I work with teenagers.
Both in fiction and real life. This is not a coincidence.
As a high school employee, I’m surrounded by teenagers 35 hours a week. They permeate my work life, even into the break room. When surrounded by other school employees, mostly we talk about the teenagers. Lunch conversation revolves around the crazy things those students are doing these days or what disciplinary tactic works best with that student. In class it’s even more their world. Lessons have to follow their logic, they guide the pace, their reality is the reality we have to start from.
Don’t believe me, ask a teacher. They are taught to make lesson plans and set schedules, but they have to make adjustments as soon as the kids enter the room.
I also work with with teenagers in fiction. I like writing teenagers. They are smart enough to know most of what they need to about the world and ignorant enough to try the really crazy stuff. You see, teenagers think differently than those of us with more life experience. It’s hard to remember that when you’ve been paying your own rent for years.
There was a time, I still vaguely remember, when I really didn’t understand what it meant to “earn a living” or “make ends meet.” I really thought that I was being an adult when I saved all of my income for weeks to buy the new gadget that I wanted. Or longer so Mom couldn’t say anything about the clothes I bought for back to school. I didn’t know about bills and due dates. I never suspected there were so many of them every month and you can’t get out of them. I had the impression that going to work was just like they showed on TV, all office intrigues and madcap adventures with people blowing up in staff meetings every other day.
It was a fun and horrifying time that I never want to live through again. At least not if I have to do it for real. Taking on some of the things I thought we could do if a real adventure ever came our way, well that’s really fun. Since a real adventure never actually happened all through high school (much to the relief of the teachers I’m sure), the closest I’ll ever get is when I let the teenagers who live in my head out into their imaginary worlds.
Of course my memory for how I thought as a teenager has been a bit tarnished by time. No worries, I just have to got to work and listen. the kids these days don’t have the same kinds of adventures I thought that I would have, but the logic is the same. The bravado and lack of clear understanding of consequences remains unchanged. These are the things that make teenagers such great protagonists. They are smart enough to deal with the problems that make for good adventures, and willing to do the silly things that could be brilliant or just make things worse.
Adults have to actually think things through or have a good reason not to. Teenagers can get away with making the silly choice and seeing it through to the ultimate payoff. And most people will believe it. Of course, that only works once, because teenagers learn from their mistakes.
I like to work with teenagers, because they don’t know what can’t be done.