What kind of decisions would you trust with a 12-year-old?
You’d let her pick out her own clothes for school, probably. She’s old enough to decide what she wants to order for dinner. You’d trust her to decide what color she paints her nails, or what movie she’ll see with her friends, or whether she tries out for volleyball this year. She can decide which instrument she wants to play in band class and what you’ll name the new puppy. A 12-year-old gets to make lots of age-appropriate decisions during the course of her day.
But there are decisions we do not trust 12-year-olds to make. These include decisions such as who to marry, whether or not to have sex with an adult, whether or not to go to school, purchasing alcohol and cigarettes, and joining the Armed Forces.
Our national wisdom forbids 12-year-olds from legally consenting to anything at all. A 12-year-old can’t sign a binding contract. This makes a lot of sense, because we were all 12 once, too, and we recall that we didn’t understand much about the long-term consequences of our actions, and the photo evidence indicates that we shouldn’t have been allowed to choose our own clothes for school after all.
A Life-Changing Decision
Miley Cyrus was 12 years old when she made the decision to take the starring role in Hannah Montana.
She probably understood, at the time, that she was going to be on a television show, and make great money, and possibly sign autographs. She understood that her life was changing.
What she didn’t understand is that she was signing a binding contract with the whole entire world, that they would see her as their belonging, their thing, that her persona would be crowd-sourced by an increasingly connected planet, that the world would put the pieces of her together and tear them apart, over and over and over again, on billboards and for magazines and with video cameras and in Chinese, that there was never going to be an exit clause.
That this thing starts and then it never stops; that they will follow you everywhere; that the fight to define yourself internally, to belong to yourself alone, will be harder than anything you could ever imagine; that the odds are stacked against you; that the young people who win this first lottery are cast immediately into another; that the numbers you won with the first time around are the last to be drawn the next.
That the part of you who so seamlessly inhabits another life on camera, the wiring in your brain that wants to be up and outside of itself, the drive to become something and somebody else, even for just a few minutes, is going to haunt you for the rest of your life.
That this is going to be terrifying. That you are going to have to live through it.
A Note on Compassion
I suspect it takes tremendous courage to be Miley Cyrus. To be fair, it takes tremendous courage to be any teenage woman, and, in an age of Facebook and Twitter, each young woman who makes it through to the other side is a certifiable war hero.
Think back to the first time one of your friends messaged you to say that someone was saying horrible things about you on the Internet. Your heart raced, and you clicked the link. You signed up for everything, you installed anything, you whipped out your credit card – all to discover you’d merely infected your friends with the same spam message.
But for a moment, you were terrified that you’d been betrayed, targeted, that someone had shared something private about you publicly. Your field of vision became narrow, your animal instincts emerged, and you prepared yourself for a fight. It was exhausting, and then it was over.
Now imagine you’d clicked that link and it took you directly to a website where someone was actually saying something mean about you. Maybe it was a stranger, or maybe it was someone you trusted. Maybe it was a photo you thought was safe with your inner circle, a video you didn’t even know was recorded, or a total stranger talking mad smack about your hair. Imagine you’d actually been betrayed.
Imagine that happened every minute of every day for the entirety of your post-pubescent life. Imagine it showed no signs of stopping.
You’d emerge as a war hero, and as a soldier traumatized. Your sense of normalcy would be shattered, your brain and body exhausted from years alert on a battlefield, dodging snipers and wondering where the next bomb will explode. You’d go to a therapist, maybe, a polite, petite woman with two PhDs, and you’d leave her office each week in tears, not because you’d shed layers of pain, but because with each visit you realize that there’s no way she understands, that the pool of humans who have been through what you’ve been through is miniscule, that most of them are still battling these demons, that you cannot scream loud enough to expel the frustration from your body.
Maybe at some point you’d dye your hair.
Miley, you blow me away every time you step on stage. Your ability to command a live audience is, and always has been, preternatural. You’re talented and you work damn hard. Anyone who says otherwise has limited experience headlining multiple world tours.
For what it’s worth, I think your hair is stunning now. It highlights your face. I think you have every right to get engaged to a man, to kiss a girl, to wear anything you like to any awards show that extends you an invite. But, Miley, listen – it’s not worth a damn thing. What I think doesn’t matter, and that’s as true of the strangers who adore you as it is of those who’ve imagined they hate you. None of it is based in reality. None of it is based on the whole story. None of it has anything to do with you.
I will leave you, Miley, with a quote taken partially from the inside of your left forearm and attributed also to President Theodore Roosevelt:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
Image via TwittWeb