It’s Just a Phase
Recently, a friend of mine came out to her parents as bisexual. The response she got was roughly the equivalent of “It’s just a phase.” If it’s not obvious, my friend is a teenager. If it’s also not obvious, I have a bit of a problem with this cliché.
“It’s just a phase” is something that’s only said to or about young people. When Jason Collins came out as gay, nobody questioned whether his orientation was just a product of his experimenting with different lifestyles. Anti-gay bigots had all sorts of reactions to his sexual orientation, but almost no one doubted that it was serious and permanent.
In contrast, my friend’s parents immediately assumed that her orientation was a transient thing that would go away as she got older. They assumed that she couldn’t possibly know enough to make that decision about her sexuality. Essentially, they discounted her entire perspective simply because she was young.
There is a general attitude in mainstream society that the opinions, beliefs, and lifestyle choices of young people are somehow less valid simply because they’re the opinions, beliefs, and lifestyle choices of young people. That it’s okay to completely ignore the viewpoints of young people. That we’re somehow unable to make reasonable choices about our own lives.
This attitude affects nearly every choice a young person makes. Decide you like metal music? You’re going through a phase. Dying your hair green? Going through a phase. Becoming a vegan? Probably just a phase, unless your parents are also vegans.
And curiously, it’s only choices that diverge from the mainstream that get scrutinized so harshly. Nobody says that a desire to go to college is just a phase. Want to get a job? No problem. I’m sure nobody will question you if you say you’re straight.
Ultimately, the impulse to dismiss the alternative choices and lifestyles of young people stems from the belief that the mainstream choices and lifestyles of older people are superior. There’s a general view that older people are necessarily ‘wiser,’ and thus their choices, beliefs, and opinions are more justified. This view is wrong.
The denial of our opinions and choices is a statement that the mainstream culture is the right one. That everything about our current society is exactly the way it should be, with all of its norms, standards, and prejudices intact. That young people, with all of our radical ideas and behaviors, could never hope to make the world better.
Again, this view is wrong. But not only is it wrong, it’s insulting. When older people talk to us as though our entire worldview is a product of naïveté, it denies us the ability to relate to older people as equals. It’s why this is so infuriating. It places us in an inferior position, and makes it impossible for us to openly express ourselves and our beliefs.
And frankly, it’s bullshit. Young people are just as intelligent, just as informed, and just as mature as older people. Our opinions, values, and perspectives are just as valid as those of people who are two or three times our age.
So maybe everyone else should start acting like it.