Growing into Your Critical Eye

by Cloey Aconley

The coming-of-age trope is something that has been seen time and time again. We watch through the screen as kids go from innocence to adulthood. We see teens smoking weed for the first time or skipping school. We so often focus on the “naughty” side of adolescence, that we lose out on an important lesson in self-actualization. It is natural to question the rules once you reach a certain age but questioning the rules may not necessarily be a terrible thing. A quintessential part of becoming a teenager is realizing that people are flawed. Though your parents put a roof over your head, they are not without their misgivings. The adults who once knew everything are no longer the picture of wisdom. There are things to be learned from both your parents and those around you. However, the naivety of our childhood is something I left in the rear-view mirror the moment I watched a grown man accidentally lock himself in a public restroom. I saw that people make mistakes, and not everything adults say must be taken as fact. Learning to see the world with a critical eye is both a blessing and a curse, it is a gift that makes us question everything we once knew to be true. Coming of age isn't always teenage ambivalence; it is often a process of understanding that defines our path through adulthood. I’ve felt myself unraveling a ball of information, finding myself with a singularly dystopian question: What is real? The construct of monogamy? Gender? Or the idea that only certain foods qualify as breakfast?

My generation is one of the first to grow up completely online. I was never introduced to technology; it was just there. I have come of age with a wealth of information at my fingertips. I don’t have to rely on the narrative my parents pass down to me. 85% of gen Z has social media. Meaning I have constant access to over two billion people, who are growing and learning just like me. “Small town values” are slowly fading, like it or not, we are all connected. This means that the sooner we begin to question adults, the sooner we begin the process of actualization. We are growing up faster than ever, but what does it mean to grow up?

Growing up isn’t deciding barbies are lame or yelling at your parents. Growing up for me had more to do with questioning. I questioned what was stopping me from eating a grilled cheese for breakfast, and why as a woman I felt pressured to eventually bear children. I think questioning the ideas that society places on us is not only natural, but necessary. Most kids understand from an early age where they are expected to “fit” in society. Girls are raised in a domesticated environment, where we are encouraged to wear dresses and paint our nails, never really knowing why. We are told from a young age that we aren't as “strong” as men, and as a result we grow up less self-assured. Women feel isolated from our bodies, and often question our own ideas and physical autonomy. Boys on the other hand, grow up to be emotionally unavailable, and have troubles understanding themselves internally. We exist in a flawed society fueled by systemic issues. These expectations are passed down to kids based on their gender, sexual orientation, race or social standing. We are raised to understand these boxes, but it's not until we reach teenagerhood that we begin to unpack them. Understanding that the basis of these societal expectations stem from things like white supremacy, is an important realization for young people who are struggling to come to terms with their identity. Young people's personal identity has been dictated by societal norms for too long. Growing into your critical eye is something that finally gives us power over our sense of self.

Adults aren't wrong about everything, but they are subject to social constructs. With each new generation comes a deeper level of open mindedness. As we find our place in the world, it is best to look at things without an influx of unsolicited expectations. Blind acceptance of everything we are told is a dangerous game. Despite all credibility, listening with a critical ear promotes a deeper level of understanding. The more we question, the more we understand, and the further we come as a generation.

Taking ownership of thoughts and ideas does not always come easy, especially as a woman. Growing up in a world still controlled by a male pattern narrative, makes it difficult to achieve female autonomy. Young girls often suffer from low self-esteem. Our society tells us that we aren't good enough, and that our ideas aren't worth being heard. This skews our axiom of how we are allowed to see ourselves in the world. It is an uphill battle to understand ourselves in a place that tells us we aren't worth comprehension. Furthermore, we will internalize our own objectification, making it difficult to see ourselves as people capable of change. Growth, questioning, and understanding is not necessarily easy, especially when faced with the mindset that our understanding has less worth than that of a man. Female agency is not easy to achieve. This is because we are subject to the male gaze that plagues our understanding of how we are expected to exist.

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It is important to understand that despite the generational change we see in our society, it is not enough. Over one thousand bodies of murdered indigenous children have been found in residential schools in Canada over the past month. We are still not acknowledging the significance of this. How the trauma of being taken from their families has affected the indigenous population today, and how first native reservations still aren't receiving clean water or the land rights they were promised. Since the death of George Floyd, there have been at least 1,068 unarmed black people killed by police. Despite the idea that as a society we are “getting better” it is not coming fast enough. It is so easy to simply accept the idea that gradual change is upon us. It is harder to understand that that change is an active choice. To do better as a society is something that as a generation, we need to commit to. It won't be enough to hope for change, as opposed to educating yourself on what change is.

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Growing up with white privilege has given me the option to question the ideas of the world without having a personal stake in the matter. I tell myself that my questioning is good, and that it can help to make the world a better place. This will never change the fact that I have never faced true oppression. I couldn’t even begin to understand the deep-rooted personality of the colonial ideals I so desperately want to change.

As someone who has white privilege, there is a lot we can do to encourage change. A lot of this stems from education. It is important to fully understand the world we live in, and why it functions in this way. The more you learn about racism, and other social issues you are trying to unpack, the better we can do. Encouraging productive and well-informed conversations is important, even when the circumstances are less than ideal. Often a young person’s opinion is discounted, but it is important to remain heard. Despite the unconventionality of the conversation, it is still an important one to be having.

I think the biggest thing that I left in my childhood was the idea that the world is a good place. It may be beautiful, with the oceans and forests, with extensive cultures and religions. We live on wonderful land, but we are dying. We live in cycles of oppression, systems of racism, and in a world where oceans are set on fire. A quintessential part of becoming a teenager is realizing that absolutely nothing is perfect. Leaving the naivety of childhood is an understanding that the world is not a good place to be. As a white person, I came to that realization later, rather than sooner. We exist in a space occupied by hate, coming to terms with that is a part of the reason why we so often see teens acting out. It is important to encourage new and radical ideas, because they ultimately push for a better world. With the changing of generations, we encourage more open-mindedness, and new ideas. It is time that we start encouraging this process of understanding.



Gen Z’s use of social media has evolved | The ASEAN Post

How Canada forgot about more than 1,308 graves at former residential schools | Sault Star

How many people have been killed by US police since George Floyd? | Black Lives Matter News | Al Jazeera