If you’re in your twenties or your early thirties, are you currently feeling a sense of déjà vu? Like everything from your teens is suddenly cool again? It's as if the very essence of our teenage years is making a triumphant comeback, and suddenly, we find ourselves embracing what we had once denied ourselves.
Remember all those things you loved but pretended to hate just to fit in? Like telling everyone you hate the colour pink, even when you truly loved it? That rebellion against authenticity, that suffocating need to conform — does revisiting those buried passions now bring you a newfound sense of peace for you too?
Trishna Rikhy's tweet "I'm just a teenage girl in my 20s" strikes a chord with many, echoed in an eponymous essay by Shit You Should Care About’s Lucy Blakiston, who unabashedly flaunts her chipped pink nail polish, beaded friendship bracelets and gushing over Taylor Swift's 1989 re-release. “Even though hell was being a teenage girl, right now she’s all I want to be,” she writes. Why this sudden embrace of our adolescent selves?
For most of us, those teenage years were a tumultuous rollercoaster. But why this resurgence of interest in what was once our emotional battleground? It beckons the discussion of the 'inner teen,' which is distinct from the concept of the 'inner child.' Clinical psychologist Tamara Cavanett explains: the inner child embodies innocence, while the inner teen exudes rebellion.
“An inner child represents the childlike aspects of your personality, for example, innocence and curiosity. An inner teen represents the adolescent aspects of your personality, for example, rebellion and independence,” Cavanett tells Refinery29 Australia.
Your inner child is often more associated with vulnerability and helplessness, and with our core feelings that are learned at early, formative ages. Our inner teen is the part of our personality that acts on our core needs and emotions. It’s basically your teenage self, in all its complicated glory.
Do you remember your adolescent self? One minute, filled with love for your parents, and the next, feeling so suffocated by them the only way to get the emotion out was to slam a door really hard? Wanting to be seen, but also to be invisible. Longing for independence and terrified of being alone. We might have long ago left behind the Impulse Body Spray in favour of a bottle of perfume, but the emotions and experiences of that time have, according to experts, left marks on our psyche.
These formative years sculpt our core needs and emotional responses, often lingering into adulthood. And, where you have a “wounded” inner teen, it can lead to impulsive, rebellious and sometimes self-centred actions (i.e. overspending, emotional eating etc).
“Someone with a wounded inner teen might exhibit a pattern of behaviour that reflects traumas from those years, for example, fluctuating emotions, rebellion, and impulsive decision-making,” Cavanett explains. So when we do things like get defensive when we’re insecure or act on impulse in moments of intense emotion, it could be that our inner teenager is being triggered. Which raises the question: how do we heal our inner teen?
Cavanett suggests delving into our experiences, processing lingering trauma, and re-examining our core beliefs. By accepting and reparenting our inner teenager, we can take crucial steps towards healing. “Healing our inner teen may involve strategies aimed at exploring and processing trauma and experiences from adolescence, often requiring you to revisit past experiences,” Cavanett says.
As well as the exploration of past wounds, you might also need to look at your teenage core beliefs. So that one teacher who yelled, “Why can’t you just understand?” when you asked a question in class and now you believe wholeheartedly you’re forever bad at maths? Yep, it’s time to revisit that. Other strategies include accepting your inner teenager and engaging in reparenting.
Consider this: just as 'play' heals the inner child, engaging in activities or interests reminiscent of our teenage years might heal our inner teen. Rediscovering and validating those core interests, regardless of societal norms, can offer immense validation and relief.
A lot of us have hidden away our love for certain music, books, clothes, movies and so on for fear of judgment or ridicule. Maybe we knew if we admitted that we loved reading fan fiction it would go down like a lead balloon with our peers (hi, it’s me). But in revisiting our teenage joys, we grant ourselves the freedom to be 'cringey,' a liberty our self-conscious teenage selves never dared to have. It's almost as if we're granting ourselves to unapologetically, unabashedly live out our teenage dreams in our twenties and thirties, to make up for the teenage years we never fully lived.
“Exploring things that you may have felt too afraid to do when you were a teen, because you worried about what others would think, can form part of the healing process for our inner teen,” Cavanett says.
Of course, there is the argument that our return to the things we once loved is simply a reaction to an increasingly fractured reality and a frustratingly uncertain future – but I push back against the perpetual argument that millennials just “refuse to grow up.” We have grown up; it’s just that growing up looks different for us now than it did back then, for a multitude of reasons shaped by the economy, society and cultural shifts.
So, here's to maybe having less chance of buying a home, but more of a chance to heal our inner teens through Taylor Swift concerts, pop albums and reading fanfic — even if you happen to be in your twenties or thirties.