This summer I was introduced to the famous Taylor Swift by our ECYD mission corps volunteers-well, they introduced me to her music, I should say. Up until then, I knew the name, but I never had any interest in listening to her music. It was only once her songs were playing in my teen-packed van that I realized why she’s such a hit. She has the adolescent girl figured out to a tee.
So, what is it that Taylor’s got figured out? What is she singing about that we, who deal with teens and tweens, should pick up on? If you’d like a reference, you can go to www.youtube.com and type in Taylor Swift, or just find her on your daughter’s ipod.
One song called “Fifteen” pretty much spelled it out for me. Swift sings in retrospect about the experience of a freshman in high school. For now, though, I just want to touch on one key theme. Let’s look at the first verse of this song.
“You take a deep breath and you walk through the doors
It’s the morning of your very first day
You say “Hi” to your friends you ain’t seen in a while
Try and stay out of everybody’s way
It’s your freshman year and you’re gonna be here
For the next four years in this town
Hoping one of those senior boys will wink at you and say
‘You know I haven’t seen you around, before’”
The last two lines here point to the adolescent’s idealism or dreaming. Every woman needs to feel loved and protected. Even more so in adolescence. That’s why a typical characteristic of teenaged girls is their idealism, their tendency to see the world through rose-colored glasses. I’ve found this in girls in the form of thinking their boyfriend is perfect even when it’s clear to every one else that he’s not. It also comes out when girls daydream about “Mr. Right” pursuing them beyond all the obstacles or marrying their high school sweetheart. Taylor Swift taps into and feeds this in several of her songs where she transforms present-day realities into fairy tales or classic dramas (see “Love Story” and “Today was a fairytale”).
While I do often smile and roll my eyes at teeny boppers who melt over some boy and say they want to marry him, I can’t help but appreciate this idealism of theirs because it exposes something very deep and very good about adolescents. Their desire for a fairytale life points to their desire to be beautiful in some one’s eyes, to be a princess if you will, to be loved unconditionally and eternally.
Also, this keen sense of “how things should be” makes teens especially sensitive to injustice. Hence the famous mantra, “That’s not fair!”. Taylor Swift sings a song called “You Belong with Me” about the injustice of some high school relationships. But if we can only tap into this idealism and channel it, we can help adolescents to use their strengths to really make a difference. As the Holy Father has said repeatedly, the youth are the future of the Church and the world; young people can do great things; they are our hope.
So, as adults in the lives of adolescents, what can we do? We can help them to see the injustices in society such as poverty and abortion and challenge them to do something about it. They will. We can talk to them about their desire to be loved unconditionally and help them to set their standards high for relationships. They can.
But most of all, we must listen. Whether we agree totally, partially or not at all with what they’re saying, we must listen. Because, when adolescents sense that they are appreciated, trusted and believed in by us they will respond. I’ve seen it myself and I wonder if Taylor Swift’s mom did too (see Taylor’s song “Best Day” about her mom). Teens that are listened to can do great things and we can be those listeners that they need so much. So will we listen?