Teenagers aren’t terrible, we’ve just neglected them

This article originally appeared in the February 25, 2016 issue of the Indianapolis Recorder Newspaper 

When I was a teenager (about 10 years ago) there was always something for me to do. I was privileged enough to have the opportunity to participate in a multitude of activities at Ben Davis High School (marching band, speech and debate, television production, etc.) but even outside of that, my friends and I had at least a handful of places around the city that would welcome us and our cash. When I was 18, a typical weekend would consist of a comedy show at Morty’s Comedy Club and then hookah in Broad Ripple. There were also under-21 parties on all sides of town, the bowling alley, the mall and, yes, the skating rink. Now, due to changes in law and policy, the social life I had as a teenager is nearly impossible for people like my 16-year-old sister.

Last weekend, news circulated of a “chaotic” incident involving hundreds of teenagers at Skateland on the city’s west side. Reportedly, a Facebook flier promoting an unauthorized party at the skating rink prompted droves of people to show up to the venue, only to be turned away. The crowd then migrated from the rink to stores in the nearby neighborhood. According to law enforcement, there was a fight and someone vandalized a police car. Despite all this, no one was hurt and no one was arrested. Thank God.

From RTV6
From RTV6

The manager of Skateland, Sean Hart, said he denied entry to the teenagers because the skating rink was hosting family birthday parties and did not want the teens to “ruin” their experience. About five years ago, Skateland began closing at 9 p.m. to further deter teens from showing up. Its new policy states teens are not allowed to be dropped off at the venue unsupervised.

While I understand on some level why Hart and his staff made the decision they did, I think it exposes a larger issue. No one in Indianapolis likes teenagers. In some ways, business owners and the upper castes of our society treat teens like they do the homeless: pitying their plight from afar and being secretly relieved when they are out of sight. They’re loud. They annoy you. Most people over the age of 25 don’t understand them. I believe these feelings are amplified when those teens are poor, Black and, for lack of a better term, “ratchet.” If we were being honest, most adults can tolerate teens “disrupting” their 7-year-old’s birthday party or their afternoon stroll through Circle Centre Mall if said teens spoke in inside voices, wore their pants at their waist and had mastered all the social graces we’ve come to understand as “good behavior.”

Here’s my problem with that frame of thinking. These young people, regardless of their economics or background, need love and need to feel like they belong somewhere, anywhere besides the front pages of newspapers and obituaries. Yes, even the ones some of you deem too ghetto to deal with. If they can’t skate, can’t walk through the mall and can’t congregate at the bus stop as a last resort, what are they supposed to do? I am excited about some of the development taking place in our great city, but I fear the young people have been left out. I am excited to see what our mayor’s summer job program will turn out to be, and I would love to see other city leaders and business owners come alongside him to provide tangible opportunities for our youth.

I am so tired of hearing wind bags like the one I listened to the other day hop in front of microphones to blame the unruly kids and their absent parents without expounding on the real issues at play. I challenge you, the next time you are out and about and a teenager is wildin,’ speak a word of encouragement and love, ask them about themselves and what they have going on. You may be in for a surprise at how wonderfully rewarding it is to converse with someone unlike yourself. It is up to each and every one of us to step up and do something to positively impact our future.