Cynicism and Alternative Child Culture

This is a both a thought and personal post. So I won’t be making a third one this week since this covers both. It talks about emo kid culture and how I see most young adults (people around 19-23 in this case) treat it, with personal experiences on my part. Content warnings include references to self-harm, bullying/abuse and descriptions of mental illnesses like depression.

One thing that has always troubled me on some level but never really spoke about is how mocked emo culture is. It seems like a logical thing to do, silly kids wanting to act all emotional and angsty when clearly nothing is wrong in their lives. I’ll admit firsthand that yes, some of them do come across very superficial in a lot of ways. But I think there’s more underneath there than most people want to take in at first glance.

Growing up emo culture was my first step into alternative lifestyles and cultures. My emo phase as it were didn’t last very long and I quickly transitioned into gothic culture. There was still very many aspect of emo culture present (and I’ll get to why in a moment) but at that age I actively strove for and succeeded in replicating more mature presentations. Goth can be considered the adult version of emo, depending on what faction of goth one is looking at.

But that’s straying from the topic a little bit. One of the main concerns with the mocking of emo culture that I have first and foremost is the dismissal of how these kids really feel. Teenagers, especially those who are from 12-16 or so, are probably the most vulnerable to adult criticism. Not that it’s entirely unjustified to be unhappy and uncomfortable with a teens tendency to be impulsive. But there’s a very easy pitfall that pretty much every adult (myself included) tend to fall into, which is when one completely dismisses a kids emotions.

Why exactly is it okay as an adult to shut down and dismiss a teenagers feelings? Yes, they tend to be over dramatic and irrational. Yes, someone should probably try to put things into some kind of perspective. But that doesn’t make how that person feels any less real. I honestly think a big reason a kid acts out is because people don’t take their feelings seriously, especially girls, and especially kids who are emo.

But the mockery of emo culture by adults is somehow even deeper than just the normal dismissal of emotions. Many people I know have gone through an emo phase, they usually remain to this day drawn to alternative cultures and pretty much everybody has significant mental illnesses. As in, this affects their day to day life.

Let me return to my childhood from a second. I am Autistic, and it should have been obvious as early as 5th grade that I had a lot of trouble navigating socially. But I didn’t have stereotypical Autism. That is, my symptoms emerged form being too friendly and sociable. Of course as a kid nobody was concerned with how in-your-face friendly I was because that was considered desirable behaviour.

That changed radically in the face of hefty bullying during my early school years. I couldn’t handle the shock that people would want to shun and even hurt me. I had multiple and continuous meltdowns in all my classes, a fairly common reaction from kids with Autism. I developed an anxiety disorder that troubles me to this day. It was a nightmare for me until I was moved into special education.

In the wake of that experience going into puberty I started to be drawn to alternative cultures. My first favorite band, independant of my dad, was Green Day. The second one after that was Linkin Park. I reveled in angsty emotions, I became fascinated with mental illness and the idea of going “crazy”. The first time I ever cut myself I was 11 and wanted to see what it was like, I didn’t enjoy it.

Now as a young adult I have gone through abuse at the hands of both my uncle and father in my later teen years. I got to add major depressive disorder to the little list entitled “Shit Wrong With My Brain”. I don’t shave not because I like having a bunch of body hair but because of a cutting habit I developed, I don’t trust myself with razors anymore.

So what does this mean? I feel like a lot of emo kids feel drawn to this because of issues below the surface. Possible mental illness outcomes that their surrounding environment can either make or break. That’s why not all emo kids remain in alternate cultures or even wind up mentally ill. In that time frame, there was something there, something confusing and new. Something they wanted to figure out and that was how they chose to do it.

I think that’s why I’m so troubled when adults who were emo and even now have developed mental illnesses mock emo kids. We all know the tones and the things they tend to do. Emo kids bolster themselves on being “random”, they pride themselves in being unique in their eyes and tend to be attracted to hyperactive characters.

Emo culture itself is not on the surface one that is about suffering. It almost looks like the romanticize of suffering and mental illness, one that is brought about by that obsession with being different and unique. While simultaneously many emo kids are attracted to comedic hyperactivity and happiness, characters like Gir from Invader ZIM.

That’s exactly why I say that they’re all trying to figure something out. I mean yes, all teenagers are trying to figure out a bunch of new things. But emo in particular are trying to puzzle out things like severe depression, self-harm, anxiety, etc. Many of them are often either too young, or come from backgrounds too stable, to fully understand what those emotions are. Note I say understand and not experience, depression can strike at almost any age. Usually in kids its driven by something visceral like abuse, bullying or gender dysphoria. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be the case, as brain chemistry does have a role in all of this.

Basically what I’m getting at is that I think at least a good chunk of emo kids are experiencing feelings of depression and anxiety and often don’t know what to think of them. Emo is their way of exploring those emotions and trying to process them. I don’t think that’s something we should simply dismiss, let alone mock.

It might be easy for us as adults to forget how confusing and weird it was as a teenager, and it might be easy on a level of cynicism as many young adults are facing monumental pressures and responsibilities we didn’t have when we were younger. But it doesn’t make it good or even right.

Just let teens be teens in this aspect. So what if they bitch unjustly about their parents? As long as they’re not directly hurting themselves or others (as in, actually participating in self-harm or actively being aggressive towards their parents beyond typical arguments) there’s no reason to be so crass towards them.

They’ll figure things out eventually, and mocking them most certainly won’t help.

Cynicism and Alternative Child Culture

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