"Not Nineteen Forever"


Grace Bannister (she/her) eulogises the teenage years of 2004 babies

Article Image

Image by Pexels via Pixabay

By Grace Bannister

University is a time of great change: moving to a different place, making new friends, and for most of us the end of our teenage years.

If, like me, you’re a 2004 baby, you’ll have either already turned twenty or will be facing the imminent death of your teenage years. I had initially thought that our generation’s infatuation with teenage years was fairly standard. However, after speaking with my parents and their ‘Generation X’ friends, I was met with surprise at our attempts to prolong our teenhood.

While their associations with teenhood, and perhaps also of our teenhoods, are more akin to the BBC’s ‘Kevin the Teenager’, the perception of teenhood on social media seems to be changing. Trends on TikTok have seen comparisons between a millennial teenager, typically a spindly figure with a dodgy haircut, and a so-called typical teen of the 21st century. The punchline? Teens of today supposedly don’t go through that awkward stage.

But is this really accurate or universal? - I can personally deny the accuracy of that argument, and know many others that would too!

Our generation is so absorbed with the idea of teenhood, and when you begin to notice it, the presence of teenhood within popular culture is everywhere. From songs, to romcoms, to the ‘High School Musical’ movie series, we all grew up with expectations about what being a teenager should look like. And, I think it’s safe to say, most of us have failed to meet the mark.

That is, for me, what makes the romanticisation of the teen years so bizarre. Especially when you consider that most of Gen Z experienced at least some of their teenage years in Covid.

Particularly among girls on social media, there is a memorialisation of teenhood that extends beyond that of actual teenagers. It’s fairly standard to see videos on TikTok titled “POV: you’re not a teen girl forever”, or women referring to themselves as a “26 year old teenage girl”. Is this an attempt to hold on to the robbed teen years during Covid? Or is it something greater and seemingly innate to teenhood that people aren’t ready to let go of yet? It also feels like the bounds of teenhood are expanding. With the decline of so-called tweenhood, are we entering our teenage years much earlier too.

You’ll have likely heard of the term ‘mental age’, but who would want to extend the experience of raging hormones and ever-changing friendship groups that are practically innate to teenhood? So, what does it mean to be a teenager?  Or perhaps more importantly: what is it seen to mean?

Is it the ability to make mistakes, and be permitted time to figure it out? And to figure yourself out?

It’s easy to gloss over the challenges of teenhood and focus on the supposed leniencies awarded as a result. Or, is it perhaps the formative nature of the teenage years? The many sliding doors, still unclosed by the excuses of adulthood.

But something about the teenage years are undeniably formative, unique, and also entirely superficial.

While I don’t advise that you identify as a teenager forever (I’ve had enough of that TikTok trend please!), perhaps we can permit awarding ourselves some of the leniencies of teenagehood. So while the lyrics to the Courteeners’ “Not Nineteen Forever” certainly ring true, that doesn’t mean that our twenties can’t allow for as many mistakes, friendships, and bad haircuts as our teenage years.