Defying the Usual Expectations

Jaclyn Weiner, Viewpoints Editor

When you think of your future, what do you see? Do your friends assume you already have a path chosen? Are they right?

The template is usually: graduate high school, go to college, find a career, get married, have children. Progressive as our society is, this is still what is commonly expected and assumed.

Social norms are the reasoning behind this preconceived framework.

Social norms, extensively studied within the field of sociology, are the customary rules that govern behavior in groups and societies. Individuals with self-expectations, enforced by generations before them, continue the chain of living a life of the “social norm,” according to socialist Thomas C. Schelling in the book Arms and Influence.

To get an idea of teenagers’ views and desires for the future, I surveyed 25 males and 25 females, ages 16 and 17, on an equal range of the average high school student to the “accelerated” high school student. The question: “Where do you want/expect to be in 15 years?” About 40% said married with children, 20% said established in their career/economically stable, and about 40% answered with a combination of both of the former.
When asked, 100% said they want to be married and have children. Yes, every student. Yet, 27 students had no idea what career path they would like to follow, seven had a few potential careers in mind, and 13 students know what career path they would like to follow, or are in contemplation of one.

Most expect to be married. Most expect to have children. This is self-assumed before thinking about any other decision within life. Some go as far as saying what age they would like to be married, truly believing that circumstance will let them make that decision. Out of the surveyed, only three students responded that they want to be married and have children because family is an important value. The other 47 either didn’t know why they wanted to be married or said they were driven by the fear of being “forever alone.” Expectations and social norms cause individuals to follow that expected path.

Adults expect young people, whether they are their children or not, to grow up just like they did. I have had many conversations with adults about my future. I have discussed my potential education and my desired career choice. Adults object strenuously when I say, “I am independent and driven. It is difficult to even see myself having a family. I see myself happier being on my own, though I can’t predict arising circumstances.” This is always met with objection and occasional shock. “You’ll change your mind,” adults always say. “I was the same way, but look at me now. You’ll find the right person.”

This feedback fills me with frustration. I’m suffocated by norms, assumptions, and patronizing attitudes. As if everybody follows the same course, and they’ve already passed my point in the race to the end.

For those in fear of being “forever alone,” while only a teenager, have either been brainwashed into believing they need to find someone to be happy, are just truly dependent, or value family life. Though, to have that fear now under no circumstance is rational. If it is what you desire, you will most likely find someone, but it is not a concern as of now. The whole future is ahead of you, and just because you are alone now doesn’t mean you are will be 20 years later.

Not all social norms are detrimental or bad choices. If a family is desired, then that is what should be pursued. This is not the only social norm, but just one relevant example. The big question is, What do you want to do with your life, and why? Every life choice should be made with passion, not as if you’re simply going through the motions.