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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Deaf Adolescents: Inner Lives and Lifeworld Development

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Boredom was a theme for the participants in both childhood and adolescence when they were cut off from communication. Pat was particularly affected by this because of the isolation of his rural residence during the summer months and the lack of technology available to him for social contacts. His reading level and socioeconomic limitations rendered computer-based communication (e-mail, pagers, instant messaging) unavailable to him. His family does not own a TTY, so Pat is cut off from most forms of communication. Videophones were not yet widely distributed or used for home-based communication at the time of these interviews, and the cost of high-speed Internet or cable service to make this workable for Pat may have presented an additional barrier. In discussing his isolation he reports, “I go watch TV or just sign to myself in the mirror, making up stories, especially if I was bored.”

Alex and Joe are assertive and defiant in their responses to situations where they feel left out. Joe actively confronts the skepticism of his teammates with his self-confidence in his athletic skills: “I’m on the team, . . . and they think, . . . ‘He can’t do the work.’ . . . And I have to show them.” Alex presented a scenario where a deaf boy was rejected by a group of deaf peers at his residential school. He demonstrated creative, autonomous problem-solving skills in his solution to this conflict. He talks about how the boy would go home and consider a strategy to begin befriending several other individuals, thus creating a new social network that eventually blends with the group that originally rejected him.

He looks at his notes and thinks about how to make friends. He walks up to a boy sitting alone. He sits down; they talk, start to be friends. Later they meet a girl; now there are three. Every day they add more until there are eight.
Angie and Mary provided many examples of how the teens take responsibility for educating hearing others about the realities of being deaf. As noted, the adolescents revealed that they not only take it upon themselves to sometimes teach others to sign during their adolescence but also are able to share their knowledge and insights about Deaf culture, resources, and other realities.
ANGIE: I would want to show hearing people about Deaf culture, how we are the same and different, using the TTY, visual alerts, interpreters, being successful, things like that.

MARY: I would tell them what it’s like to be me, deaf and a teenager, going to a mainstream school. I feel insulted if hearing people say, “Oh, I wish I was deaf like you.” But really, it wouldn’t be that way. [She gives many examples.] So, they’d get an idea of what it’s like to be a deaf teenager.

Angie is also assertive and resourceful in her quest for eventual independence:
Well, if she wants to live in an apartment or a condo or a house, she would have to get an interpreter when she looked at the house, to talk to the people, to ask questions. If she decides to live in a house and be independent, she’ll have to set up a TTY and a flashing light alert system, and warnings for theft and fire, or if someone comes in during the night. Or in the day, if there’s a storm or tornado, you need a weather alert to go to the basement. You watch captioning on TV to know.

The adolescents in this study share with hearing adolescents many concerns that include being accepted and socially regarded, wearing the clothes they want (Lisa), communicating with potential love interests (Mary), making connections with peers through the Internet (Angie, Mary, Pat), performing well in school and participating in extracurricular activities (Joe, Angie), valuing the privacy of peer group issues (Alex), and coping with changes such as divorces in their families. All of the adolescents are pondering their futures. They feel pressured to achieve and to attend college. They cherish time in social relationships with peers they feel comfortable with.

Parent-Teen Relations and Emancipation

Interestingly, while many adolescents experience conflicts with their parents over issues related to independence, individuation, and separation, this group of deaf participants did not demonstrate such conflict. They value what they see as a supportive and loving relationship with their parents. Unique to this group of deaf adolescents, however, is the fact that they all expressed boredom and disconnect in extended family situations that are not accessible to them.

Mood Changes and Transitional Accommodations

Another issue common to all adolescents is frequent mood changes. In addition to the hormonal changes that can contribute to fluctuating moods, environmental changes also trigger changes in emotions. Joe used the term moody to describe the hurt and anger he felt over mistreatment by hearing peers and in response to his own perfectionism.

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