As a teenager, I felt this phrase even more than I said it—which was a lot. Many parents scoff when I say that teens have a deep sense of justice, but I hear from teens every day who say that unfairness gives them more outrage than anything else. When I began to explore this idea, I realized that injustice is a big part of teen angst and pops up in many areas of teenagers lives that parents have trouble understanding. Take the following familiar examples:
Situation: 16-year-old sibling gets a higher allowance that the younger 14 (and a half) year-old sibling.
Injustice: The younger sibling feels that this is grossly unfair and becomes sullen and angry taking his feelings of inequality out on the older sibling and parents.
The Problem: The younger sibling has a hard time understanding that even though his brother/sister is only a year and a half older, this still makes them more mature. They also have trouble understanding why they would have to equally share some things (like the front seat, dessert or the bathroom), but they have different rules. To a teenager this seems hideously unfair.
The Solution: Parents need to point out other age differences and then explain why allowance is higher for the older sibling—perhaps he/she is paying for a car or now is responsible for his own lunch money. Point out responsibilities as well as rewards that the teen perceives he/she is missing out on.
Situation: Student comes home from school furious because a teacher put a section on the quiz that she had previously said would not be on it. The student is furious with the teacher even though it was only a 10 point quiz.
Injustice: The student feels like they have been lied to. Teacher’s especially are supposed to be leaders in morality and fairness, so when they do something that is perceived as ‘unfair’ the student takes it as a personal insult and lack of faith in the class as a whole. In this way the student is unable to see the big picture.
The Problem: The quiz is over and done with, but the student’s rage has the ability to morph into a full dismissal of the class and teacher, causing the student to simply give up.
The Solution: You need to let the student feel this injustice. It happens and it is unfair, but if parents try to quell it too soon the teen will turn against the parent as well. Once the student has vented and had some time to get perspective on the small size of the quiz, the parents can suggest approaching the teacher on a possible misunderstanding. This gives the student a way to work through the feelings, understand the benefit of the doubt and give the teacher a chance to redeem his or herself.
Situation: Parent tells teenager he/she should not eat snacks before meals. Sometimes mom eats snacks before meals if she is hungry. Teen insists “if you don’t do it, why should I have to do it!?”
Injustice: Teenagers get a hypocritical message a lot of the time. Half the time parents insist that kids should ‘act like adults,’ but then make them follow rules that do not apply to adults. To a teenager this feels very unfair.
The Problem: Teens want to think of themselves as adults and cannot understand why a few years should excuse parents from household rules everyone else has to follow.
The Solution: Whenever possible it is good for parents to follow the rules they make for their kids. If not possible (like not drinking soda or having to go to bed before 9pm), parents should work on explaining why the rule only applies to teenagers in this sense (growing teeth and bodies need different kind of nutrition and sleep).
I hope parents can think about the injustice they felt as teenagers and how sometimes it produced deep rage and even hatred for fellow teens, parents or teachers. Looking back I realize some of the unfairness I felt was not justified and some was, but in every way explanations and the proper support could have helped me calm my harsh feelings.