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Author Topic: Perceptions of Youth
bluejumprope
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I'm not sure exactly where I'm going with this post, so bear with me.

It bothers me a lot how some adults--even some very cool, smart, adults--disrespect younger people's experiences. Many of the remarks I hear about teenagers seem to seriously lack compassion.

Here's one example of the tone I'm talking about. This was in "Bitchfest: Ten Years of Cultural Criticism from the Pages of Bitch Magazine:"

In praising Norma Klein's YA fiction, Andi Zeisler writes about Klein's characters:

quote:
...but for all their precocity, they displayed enough cluelessness and self-absorption to be believable as actual teens.
So, question #1: does that feel like a slap in the face to anyone else?

Really, I don't think you could get away with saying those are the essential characteristics of any other group of people. And yet, young people are routinely characterized that way. Clueless, self-absorbed. (Untrustworthy, embarrassing, sophomoric ...want to list any others?)

Growing up I felt incredibly bound by this perception: that, as a young person, it was impossible for me to do anything that wouldn't come across as cliched, that everything I said and experienced lacked a certain reality because I wasn't a "real person" yet. Instead, I was this inherently embarrassing thing, a teenager, so my best bet would be to stay silent until I was an adult.

I recently came across a quote from a Jonathan Franzen essay I read at that time that I felt really captured this feeling:

quote:
Adolescence is best enjoyed without self-consciousness, but self-consciousness, unfortunately, is its leading symptom. Even when something important happens to you, even when your heart’s getting crushed or exalted, even when you’re absorbed in building the foundations of a personality, there come these moments when you’re aware that what’s happening is not the real story. Unless you actually die, the real story is still ahead of you. This alone, this cruel mixture of consciousness and irrelevance, this built-in hollowness, is enough to account for how pissed off you are. You’re miserable and ashamed if you don’t believe your adolescent troubles matter, but you’re stupid if you do.
I've been wondering how others experience this sort of paradox of experience. Do you feel like the "real story" is still ahead of you? Like your adult life is "more real" than your adolescence? Is there a way to acknowledge different amounts of experience without calling the less experienced person stupid?

How do YOU frame your life as a teenager? Is it practice for something later? Is it a life in its own right? As an adult, how do you think you'll look back on your teenage self?

Another entry point, if anyone else wants to talk about this, is certainly sexuality. Teenage sexuality is often perceived as a different animal than adult sexuality. ("Teenagers can't know what love is...") Do you think those are valid perceptions?

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Heather
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(Great post, bluejumprope. Alas, now I have also just gotten an inadvertent, giant kick in the rump to finish the piece I've had sitting for Scarleteen on how, yes, young people CAN know what love is. Guess I know what I'm doing later today!)

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Karybu
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Awesome topic, bluejumprope. I'm not a teenager anymore, but I remember very well how much it sucked to feel that my experiences were disregarded by adults because I wasn't quite a "real person" yet. It still doesn't make any sense to me that so many adults see teenagers that way; my experiences as an adult (even though I don't usually feel like one!) are no more real to me than they were when I was 15, and I think it's silly to assume that all of us hit some magic age where all of a sudden we can understand the world. Do I experience, say, love differently now than ten years ago? Well, yes, but I have no doubt that I will experience it differently yet again ten years in the future. The idea that teenagers somehow aren't "finished" as human beings is just ridiculous, because no one ever finishes changing or learning.

*ahem* Clearly, I feel more strongly on this than I thought. I may be way off base here, but it seems like part of the problem might be that a lot of teenagers internalize those stereotypes, and are perceived as irresponsible or self-centred because they're not given the opportunity to be anything else. It's sad, because the vast majority of teens are totally kickass people who don't deserve the bad reputation they have as a group.

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"Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing." -Arundhati Roy

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TheTasteOfPurple
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YES! This is actually something I've been thinking about a lot over the past few days--twice recently I've heard actors in the youth theater I work at referred to as "kids" with the implication being that it automatically made them lesser than the person speaking. (One of those times it was a college student who wasn't much older than the oldest cast member.) I don't think of my peer group as "kids", I think of them as PEOPLE.
When adults dismiss or downplay the importance of young people's feelings, thoughts, and opinions, they devalue their own experiences; I think most adults don't recognize that. Childhood and adolescence are called the formative years, but it's infrequently mentioned that the experiences we had ten, five, two years ago affect our current life and choices just as much as the experiences we had a minute ago. I think there's really no way to justify considering them somehow less real.

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Julia

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Jill2000Plus
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It is a constant source of frustration to me that born homosapiens under 18 are treated as lesser. I'm 20 now, and I still get the feeling that what I have to say is treated as being worth less sometimes, even though I'm no longer either a teenager or a born homosapien under 18 and I see how teenagers get treated all the time, everything one goes through from birth to reaching the age of 18 is seen as somewhat trivial by many, and the power your parents have over you is not something they should have, yet it's upheld time and time again as the right thing by even some very non-oblivious adult homosapiens.

I think some parents like stopping their children from doing things for themselves so they can justify controlling them on the grounds of that loathsome rights equals responsibilities and vice versa notion (yes I do disagree with it because it's what stops born homosapiens under 18 from being treated as equal to everyone else and also seems to be an oft used phrase of the anti-abortion movement, it further angers me that on the basis of that you could justify treating someone who needed round the clock care in all sorts of horrible ways on the grounds that you have responsibility to them and therefore rights over them). I remember my dad talking about how they should be able to discuss things freely with me when the thing in question was that they believe that all the world leaders are reptiles, so they basically thought they had a right to push faith on me, and did take advantage of my vulnerability throughout the years to try and make me believe all this stuff when I was at my most psychologically fragile. I've been sexually shamed, told off for looking like I was asking the boys to come and get it, hit, told again and again "because I'm an adult/your parent and I say so", had my father tell me I wasn't allowed boys in my room even if we were just friends while girls were OK because they couldn't get me pregnant, my frustration further aggravated by the fact that I didn't even want to do anything with boys that would have been a pregnancy risk as I'm not really interested in that kind of sex. I've been told that I shouldn't go to lesbian bars because there'd be predatory older women there who'd view me as fresh meat, I can trace the guilt I've had about masturbation to experiences in reception school with teachers, and expand upon it by looking at adults who trivialise, mock or horrifically punish adolescent and preteen sexuality because they must have some ritual that enforces how much better they are than all those teens and children who haven't learnt to make intercourse their primary/only method of sexual expression yet... or y'know what? Whatever their excuse is this time. There seem to be an inexaustible supply of protestations at the notion that born homosapiens under 18 have the same rights over their bodies as everyone else. Teen sexuality is seen as an uncontrollable force of destruction, a world of girls without desire tempting boys who are full of it to rape and sex. When you're young, adults can give you diagnoses and then alternately use them to pigeonhole you and ignore them as it suits them. It is still legal, as I understand it, for religious parents to refuse their child a blood transfusion on the basis that it conflicts with their beliefs... oh dear! Because the last thing we'd ever want to do is commit the unforgivable sin of valuing somebody's right to life and bodily integrity more than some ignorant bully's right to force their religion on others! Parents can discount that the born homosapiens in their care are experiencing reality in all sorts of ways, it's still legal to alter newborn babies genitalia without their consent on the grounds that they are intersexed (and my dad told me that's what they would have done if I were intersexed and for that I will never actually love them again), or on the basis of the parents' desire to force their religion on their children.

I apologise for the ramblyness of all this, but I'm posting on a computer where I'm a little uneasy being seen on this forum.

I too know what it feels like to think that everything you do is cliche, I've felt selfconcious about wanting to learn to play the guitar just because everyone always jokes about how all teenagers want to do that (and I am and it's the most enormous fun, I love playing the guitar), I've felt like the utter joy I experienced in my relationships with friends was regarded as shallow hormonal impulsiveness, these constant messages that the love I felt was not meaningful and if we moved that would be the end of it (and we moved a lot, 8 times actually), I was in the somewhat unusual position of having musical tastes that were roughly in line with majority critical opinion from the age of 14, but I still got that sense that what music I listened to, what books I read and what TV and films I watched were constantly watched for indications of "typical teenage tastes", I had major issues with my body and constantly thought of dieting and how being thin would make me happy as a child and my parents reinforced this, I remember my mother talking about how she wanted to cut the fat out of her stomach and it was disgusting (which I'm aware must have been horrible for her, but it also impacted greatly on me), and saying how I didn't look as nice when I put on weight as each year passed, my dad cultivated the ability to make everyone feel very guilty by looking deeply worried about my health (putting me on the zone diet at the age of 9, which just made me more confused about food). All this stuff? Keeps me up crying some nights, so there it is. There's more.

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Always knock before entering my room when I am in there alone, as I may be doing all sorts of wonderfully thrilling things that I'd rather you didn't see.

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Onionpie
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I always feel looked down on for this sort of thing, too. And that comment by Andi really IS a slap in the face. So in general, we don't have as much experience in life as adults (though some of us do, depending on what kind of situations our lives have brought us), but this does not make our feelings any less valid. I hate when adults say you can't really know you're in love until you've had more experience. Well excuse me, but if I feel strongly, and I feel like I'm in love, you can't tell me I'm not. How, in any way, are teens less able to feel love than adults? They seem to acknowledge that we can feel anger, and happiness, and sadness (albeit some seem to think our sadness is only ever melodramatic or self-pitying) just as much as an adult can, so what makes love so different?

All my teen life I have felt caught in that feeling that Franzen described, being afraid of really expressing myself and being thought of as a "melodramatic, self-indulgent" stereotypical teen -- even by my peers; "the emo kid" stereotype -- and yet feeling everything fully, for real. Because our feelings are just as raw and real as any adults', they are not always smothered by self-absorption, they are not somehow lesser because of how we're perceived. I feel like a lot of adults want us to think that the "real story" is still ahead, we haven't really begun life yet. But I'm not buying it, and I never will.

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goodmagpie
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bluejumprope, THANK YOU! I saw this post and felt like running all the way to the US and giving you a huge big 'ME TOO!' hug (until I realised just how much energy it would take for me to run to another continent, over the Atlantic Ocean [Razz] ).

I do lots of voluntary youth work and I am so sick of people patronising me (not those I work with directly - they are awesome); I am an intelligent young woman and, quite frankly, I am a damn sight more capable of running my own life than a few adults I could mention.

Ageism towards young people is one of my pet hates, predominantly because it seems to be one of the few types of discrimination around that is deemed generally acceptable and often factual. If anyone was caught saying that white/ black/ asian/ disabled/ female/ whatever people can't know what love is, there would be hell to pay.

A friend of mine recently said that unfortunately, ageism is something of a Catch 22, as once someone is old enough to have their views about young people and their competance taken seriously, they are no longer as affected by it and therefore often don't kick up the fuss I think this merits.

I find it genuinely upseting that I know a lot of the adults in my life who I care about don't think my and my boyfriend's relationship is worth the same as theirs, due to age, and the fact that what could be called 'making love' if it were two adults can be a crime if it's two fifteen year olds (or whatever, depending on the age of consent).

Despite that, I find it encouraging and heartwarming and empowering and all those other lovely fuzzy-inside kinda feelings when I see other people voice this concern. It's great to see I'm not the only one [Smile] . Don't let anything define or brand you (certainly not age); define yourself.

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bluejumprope
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goodmagpie, re "ME TOO hugs"-- I've totally felt the same way reading this thread. [Smile]

(I also have to say, there's a lot that has been written here that has struck me as so beautiful and powerful. Wow.)

quote:
Originally posted by goodmagpie:
A friend of mine recently said that unfortunately, ageism is something of a Catch 22, as once someone is old enough to have their views about young people and their competance taken seriously, they are no longer as affected by it and therefore often don't kick up the fuss I think this merits.

I think that's true. I also wonder if an aspect of why adults don't express more outrage--and part of why young people are treated this way in the first place--is that there's a belief that putting down younger people is part of what makes someone an adult? That to assert a new adult identity requires disrespecting the previous identity and anything that's reminiscent of it?

The word "hazing" comes to mind.

It feels to me like there's this cycle of shame, that adults have to continuously put down younger people to distance themselves from the shame they felt when they were younger.

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without tenderness, we are in hell. -Adrienne Rich

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Jill2000Plus
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I think there's truth in what you are saying bluejumprope, I hate when somebody says "you're just getting to the age where you have power" because I've been fighting hard since I was much younger than I am now to be listened to, just because I thought it was important that everyone hear that everyone should have ownership of their own body and that discrimination wasn't acceptable and that religion shouldn't be the basis for law or something that parents are allowed to force on children, I'm fighting to have those messages heard now as the exact same me, just older. At the LGBT youth group I go to, there are several early teen attendees, and I'm so glad they can go there and be supported, they are great individuals who bring wonderful things to the group (not trying to say that if one of them was mean it would prove that minors are troublemakers or they'd have less right to be there than a mean adult, I just want to show my appreciation of them).

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Always knock before entering my room when I am in there alone, as I may be doing all sorts of wonderfully thrilling things that I'd rather you didn't see.

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Heather
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quote:
A friend of mine recently said that unfortunately, ageism is something of a Catch 22, as once someone is old enough to have their views about young people and their competance taken seriously, they are no longer as affected by it and therefore often don't kick up the fuss I think this merits.
I would absolutely agree with this, and feel like I have seen this with older adults many, many times.


Too, what you said bluejumprope:
quote:
It feels to me like there's this cycle of shame, that adults have to continuously put down younger people to distance themselves from the shame they felt when they were younger.

I think that's part of it. I also have noticed that many adults have a somewhat selective memory when it comes to our teen years. the teen years are traumatic for many, many people, so that's unsurprising (as we tend to file away trauma when we can), but I also don't think that's a sound excuse for not TRYING to remember and not trying to empathize and see young people clearly. or see them past your projections of your own teen self onto them, for that matter, which I think also happens a lot.


By the way? I love this thread. It's one of those that makes me all teary and makes me wish that I could learn some new, ingenious way of cheerleading for all of you where many other adults would get how freaking awesome you all are.

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
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Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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amychaos
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It is disappointing for me to inform you all that this idea that 'teenagers can't possibly know what love is/feels like' is not just a problem among adults. I have been with my boyfriend for a year and a half now and i can honestly say that I love him with all my heart, however when I friend asked me if in a few years time I would marry him and I answer yes she simply laughed and commented 'how could you, you dont even love him' when i told her i did love him she replied 'you dont even know what love is.'
I was upset to hear that this was her opinion and that she couldnt ever possibly understand my feelings for my boyfriend. I can only imagine that she has learned this from parents or other adults that she knows that have taught her that 'teens don't know what love is'

I would also like to mention a conversation I had with another friend a few days ago. the two of us are the youngest out of our group of friends. She said 'I can't believe we're still 15' and i agreed because mentally we feel more mature than our age and other people comment on our maturity whereas our parents still treat us like our younger siblings.
We are at that difficult stage in life where our parents still treat us like babies most of the time but then do give us some priviliges other times, partly because we have left school and will be starting college in september. However this treatment starts to become confusing because we have no idea as to where boundries lie due to the fact that our parents don't know how to treat us. They're always saying that we need to learn from their mistakes but how can we possibly learn if we dont make those mistakes for ourselves and realise the consequences on our own.
I apologise if this doesn't make any sense at all as I am just trying to vent a lot of my feelings all at once.

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bluejumprope
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amychaos, one of the things you wrote brought up a few thoughts I want to write out, but I want to be clear I don't mean it AT ALL as a criticism of anything you wrote--it was just sort of a jumping off point for me.

quote:
She said 'I can't believe we're still 15' and i agreed because mentally we feel more mature than our age and other people comment on our maturity
I've said this myself, had it said about me, and spent most of my early teens wishing I was in my mid-thirties (or late-fifties, depending on how horrific youth seemed to me)--but I think framing it this way sometimes reinforces the stereotypes we're trying to get away from.

Saying someone is "more mature than their age" implies that that age is inherently immature, and that to be "immature" is a bad thing. I think it suggests that for a teenager to be wise, intelligent, or self-aware, is the exception, rather than the rule, which I disagree with. And, that to embody those characteristics, one must distance themselves from their actual age, which I think creates unnecessary alienation.

In myself, and with other "precocious" friends, this has led to a lot of heartache. It's involved things like clinging to the mature label for our sense of personal goodness, and self-hatred for the ways we feel we don't measure up to that.

I often find the words "mature" and "immature" problematic. Mostly it seems like "immature" is used as a synonym for "stupid" or "obnoxious," where "mature" is equated with a bunch of very positive attributes. "Mature" is also a compliment frequently given to young children for exhibiting degrees of self-discipline and denial which I think are unhealthy--so that's another reason I find the word unsettling.

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without tenderness, we are in hell. -Adrienne Rich

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amychaos
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okay so I didn't mean it in that way at all.
What i meant was, the adults around us all think that teenagers are childish, and irresponsible, however some don't, and the ones that don't are a lot more respectful and treat us better.

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Irm
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Wow, I LOVE this thread. Why don't I hang around here more? In the past five minutes I've read so many nail-on-the-head comments to issues I could never have put words to.

bluejumprope, I especially liked:

quote:
Saying someone is "more mature than their age" implies that that age is inherently immature, and that to be "immature" is a bad thing. I think it suggests that for a teenager to be wise, intelligent, or self-aware, is the exception, rather than the rule, which I disagree with. And, that to embody those characteristics, one must distance themselves from their actual age, which I think creates unnecessary alienation.
I think that a lot of thoughtful teenagers, including myself (when I still was one =X), label themselves "beyond their years" simply because the world gives them the message that the potency of emotion and poignancy of thought they experience can't possibly exist in someone their age. This brings a framework into view that, in too many ways, really isn't relevant to a 15-year-old's experiences... and like you said, it can lead to shame and disappointment when you don't "live up" to your inner 30-year-old.

I want to add, though, that it can also persuade you that you're ready for certain experiences or life decisions that you really aren't. I'm not wagging my over-18 finger in some patronizing way, here: I'm speaking purely of my own experiences, which I know can't be entirely unique to me. As an example: if you're constantly told that you're too young to have legitimate sexual feelings, but, well, obviously you DO, then the logical conclusion might be, "Well, I feel lust, so I must be ready for sex." Of course, you would never jump to that if the adults in your life validated the fact that you have a functioning reproductive system and that your sexual desires not only exist but are a-okay. Then you might be able to accurately separate desiring sex from being ready for sex.

I think that in a lot of cases this applies to the desire for marriage too. Again, big disclaimer here that I'm not trying to invalidate anybody's feelings; this may or may not apply to you. But I can't help but notice that a desire for marriage amongst teenagers seems to be in higher concentration when the adults in their lives refuse to validate that they can even feel love.

Someone tells you that it's impossible to feel love at your age. You ARE clearly feeling love, which leads you to conclude that you are NOT really your age when it comes to relationships. More "mature" options seems reasonable, like marriage. Plus, it seems that getting engaged is one of the only ways a 16-year-old can even have their relationship acknowledged now-a-days--I know that back where I spent my teenage years in Idaho, the word "engagement" has now replaced the word "dating" simply because it makes it possible to announce an attachment without anybody LAUGHING. (Sad, sad, sad, but true.)

I think a lot of the reasons why grown-ups PERCEIVE teenagers to be so vapid are perpetuated if not directly caused by grown-ups themselves, in other words.

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Freya137
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My Mum drives me up the wall with this one-anytime me or my brother is having a abd day and in a bad mood she simply declares its 'all them teenage hormones.'i just wish that sometimes she would appreciate that we can have real problems. today my long distance bf who had been visiting went back home and i was upset and came back to patronising questions about us and no sympathy. i appreciate that the way people experience love will change as they grow but if someone of any age identifies themselves as being 'in love' then obviously those feelings are intense and real to them and will be just as capbable of causing joy and pain as the love felt by someone older.

i enjoyed this thread-this issue id one tht constantly infuriates me.

also on the topic of teenagers and youths being regarded as bad i think the media also plays an awful role in this. any area where anti social behaviour is an issue blames teenagers in general assuming that all of us are involved. on the contrary therte's often very little attention paid to the many positive things teenagers achieve

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