I recommend a little graphic novel called F*ck Off by Matt Maley and Lianna Maley. Matt is an artist and Liana is his daughter, a poet. They collaborated on this project when she was a senior in high school, directly dealing with what it’s like being a teenager in this new age.
The book follows a teen girl through her day being bombarded by Negative Nellies:
“Negative Nellies are manifestations of our fears and anxiety. They are irrational and irritating. They get in our faces and infest our devices. They put-off and procrastinate. They panic. They bully and tease and gaslight. They cloud our thoughts and muddy our paths. And they’re not going anywhere.”
There are some universal truths about being a teenager that everyone, regardless of age, can agree on: body changes are startling, emotional ups and downs are just the way it goes, and it’s difficult to figure out the new set of rules for when you are not a child but not yet an adult. All generations of teenagers stereotypically believe they are misunderstood and have personally invented sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll (or your music of choice).
So if you think you understand where this current crop of teens are coming from because you remember your youth, you are wrong. Today’s youth are society’s guinea pigs for what it’s like dealing with all the usual crap, PLUS the internet in their pockets. We don’t know what the effects are long term because the experiment is still happening. That’s scary. And if you think there isn’t anything much different, then you are naive.
I like this book because it is a short but effective look at the reality of today’s teens while providing wise advice for dealing with Negative Nellies. Things like pimples and fear of speaking up in class are inter-generational, but cyber-bullying and the constant, never-ending barrage of information is new. Today’s teens can’t just go home to their room to escape.
My favorite spread in F*ck Off is when she first arrives at school and we see a mass of teenagers and the Negative Nellies surrounding all of them, each personalized to get right where it hurts the most. Although these negative thoughts may have started from outside sources, they are internalized over time and become a part of how a person sees themselves. Most teens think they are the only ones suffering, but knowing they are not alone can help them feel “normal.”
Eventually, the Nellies are too much for the heroine of this story, but instead of crumbling, she tells them to “F*ck off!” But that doesn’t make them go away. She has to turn off her phone… then the TV… and finally do mentally healthy activities like meditating, journaling, yoga, and going outside to be with real people in real life. The Nellies are still there, but they are silenced and ignored.
“[L]isten to the voices of joy. Open your heart. Open your mind. Open your hands and hold on to this life.”
Plop F*ck Off on the bed of your teenager, or slide it under their door (it’s thin enough). But be sure to read it yourself first. We could all use the advice.