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December 29, 2012

On the Go: Teens need to be able to assert their independence

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The Daily Star

---- — Recently I saw the story of Willow Smith cutting her hair short.

I enjoyed her mother’s response to the question, “Why’d you let Willow cut her hair?” Her mom explained that she didn’t “let” Willow cut her hair. She continued to speak about empowering little girls to realize that only they own their body and their life. 

I agree with her 100 percent. No authority figure should be able to control another person’s life. I’m not saying these roles are unnecessary; quite the opposite, actually. My question is how can a person grow up to be herself when her formidable years were spent under tyranny?

I’ve always been recalcitrant. I can probably attribute that to my upbringing, and I’m so thankful. When I was about 12 I remember my dad explaining to me that you should never ask to go somewhere. If you tell the authority figure you’re going, you are eliminating that person’s chance to deliberate. It’s your time and your decision. 

I’ve learned to make my own choices, but I also have learned to take responsibility for my life by doing my own laundry, packing my own lunch, and managing my own money. 

I’m not, however, exceptionally disrespectful, no more than any other teenager. Respect and independence are not opposites. I try to be in control of my own life. A parent should be there to help the child, not to take away rights or to squash independence. 

When I tell a teacher I’m going to the bathroom, I’m not disrespecting him; I’m respecting myself. A student who asks to go to the bathroom is not in control of her own bladder. I don’t see how this empowers children to see their inherent dignity. At school, children must ask permission to perform simple bodily functions. I happen to think using the bathroom when you please is an inalienable right that I’ve been endowed with.

I know there are kids who would and do abuse the ability to go to the restroom but that hardly compensates for the degradation children are subjected to by having to ask permission on a daily basis.   

Another example of brain-washing, smothering children’s independence and eliminating self control is the Pledge of Allegiance. I love America. That feeling, however, was not developed because I was forced to recite a wordy statement.

It wasn’t until fifth grade that any of my teachers tried to explain it to me and my classmates. “I pledge allegiance to the flag and to the United States of America.” Simply, this means that I promise my loyalty. I remember thinking, “What if I don’t?” 

Five-year-olds can’t comprehend the Pledge, so they should not be expected to recite it daily. As I’ve been growing up, I have realized that “one nation under God” is a very hypocritical statement. If we are a nation of religious freedom, our pledge should reflect that. 

“Under God” was added to the Pledge to prove the United States wasn’t a country of godless communists. Since your religious views are not a measure of your morals, though, I find adding God to the Pledge pointless. 

For a few years now I have simply refrained from saying, “under God.” This is the first year that I have completely abandoned the Pledge. 

My first-period teacher explained to us at the beginning of the year that we do not have to say the Pledge, but he expects us to at least stand out of respect. He told us if we had a problem with standing to wait outside and be marked tardy excused every day. I didn’t like either option. So like anyone who likes to touch red buttons, I didn’t stand up the next day or leave. He didn’t notice me for a while but eventually he requested I stand. After a while I decided to do some research.

I found in the state Department of Education’s Student Bill of Rights that I am not required to observe the Pledge in any way. So now every morning I stay sitting and stay silent during the Pledge. This isn’t because I hate America or am a terrorist (as I’ve been called). It is because I respect my ability to decide my views for myself and because I feel I shouldn’t be expected to show respect for a practice I don’t respect. 

I understand why society has rules and expectations but there is a difference between helping society run smoothly and flexing muscles of power over kids and teens. If parents and educators could help children develop a sense of right and wrong when they’re young, society would not feel the need to control them to protect everyone from the impending doom of free-thinking, decision-making teenagers.

Kate Ahearn is a sophomore at Unatego Junior-Senior High School. ‘Teen Talk’ columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/teentalk