certain circumstances in which it is up to the individual to determine their fate. Such is the case with Raven, the darker, more mysterious member of the team. During season 4, we begin to unravel Raven’s past. Her father, Trigon, is the root of all evil. (And you thought you had daddy issues…). Raven was designed as a portal for Trigon’s takeover of Earth, and it seemed as if she could not stop this event from happening.

But that didn’t throw her. In “The End, pt. III,” She vows to stop running away and takes matters into her own hands. In her final confrontation with her father, Raven stands up to fight for her fate and to stop Trigon from furthering his evil deeds. When Trigon reminds her that as her father he could take away her powers, she replies: “You may have created me. But you were never a father!  Father’s are kind! Father’s protect you! Father’s raise you! I was protected by the Monks of Azarath. I was raised by my friends! They are my family!” She blasts Trigon for a final time, banishing him from Earth, and saves the world in one heroic sweep.

While watching this show may have set unrealistic expectations for how awesome teenagedom would be (seriously, I’m still waiting for my powers to arrive or at least for Professor X to enroll me in his School for Gifted Youngsters), “Teen Titans” taught me important lessons that continue to impress me in my older years. Even the somewhat goofy episodes have some tidbit of life wisdom woven throughout (sans the cheesy, “Full House” type atmosphere). “Teen Titans” is one childhood obsession I am proud to still have today.

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