Tag Archive for: adolescent development

Photo from AP Wire

Somehow, the topic of Miley Cyrus came up in our house a few weeks ago. Yes, before the MTV Video Music Awards and Miley’s latest public appearance.

My girls are just old enough that they used to really enjoy watching “Hannah Montana” and Bubba and I used to be forced to listen to them sing her songs over and over again.  It has been a few years since that show has appeared on our television – Lola prefers ‘Seinfeld’ and ‘The Simpsons’ and Eve is a total ‘Pretty Little Liars’ fan – and neither of the girls owns any of Cyrus’ new music that I know of.  It is, however, nearly impossible to miss the tabloid headlines and magazine photos of her with her partially-shaved, blond-dyed hair and new, much edgier look.

When we started the conversation, I encouraged the girls to say what they thought about her and both gave me some version of the statement “she isn’t classy.”  I have to say that I agreed, but I did manage to paraphrase this quote from her that I admired:

“People think that I was made in Burbank in the Disney building.”

When Kelly Osbourne asked her about her transition from childhood to adulthood as a celebrity, she answered,

“It’s called puberty….Everyone’s done it from the beginning of time. I’m just doing it, so you’re zooming in on it and you’re fascinated by it.” 

The reason I held that up for my girls to think about is because I think she has a valid point.  Some teens go through a period of major rebellion and others stay pretty much the same as they always were. Some manage to hide their testing behaviors pretty well from their parents and others don’t.  Miley Cyrus ought not to be expected to stay the same innocent (if she really was that innocent – hard to know since I don’t know her personally) young girl she portrayed on television any more than anyone else.  She is growing up. She is allowed to get a tattoo or shave her head or sleep with whomever she pleases, whether or not we like it.  Whether or not we find it uncomfortable to look at.

I think it is patently unfair to so closely scrutinize Miley Cyrus for daring to take some chances with her physical appearance as a young twenty-something.  She is playing with her own boundaries, something she is absolutely entitled to do so long as she isn’t hurting anyone else or endangering herself in any way.  If she were anorexic or playing fast and loose with drugs and alcohol, that might be another situation, but still not one that’s any of my business and I would hope that her family and close friends would step in and try to help.

Of course, when the VMAs rolled around, I was shocked at the amount of disgust and disdain shown for her performance. Granted, I didn’t watch the entire thing (too busy catching up on ‘Breaking Bad’), but from the description of her stripping down to flesh-colored bikini and bra and incredibly suggestive dancing with Robin Thicke, I didn’t see anything that was much different than past performances from Madonna or Katy Perry or Britney Spears or even Lady Gaga.  Why the backlash against Cyrus? Is it because we all still want to see her as Hannah Montana? Are we uncomfortable with her growing up before our very eyes?  Frankly, I am far more disgusted by the lyrics to Thicke’s song “Blurred Lines” and its nod to the idea that women don’t actually know what they want when it comes to sex and they need men to give them guidance than I am by the idea that Miley gyrated her hips against his crotch on stage.  I’ve seen far worse. She was called out for grabbing her own crotch. Huh. How many male pop and hip hop stars do that almost constantly? When was the last time they were admonished for that kind of behavior?

So when the conversation came up again today and the girls had heard much of the discussion of her performance (neither of them has seen the broadcast of the VMAs), I was careful to ask for their perceptions first again.  They both felt like she was still “not very classy,” but Lola pointed out that she really felt a little sad.

“She has such a good voice and it’s too bad that these kinds of things take away from the attention on that.”

I think she’s right.  I say that, if Miley isn’t hurting anyone or exploiting anyone with her behaviors, we ought to leave her alone.  She may be making some decisions that will come back to haunt her in the future, given that these photos and recordings will likely never go away, but their her choices to make and unless her actions or words are harmful to anyone else, she has every right to do what she thinks is right.  I have seen some essays discussing her ‘appropriation’ and ‘exploitation’ of black culture and I honestly don’t feel like I can speak to that with any authority at all, so I’ll leave that to others.  Ultimately, I wonder if a lot of the public outcry over her VMA performance has more to do with the fact that Hannah Montana isn’t growing up to be the young woman many people expected her to be.  I don’t think we have any right to impose our society’s ideas on her simply because she was famous as a child.

A few days ago our neighbors had a tree service come take out an enormous tree on the sidewalk near their property. The trunk was probably five feet in diameter and I don’t even want to hazard a guess as to how tall it was.  I think it was some kind of maple, rough-barked and stolid, standing on the corner like some kind of massive pin that held the block in place to the earth.

As I walked past yesterday, before they had come to haul away the chunks of debris, I could see the center of the trunk eroded like so much sawdust and thought to myself, Aahh, it was dying. That’s why they took it out. I don’t know about your city, but our city doesn’t take too kindly to removing established trees, especially those considered ‘exceptional’ examples of their species – ones that are large specimens that have been in the ground for decades.  We like our greenery here in the Pacific NW and God help you if you want to embark on a construction project that might necessitate the removal of a tree on your property. The neighbors will stage protests and tie neon ribbons around the trunk, write letters to the city planning office and plead the case for this poor, defenseless tree like they wouldn’t for a human on death row.  The fines for removing a tree without a permit are based on the assessment of ‘fair market value’ for the particular tree, and can run to tens of thousands of dollars.

But as I strolled past this one, I thought I could plainly see why they had removed it.  Until a man and his dog came around the corner and stopped short. Thin and grey-headed, the bearded man in his Seattle-uniform of khakis and work boots and olive green vest led his dog up to the remains to check it out.  I was still about half a block away and watched them circle the pile of limbs and trunk sections, the dog marking each piece in that special dog-way.  As I neared, I prepared to meet the man’s eye and smile a greeting, but he looked at me and shook his head with a mixture of disgust and sadness. He was clearly unhappy that this tree had been cut down.

I immediately checked my thoughts about the tree removal.  Maybe my assessment had been wrong – maybe what I saw of the inside of the tree didn’t represent disease or a good enough reason to cut it down. Had these people been wrong to do this?  

Fortunately, I was able to recognize this pattern of thinking for what it was. Namely, my tendency to assume that my reaction is the wrong one upon encountering someone else who feels very differently than me. Especially when that someone is a stranger, older than me, and male.

As children, we begin forming our opinions by mirroring or imitating our parents. As we move into adolescence, we slowly start to individuate, often by reacting to situations in the opposite way of our parents, but this generally lasts only for a few years as we try out different personalities in order to better determine who we are.  Generally, as we become adults we settle in to some middle ground where we are able to exercise more critical thinking and assess our own reactions and opinions with some degree of realism.  Hopefully, this comes about thanks to parents or other influential adults in our lives who have taken the time (and patience) to guide us through our teenage years as we react to things more based on emotion and erroneous assumptions than clear logical thinking. (That said, if you haven’t read Jonah Lehrer’s How We Decide, you should check it out because he reveals how much of our “rational” decision-making is actually based on emotion and gut-feelings and how important that is).

I spent much of my adolescence straddling the line between adult responsibilities and desperately wanting to rebel but fearful of the consequences.  I often felt as though I was faking it as I worked hard to convince the adults in authority around me that I was capable of taking care of myself both physically and emotionally so that I could be left alone. On the inside, I was terrified of being ‘found out’ for the chickenshit that I really felt like.  That set me up for a deep mistrust of my own opinions and anytime I encountered an older person who seemed like they might have it all together, I fell all over myself to defer to their ideas of right and wrong.  It took years to begin to put stock in my own thought processes and values and, sometimes when I least expect it, my tendency to doubt my own beliefs sneaks up on me.

Fortunately, it’s not important whether or not I think the tree removal was justified, but it sparked a valuable inner exploration of how often I discount my own knowledge without thinking simply because someone else appears to think differently.